Burning corn as fuel?

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TriangleTom
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Burning corn as fuel?

Post by TriangleTom » Thu Jun 27, 2019 3:34 am

Okay, I know it sounds ridiculous but corn has been used for a long time as fuel in pellet stoves. It doesn't burn as cleanly as wood, but it comes pre-pelletized, has ~7000 BTUs per lb, and, at least here in Oklahoma, can be had for abut 8-9¢ per pound at the moment, and is available throughout the year.

It seems that a Yarrow or B&W boiler, with tubes set over a shallowly inclined grate surface, may be able to make use of a fuel like this. Of course, the fuel consumption would be massively higher than an equivalent plant fed with coal, but given the low cost compared to liquid fuels and the much greater availability of corn when compared to coal, it seems it may be a worthwhile tradeoff.

Anyway, am I crazy for thinking this may be viable?
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Re: Burning corn as fuel?

Post by barts » Thu Jun 27, 2019 5:49 am

It's certainly possible, of course. However, the cost of the fuel (unless you've got a pretty big boat) is a tiny part of the expenses of maintaining a boat, and it's not trivial getting pellet fuels to burn at the desired rate, esp. w/o forced draft. Rats would pose a problem - a ship's cat might be needed.

I'm sure it would be a fun experiment, though - and the burning popcorn smell would be great, too.

Perhaps you could name the boat "Jiffy"... :D

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Ramón
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Re: Burning corn as fuel?

Post by Ramón » Thu Jun 27, 2019 8:47 pm

Yes, better remove the rest of fuel after a trip or you will have a very big rodent as a quartermaster on board;)

Jokes aside: You know what you could do? You could just make a simple camp fire only with corn pellets to learn how it burns compared to a wood-burning fire. How fast the flames catch onto new pellets, how long and clean they burn. And then you could continue onto feeding a boiler with it.
TriangleTom
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Re: Burning corn as fuel?

Post by TriangleTom » Mon Jul 01, 2019 3:00 am

I did some experiments with the idea over the weekend and the results were for the most part disappointing.

I lit the fire with wood and slowly started to add the corn. At first it caught quite quickly and gave a lot of heat, however as the wood burned away the fire died down considerably. My best estimate of what happened is that without the wood providing some degree of spacing between the kernels, the addition of more corn served to choke out the fire by inhibiting the ingress of oxygen. I suppose with some form of forced draft it would be possible to burn it more effectively, however at that point I'd rather just make the drive to buy coal instead.
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Re: Burning corn as fuel?

Post by Ramón » Mon Jul 01, 2019 3:35 am

But it was good, that you did a dry test. Immagine planning a trip and everything only to sit duck at the dock because the stuff isn't catching on fire.

Besides, there surely is a way to burn corn, but maybe it needs more redesigning of the fireplace/forced draft as you said or a change in other variables.
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Re: Burning corn as fuel?

Post by TriangleTom » Mon Jul 01, 2019 4:01 am

Most of the successful corn burners I have seen in my research have relied on either forced draft, or some sort of agitator, or have burned coked corn instead. While these are all interesting possibilities, there's a coal mine a day's drive from my home that's willing to sell by the ton, and that will likely be a simpler solution for me when I finally reach the point of being able to start construction.
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Re: Burning corn as fuel?

Post by PeteThePen1 » Fri Jul 05, 2019 10:43 am

This has jogged my memory of an article in Funnel some little time ago about using pelletised fuel in a steam outboard. Do any SBA folk recall that also? Don't have time just now to have a dig but will see what I can find later. I seem to recall that the experiment was successful.
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Lopez Mike
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Re: Burning corn as fuel?

Post by Lopez Mike » Fri Jul 05, 2019 11:31 am

andrew52 shared a whole series of informative posts on here about his experiences (ongoing) with burning wood pellets.
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Re: Burning corn as fuel?

Post by cyberbadger » Sat Jul 06, 2019 1:14 am

There are a few short references from threshermen's periodicals around 1900 that say, "for fuel, wood, corn cobs, coal, kero*sene or gas may be used" for steam traction engines.

It may have helped to have a bigger firebox for corn cobs. Some steam traction vendors had fireboxes available for different fuels, not sure about corn cobs in particular.

From what I know it wasn't super common to use corn cobs for fuel, but if you have tons of corn cobs laying around I'm sure they made it work.

Wood pellets certainly can be done, a firebox insert maybe necessary.

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