Harry “Dutch” Dresser, Ed.D.
Maine Energy Systems
Bethel, Maine 04217
When I was a kid, a friend’s father was a chauffeur for a wealthy lady in our town. On one occasion, I got a look at the beautiful early ‘40’s Packard he maintained and used to drive the lady around. The Packard was “automatic” in that it didn’t require clutching to shift gears, which was remarkable in the car’s time. It also had a switch to disengage the automatic clutch function if it wasn’t working properly.
Today non-automatic transmissions are an option in most cars and the features that don’t require driver intervention continue to explode on the scene. I had a chance to drive a BMW i3 in Austria. This car can let you off to go shopping, go park itself, and come fetch you when you signal it with the app on your phone or watch.
I’m imagining that following the use of the word “automatic” in the marketing associated with automobiles from the early 1940’s to today would find completely different implications for the word over the period. Such is the case with pellet central heating appliances.
I see marketing material for countless pellet boilers and furnaces all describing the systems as “fully automatic,” not just automatic, fully automatic. Well, what does that fully automatic mean? Is the system the equivalent of the Packard with its clutchless standard shifting or the analog of the i3 with its surprising additional capabilities?
Many simple pellet boiler systems from Scandinavia and Eastern
Europe dub themselves fully automatic because they feed themselves fuel from a storage unit and may even report about their condition on-line. They don’t get rid of the ash in their fireboxes automatically, and they frequently require hand-cleaning of the heat exchanger surfaces.
Some slightly more sophisticated models, also described as fully automatic, do empty their fireboxes into ash storage containers and do clean their heat exchanger surfaces but still require the user to weigh pellets and set pellet energy and weight parameters with each load of fuel received.
Clearly the meaning of fully automatic as it applies to pellet boilers and furnaces will continue to morph as companies like ÖkoFEN continue to make the technology more and more user-friendly, cleaner and cleaner, and more feature-rich like the micro CHP (combined heat and power) Pellematic_e.
What, then, is a reasonable definition of a fully automatic pellet boiler today, summer 2016? I propose the following:
A fully automatic pellet boiler in 2016 performs cleanly at various modulation levels without a requirement for ancillary heat storage units, while attending to the many burner and boiler functions that have historically required end-user effort. At a minimum, the fully automatic boiler
- feeds itself pellets, including the fines often associated with bulk pellets, uninterrupted for periods measured in months or years,
- adjusts its burner feed rate and combustion air supply for optimal combustion, without any user input, based on sensor input and an electronic control unit,
- cleans the surfaces of its heat exchangers at least once daily,
- removes ash from the base of its firebox,
- allows for the emptying of the ashbox anytime without interrupting boiler operation,
- communicates its operating status and condition over the Internet for the owner and/or the servicing technician, and
- allows for remote adjustment via Internet applications.
This is a MESys/ÖkoFEN fully automatic boiler that meets all of the criteria above.
This is an ÖkoFEN Pellematic_e pellet boiler with an integral Stirling engine that generates up to 5kW/hr of electricity as the boiler produces heat for the building and domestic hot water. This boiler will likely continue the evolution of the phrase fully automatic as it applies to pellet central heating appliances.
If you want to test boilers you’re considering against a reasonable definition of fully automatic by today’s standards, use these questions