• National Oilheat Research Alliance

NORA demonstrates net-zero home with 100% biodiesel for heat, solar panels for power


The Butcher residence in Port Jefferson, New York, is NORA's model home showing the feasibility of reducing a home's carbon output to zero using ultra-low carbon biodiesel and solar. (Photo: NORA)

The National Oilheat Research Alliance is setting out to prove that homeowners can reduce a home’s carbon emissions to zero using a renewable low-carbon liquid fuel and solar panels. Indeed, the demonstration has already begun in Port Jefferson, New York, at the home of Thomas Butcher, NORA’s director of research.

NORA has been a leader in the transition to low-carbon liquid fuels in the home-heating sector for decades through testing and promoting the use of the advanced biofuel biodiesel combined with traditional heating oil. NORA’s liquid fuels research laboratory in Plainview, New York, is among the U.S.’s leading facilities conducting this type of research.

With public policy in many of the Northeastern states calling for drastic reductions in carbon emissions and traditional heating oil cannot satisfy those requirements, NORA intends to show that the combination of 100 percent biodiesel partnered with solar panels can bring the home to zero-carbon emissions.

This strategy is an alternative to the “all electric” policy of replacing all combustion heating and other home appliances with power grid-run electric furnaces, boilers and appliances.

The all-electric plan will place enormous strain on the utilities and the grid while also placing massive financial burdens on homeowners as they are required to replace their current heating systems with heat pumps. NORA’s zero-carbon home can achieve carbon reduction mostly using existing heating systems and commercially available solar panel systems.

Taking the Carbon Out of the Fuel

The first step in decarbonizing a home-heating system is transitioning to a low-carbon biofuel. The biofuel widely available to the heating market in the Northeast is biodiesel (ASTM D6751). Relative to petroleum No. 2 fuel, 100 percent biodiesel (B100) provides a carbon reduction of 75 to 90 percent with the higher 90 percent reduction based on the use of waste feedstocks such as used cooking oil. Replacing petroleum with B100 can provide reductions in carbon of up to 90 percent.

Work is ongoing within the biodiesel industry on reducing even the small amount of carbon emissions associated with biodiesel production, and the picture is expected to get even better. The residual emissions can be minimized using a high-efficiency boiler or furnace.

The transition to B100 was made at the Butcher home in 2020 with the biodiesel fuel supplied by Hart Home Comfort of Oakdale, New York. The steel tank is indoors and approximately 15 years old. The tank was filled without cleaning prior to the introduction to B100. There have been no notable service issues since the transition. The heating system includes an Energy Kinetics System 2000, about 10 years old.

Adding Solar Panels

The second step is the addition of solar panels on the roof of the home, which can produce more or less power than the home needs at any time of the day. The system installed at Butcher’s home does not include a storage battery but rather “extra” power is exported back to the grid. The home’s historical annual electric power use is 7,199 kilowatt hours, including a central air-conditioning system. The annual production capacity of the solar panels installed is a nominal 7,914 kilowatt hours. In addition to eliminating carbon associated with power used in the home, the surplus power sent back to the grid reduces carbon emissions further and provides an offset to the small amount of carbon emissions associated with the biodiesel use.

Making Financial Sense

The solar-panel system at Butcher’s home was installed by Long Island Power Solutions of Ronkonkoma, New York. The state and federal governments offered financial incentives for installing solar panels, making the installation attractive.

At the time the installation was planned, the residential-power rate was approximately 23 cents per kilowatt hour. At this rate, the payback period was calculated at seven years with an effective annual payback of 14.3 percent. At the time of this writing, it has risen to 28 cents per kilowatt hour making the payback period drop to 5.74 years, after which the electric cost will effectively be zero.

“With uncertainty about future rates, I feel this was a great step to eliminate electric bills,” Butcher said. “These steps to quickly make my home carbon-free have been very easy. I didn't make any changes to my heating system. The investment I have made in the solar panels will pay back quickly and I feel we are ready for the upcoming decades with a system that keeps us warm, provides plenty of hot water, and will end up being the cheapest approach.”

NORA’s Net Zero Carbon Home will continue to be monitored for financial returns. Greenhouse-gas reduction values and upgrades to further the carbon-emission reductions will also be assessed.

NORA would like to extend the Net Zero Carbon Home project to other U.S. States. Interested parties should contact info@noraweb.org.

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