Watch a DIY Rocket Mass Heater Stove Designed to Burn Wood Pellets

Hi, I’m Chris I started back in 2007.

I’m interested in all aspects of wood pellets, from how wood pellets are made to how they are used. When it comes to wood pellet combustion the typical choice is the conventional pellet stove and boiler route. In some instances, people chose a portable pellet stove. However, there is also a growing trend to use wood pellets in alternative combustion systems, in this case, rocket mass heaters. If your not sure what a rocket mass heater is I’ll talk more about that below. If you already understand the basic principles of rocket mass heaters, watch the video below on how rocket stoves can be designed to work more efficiently on wood pellets.

An impressive DIY project to improve designs of a rocket mass heater stove to run more efficiently on wood pellets.
Rocket Stove Guide

This eBook is an interesting read on the different combustion chambers for rocket stoves: Image – Amazon

Automated vs Gravity Wood Pellet Stoves

Wood pellet heating comes in two forms. You have the highly automated pellet stoves and boilers such as the ÖkoFEN units and you also have none-powered wood pellet stoves. Both interest me and are important in their own way, but for different reasons. Highly automated conventional pellet stoves and boilers serve as a transition product, to get people away from conventional oil and gas stoves and boilers.

However, improving the design of none-powered/gravity stoves is really more important. In most of the world where solid fuel is burnt, there is either no electrical supply or its highly irregular. Wood is typically burnt on highly inefficient open fires or basic stoves. This not only wastes most of the wood it creates significant amounts of smoke pollution which kills hundreds of thousands of people every year.

Rocket Mass Stove Wood Pellets
The gravity wood pellet hopper of the rocket mass heater from the YouTube video above.

The Benefits of Rocket Stoves

Rocket stoves and in the case of this post rocket mass heaters use only a fraction of the wood of a conventional stove. In some cases, fuel consumption can be reduced by as much as 80-90% using a rocket stove design. Therefore significant issues around deforestations for stove fuel can be reduced. Its cheaper for the consumer and considerably better for their health.

Using rocket stoves for cooking
There is a significant need for more efficient wood cooking stoves – Image:

Rocket stove designs which can also use wood pellets can further help to resolve the issues stated above. Continued improvements in designs could even potentially burn biomass pellets from agricultural residues (grasses/straws). However, there are significant challenges around the increased ash content and clinker formations compared to wood pellets.

How Does a Rocket Stove Work?

A rocket stove is designed to run on small diameter fuel, typically small chunks/chips of wood. Wood pellets are not only small they have a high energy density. The rocket stove design is about making sure the draft of the fire chamber is as good as possible without using power-assisted fans. That is what makes rocket stoves so interesting.

How does a Rocket Stove work
How a Rocket Stove works – Image:

It’s amazing that rocket stoves can achieve such a high efficiency with no electrical fan forcing air into the fire. Rocket stove designs work by ensuring that air predominantly enters either through the fuel or from underneath the combustion zone. This essentially gasifies the wood and its the gas and smoke from the wood which is actually being burnt. I’ll talk more about gasification in later posts.

Rocket Mass Heater Builders Guide

This builders guide on rocket mass heaters is available in eBook and paperback form: Image – Amazon

But What is a Rocket Mass Heater?

The rocket stove principles have improved combustion efficiency significantly over a conventional wood stove. However, a rocket mass heater can improve combustion efficiency even more. Essentially a rocket mass heater is integrated into the design of the property. The flue pipe is extended in length through the property. Then a large heat absorbing mass (typically of clay) encases the flue pipe. This mass extracts the heat and will releases it gradually over time.

This video does a really good job of explaining what a rocket mass heater is and its benefits.

Avoiding The Dangers of Creosote

As you can see from the video above about what a rocket mass heater is, one of its impressive features is how it avoids the dangers of creosote. Creosote forms from burning wood with high moisture content or poor combustion efficiency.

As stated in the video the previous trade-off has been to insulate the chimney to avoid creosote formations, but this also wastes a lot of energy. With a rocket mass heater stove design it is the combustion chamber which is insulated. This creates a much hotter combustion zone which burns off any potential volatiles which would form creosote.

Rocket Mass Heater
Rocket mass heaters are designed to be an integral feature of the home.

Why Rocket Mass Heaters and Wood Pellets Go Well Together

With a properly designed rocket mass heater, you can take advantage of one of the unique features of wood pellets, how they flow. As wood pellets have such a high density they flow well through hoppers. Therefore it’s possible to create a none powered stove which can run for many hours with a full hopper of wood pellets.

How To Make Wood Pellets
Wood pellets flow like a liquid, therefore work well with gravity hoppers on rocket mass heater stoves

In the first video above, you see the design of the grate which will hold the pellets but will also let the ash through the grate so combustion is continuous. Next, you see the various feed shoot designs. The later designs improve the spread of fuel over the grate. This, in turn, will also provide a better flow of wood pellets from the hopper.

Wood pellet grate of a rocket mass heater
The video of the DIY rocket mass heater shows how important the grate design is on how well wood pellets will burn.

It is interesting to see how much of a difference installing and removing the restrictor plate makes. The restrictor plate provides better air direction and also encourages more air to come in below the grate. It’s also important to note that higher temperatures were recorded on the heat exchanger than with any wood previously used. This is due to the high density of the pellets and their very low moisture content.

Conclusions On Using Wood Pellets in a Rocket Mass Heater

I do really like the idea of a fully designed rocket mass heater which can run on wood pellets via a gravity hopper. It would mean that a highly efficient and low maintenance off-grid wood pellet heating system is possible. When I get the chance I would like to have a go at building my own rocket mass heater which runs on wood pellets. I think it would be a really rewarding project. If you would like to learn more about making, burning and using wood pellets, please visit my home page for other posts.

Small Rocket Stove

Please be aware, many small rocket stoves you see online such as this will not actually work with wood pellets due to the grate design: Image – Amazon

Chris - PelHeat

Hi, I’m Chris. I started back in 2007. This website is intended to be an educational resource on how pellets are made and their various uses. I hope you find the information useful.

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