• National Oilheat Research Alliance

NORA’s net-zero home shows negative carbon emissions with 100% biodiesel, solar panels

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: National Oilheat Research Alliance)

The need to lower carbon emissions has driven many industries to find alternative methods to minimize their contribution to a warming planet. The liquid fuel heating industry is no exception.

For decades, it has been reducing petroleum fuel use through increases in heating-system efficiencies and, since the early 2000s, has been working to develop and adopt a renewable and sustainable low-carbon fuel.

The use of biodiesel has been identified as an effective and reliable substitute to replace fossil-derived heating fuels. Due to research by the National Oilheat Research Alliance and efforts by heating-system manufacturers and fuel marketers, the use of increasing blends of biodiesel with No. 2 heating oil has increased rapidly over the past few years.

NORA’s goal is to create demonstration homes that are net-zero emitters of carbon. Labeled the Net Zero Carbon Home Project, the homes will replace standard heating fuel with 100 percent biodiesel (B100) while relying on solar PV roof panels to generate renewable, carbon-free electricity for nonheating uses.

Since biodiesel is not yet fully carbon neutral, the solar PV system needed to be sized to produce more energy than the home requires. The excess carbon-free electricity could then be transferred back to the grid and offset the small amount of carbon emissions from biodiesel.

A calculator created by NORA utilizes a number of parameters such as fuel usage and electricity consumption to determine how much oversizing of the PV system is required to make the home carbon neutral.

The first of these demonstrations is the home of Thomas Butcher, director of research of the NORA Liquid Fuels Laboratory in Plainview, New York. Butcher’s home was already using B100 for heating and subsequently solar PV panels were installed for the nonheating energy needs.

Using biodiesel consumption (due to hot-water production), electrical usage and power generated by PV system, it was found that Butcher’s home was net zero (and beyond) for the months of July, August and September 2022 (see Table 1 below).

Figure 1 below shows the carbon-emission comparison for Butcher’s home with and without proposed changes (B100 and solar PV).

Despite a significant air-conditioning load in the summer, as shown by the blue bars, each of the summer months contributed to a lowering of the carbon intensity of the grid by producing more energy than was used in the house, as shown by the orange bars.

The question is—as we enter the winter and biodiesel consumption increases, will the solar on his roof and the savings from the summer be enough to make his house a net-zero home for the entire year? Preliminary calculations say “yes,” but look forward to an update in the spring of 2023.

NORA is working with various state energy organizations to find additional suitable homes for this project.

NORA would like to extend the Net Zero Carbon Home Project to other U.S. States. Those interested in working with NORA on this are asked to contact info@noraweb.org.

Click here to read more about the Net Zero Carbon Home Project.

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