Ethanol Fireplaces: Green Heat or Hot Air?

biofuel ethanol fireplace photo

Image credit: WorkingWonders

There's something comical about marketing a "biofuels fireplace" - after all, wood is the original biofuel. Having said that, ethanol fireplaces have been gaining popularity in Europe (Mairi even thought a while back that alcohol may be the fuel of the future). These alternatives to both wood burning and gas or electric fireplaces are said to offer better indoor air quality than traditional fires and, because there is no chimney, most of the heat is retained within the room - which should be a great boon to efficiency. Now a US company is marketing ethanol fireplaces to homeowners, touting both their efficiency and health benefits. How do they stack up? Working Wonders, a US-based internet retailer focusing on green products and indoor air quality, is selling a range of ethanol fireplaces ranging from wall-mounted fires to freestanding coffee tables with in-built fires. These things aren't exactly cheap - but with prices starting at around $600, they aren't disproportionately priced to wood burners and other alternatives they are competing with.

Of course ethanol has drawbacks too - so it would be nice to know a little more about how and where the fuel these things burn is produced, and what the overall footprint is like. The WorkingWonders press release simply states that "The bio-fuel used (sold separately) for the fireplaces is produced from plant-derived ethanol, obtained through fermentation of saccharine and is produced from seasonal produce. It is clean and ecological without any residue, soot, ashes or harmful substances." Anyone got any sources for numbers on this?

Either way, indoor air quality is an important issue - and whatever you burn, the more heat you can keep in the room, the less fuel you have to use, so to my mind ethanol fireplaces have a place in the grander ecological scheme of things. But I'd love to hear if anyone disagrees.

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