UM's wood stove creators honored for innovation

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COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) — It was 91 degrees in College Park earlier this week, but it felt even hotter in Taylor Myers' lab.

Myers, a University of Maryland fire science doctoral candidate, and alumnus Ryan Fisher are developing a prototype of a wood burning stove. They've been working on the project for about two years, and now they're gaining national attention from the wood stove industry and from entrepreneurial competitions for the stove's innovative technologies.

Most recently, Myers pitched the wood stove concept to a panel of judges in a Las Vegas collegiate pitch competition. The team's company, MF Fire, earned second place — the latest in a string of awards for the wood stove. Earlier this year, the team won $25,000 in the MIT Clean Energy Prize competition, was a finalist in the ACC Clean Energy Challenge and won a grant from the TEDCO Maryland Innovation Initiative.

"It's been really strange but very exciting," Myers said. "I'm glad people are getting excited because it's something I didn't know about before I got involved in the project. Obviously it's captured my attention, and it's nice to see other people getting excited too."

The concept for the wood stove formed about two years ago, when Myers' fire protection engineering professor, Stanislav Stoliarov, learned of a wood stove competition. Myers joined the team, named Team Mulciber, and became captain.

"And now I have a company," Myers said.

In November, Myers and his teammates brought their initial stove prototype to National Mall in Washington for the Wood Stove Decathlon. Organized by the Alliance for Green Heat, the event looked to see if any team could meet a proposed set of emissions regulations by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Team Mulciber was the sole university team, and it faced companies that had been in the industry for decades.

But the university inventors surprised some skeptics and judges and took first place in the particulate emissions category. The levels of emissions were much lower than the emissions of competing stoves. And the results even shocked Team Mulciber, Myers said, because the team didn't have equipment to test emissions beforehand.

"We just threw everything we could at it and hoped that it could work, and it did work. Really, really well," Myers said.

Now, Myers and his team are trying to figure out what made the wood stove so successful and what parts they can eliminate.

In College Park on Tuesday, three Maryland undergraduate students worked on the stove prototype in the department's lab. They were trying to figure out a way to optimize airflow for more efficient burning, said Nate May, a senior fire protection engineering major.

Senior Jeyson Ventura joined the research team two weeks ago. He was interested to learn more about how wood stoves work after his dad decided to buy a wood stove and stop using their Poolesville home's fireplace.

"The research has helped me decide in the future what would be more efficient, more sustainable," Ventura said.

Earlier this month, Myers pitched the wood stove in Las Vegas as part of the RECESS and Global Voice Hall Live Campus Innovator Showcase, an ideas and music festival. The wood stove didn't win, but the Maryland entrepreneurs attracted the attention of competition organizers.

"Taylor in particular is engaging and had a very dynamic personality," said Bianca Nicole, a spokeswoman for GVH. "His story was inspiring."

GVH worked with Myers to create a short video that promoted MF Fire and explained the concept of the wood stove. Myers said the company wants to better the environment and public health through improving fire technology.

Ultimately, Myers wants to sell the stove on the market. What's standing in the way, Myers said, is the small size of the industry and the process of introducing new technology. Some manufacturers, he added, are fighting the passage of emissions regulations and don't want to have to adapt with new technology.

MF Fire's prototype incorporates a fan and a smart controller that blows air and regulates air flow. Other stoves tend to have a simple lever that people can use adjust back and forth, but Myers said the Mulciber stove's technology helps to better regulate the ideal condition for burning. One stove can heat up to a 2,500 square-foot space.

About 10 million Americans use wood stoves, and about 220,000 stoves are sold annually. Myers wants to add more people to the market and to improve the quality of existing stoves, but he sees a challenge in breaking into the market and changing people's mindsets.

"If we can get them to replace their stoves with something cleaner, it's going to make a big difference in air quality, especially in the areas where people use a lot of these," Myers said. "Also, wood is a renewable resource, and it would be nice if people would move toward this and away from fossil fuels."

Myers said departments and groups at the University of Maryland helped him mold his team's idea into a reality. But much of the drive came from realizing he needed to give people a reason why his product was viable.

"Frequently, scientists and engineers all into the trap of believing that people will want to buy something just because it is a cool new technology," Myers said. "The reality is people will buy things because they fill a perceived need. So, if you want to be an entrepreneur, find a problem, dream a solution and work to bring it to life."

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Information from: The Daily Record of Baltimore, http://www.mddailyrecord.com

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