(Photo by Stephen Babcock)
The wood-burning stove industry saw three federal grants awarded this week for efforts to make products more efficient. Two of them went to Baltimore-based MF Fire.
The startup received $2 million in grant funding through the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) that will allow the company to develop new technologies to enable cleaner-burning wood stoves, CEO Paul LaPorte said.
As a result, the smart wood stove maker will be developing and validating a pair of technologies that can form the core of new products, as well as hiring to expand its technical team, LaPorte said.
The company, which was founded in 2014 by fire scientists out of the University of Maryland College Park, was awarded two grants from DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy as part of an effort to reduce particulate matter that’s emitted from wood stoves, which pollutes the air. LaPorte said only one other grant was awarded — to a larger wood stove industry competitor.
“It was a big feather in our cap and a big acknowledgement that what we’re doing continues to be strong and innovative in attacking these goals in converting wood heat to energy, and we’re showing the industry the way,” LaPorte said.
One of the technologies, called Fire MAPS, will be for a device that’s designed to enable owners to maximize the energy efficiency of their wood stoves. When it comes to how a stove burns wood, there are many elements that affect the emissions it is sending into the world.
“It proactively monitors the stove for all the key indicators and uses that to deliver guidance in real time,” LaPorte said. With the instructions provided on a phone or other device, wood stove owners will be able to make adjustments to allow for cleaner burning and more efficiency, even above what the stove is rated to save.
“It makes it super easy for them and in the process they get very quickly trained on how to operate a stove for their own benefit,” he said.
Apart from reducing pollution, potential benefits include things like using less wood, and cleaner chimney floos.
The product will be designed to use with any wood stove — not just the company’s products. That opens up a big market, LaPorte said, as the company’s research indicates that 500 million people get heat from wood worldwide.
The second technology will be foundational to the stove itself. The “swirl stove” will be designed to create a more consistent burn, which creates fewer emissions. It combines a cylinder geometry and a design that keeps wood away from the walls of a stove with a specific way to introduce air into the stove that creates a swirling motion.
The company previously released three wood stoves, all of which are designed to meet new federal emissions standards that will go into effect in 2020.
Going forward, the company will be looking to add to its team in Baltimore in the areas of engineering, research and product, with the grants themselves identifying 18 positions. Bigger growth plans are in the works, as well, as the R&D efforts supported by the grants could spawn new products. MF Fire will also be looking to raise outside funding to fuel sales and marketing efforts.
The new funding basically doubles the company’s outside funding total to date, and does so without diluting the existing ownership shares, according to LaPorte. Locally, the company has received investment from the University System of Maryland Momentum Fund, the Abell Foundation and TEDCO’s Maryland Innovation Initiative.
“This is a true testament to the fact that if you start with a culture built around innovation and trying to advance state of the art and never rest on your laurels, good things happen,” LaPorte said.
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