Ethanol Fires are the latest in the line of Bio Fueled Fires with all marketing generally focusing on the word “BIO” which basically means that the fire is not fueled by conventional fossil fuels but from natural, replaceable sources. Bio Ethanol fuel is derived either from waste or from natural ‘green’ resources such as wheat, corn and sugar cane. In the case of Bio Ethanol fires, the Ethanol fuel used is an alcohol which is produced by the fermentation of natural sugars found in forestry and agricultural products. Therefore Bio Ethanol, when produced for use as a fuel, is considered both kinder to the environment (in the form of reduced pollution) and is classified as a form of “Green Energy” as its fuel is not sourced from dwindling resources.
On a more practical basis, Bio Ethanol fires don’t require any external flue, which makes them useful as portable heating, or in buildings such as an upper floor flat or rented accommodation where it is expensive, impractical or impossible to install a flue or a chimney, which would otherwise be required for a Gas Fire or Wood burner.
In fact, Bio ethanol fires make a reasonable alternative to wood burning stoves, because cosmetically they look exactly the same, and give a similar open flame effect. However there are vast differences between the heat output from a conventional wood burner and the heat which is given from a Bio Ethanol fire and those expecting the huge room heating capability of a conventional wood-burning stove or open fire, may be disappointed with the comparative and somewhat feeble output of the Ethanol stove / fire when compared on a like for like basis. Indeed some owners of Bio Ethanol fires have described them simply as being nothing more than cosmetic with very little usable heat produced into the room, whilst others recommend that they are used only for decorative background heating, as opposed to the sole form of room space heating.
The majority of Bio Ethanol Fires are rated at around 2kw – 3kw, which is roughly the same output as a conventional Electric Convector panel heater, some manufacturers do make claims of outputs of up to 3.5kw but in reality, because Bio Ethanol fuel has a low calorific value of around 27MJ/kg (much lower than Gas LPG, Oil & Wood), a fire consuming an average of 0.36 litres of Ethanol Fuel per hour will only actually produce around 2.1kw of usable heat, which is a bit different than the 3.5kw claimed, so in short you should not expect to heat the entire house (or even a fairly large living room) with a single Bio Ethanol fire because the heat output isn’t really that impressive, more so given the extremely high price of the fuel.
Next we get to the cost of running Bio Ethanol fires. Just like anything which is tagged as being ‘Green Energy’ or good for the environment, Bio Ethanol fires are also extremely expensive to run, costing around twice the cost of Electric Heating, three times the cost of LPG or Oil based heating and a massive four times more than the cost of mains gas and conventional wood or pellet burners, so basically unless you are financially able to put the Environment before your heating bills, Bio Ethanol fires are unlikely to prove the answer for an economic form of heating, nor is it going to be a cheap method of heating even for those remote rural households who are miles away from mains gas. In these situations Wood burners, Paraffin Inverter Heaters and even Economy 7 are much more frugal when it comes to running costs.
But lets actually work out the cost of running a Bio Ethanol Fire. At the time of writing this, Bio Ethanol is extremely difficult to source and its highly unlikely that it will be available at your local hardware store or the nearest Fuel Station forecourt anytime soon, in fact many conventional heating fuel brokers have never even heard of Bio Ethanol fuel, let alone carry stock of it, so this means that you will probably have to buy it in bulk, and source it online from one of the Bio Ethanol brokers.
The average price which I have found online for Bio Ethanol Fuel is 12 Litres for £31 or £58 for 25 litres of fuel, this equals around 19p – 25p per kw/h in real everyday terms to run a standard Bio Ethanol fueled fire!.
This running cost compares badly to more conventional forms of heating. For example, Standard Electricity is around 11p – 12p kw/h (with Economy 7 off peak Electricity costing 7p kw/h). LPG costs around 8p kw/h with heating oil hovering around 6p kw/h. Mains Gas costs from just 3p kw/h and a wood burner is roughly 2.6p kw/h. So for the majority of people, Bio Ethanol fires remain the most expensive form of heating available on the market and are therefore likely to also be uneconomically viable for use on a daily basis.
Because they are flue less, and the burning of Ethanol produces fairly large amounts of water vapour which can saturate the air during a long period of use, great care should be taken in making sure that long term use of these fires does not create condensation or damp issues in poorly ventilated rooms or ones with sealed double glazing, and I would recommend that if a Bio ethanol fire is used on a regular basis, that a dehumidifier is also used.