Ionia revisits wood as fuel

Commune seeks oil price relief

Posted: Thursday, March 20, 2008


Back | Next
  Barry Creighton talks about the community's success with alternative energy during a dignitary tour earlier this week. Photo by M. Scott Moon

Ted Eller loads wood into a Garn wood-fired boiler at the Ionia community in Kasilof. The boiler is heating a large community center and much of the hot water the group consumes.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

While skyrocketing oil prices are driving many to renewable energy options such as solar, wind and even tidal power, a group of families living a communal lifestyle in Kasilof seems to have taken a step back, revisiting the use of wood for heat and hot water.

In actuality, it is the advances in wood-fired energy technology, not a pining for the "good ole days" that has moved the Ionia village of about 10 families to install two Garn wood-fired boilers to augment existing masonry heaters in the group's central long house community center.


Barry Creighton talks about the community's success with alternative energy during a dignitary tour earlier this week.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

Using plentiful bark-beetle-kill spruce trees on their nearly 200 acres off North Cohoe Loop Road, Ionia members fire the Garn furnaces once per day for three hours, heating hot water in the boilers providing heat through radiant tubing in the floor and wall baseboard heaters in the 12,000 square-foot log long house. The Garn units also meet all the hot water needs of the village's community kitchen and hand laundry.

About 30 Kenai Peninsula dignitaries and energy specialists were given a tour of the new heating plant Tuesday by Ionia member Barry Creighton.

According to David Creighton, one of the Ionia residents, the Garn units, housed in a log building separate from the community center, provide about one-third of the center's heat.

Water comes from one of Ionia's two independent wells and, when heated, circulates past a five-pass heat exchanger contained within the Garn boiler vessel.

Creighton said Ionia plans to install one more Garn unit to heat one-half of a 12,000 square-foot barn the group will be building.

"We'll only heat half the barn," he said. "The other half will be used for vehicles and equipment."

Adopting a strict vegetarian diet, Ionia family members have no use for animals. The barn will be built principally to store barley, oats and wheat, including an exotic barley they plan to raise as a potential cash crop serving peninsula micro-breweries.

Ionia is the only grower in Alaska of organic grain used for human consumption, according to Eliza Eller.

Eller, who performed the grant administration for the Garn wood-fired project, said Ionia received a $213,547 grant from the Alaska Department of Health and Human Services, which included funding for a community center drain system.

Additionally, she said Ionia secured a $15,000 U.S. Forest Service Jump-starting Wood Energy Program grant through the Juneau Economic Development Council.

Eller's husband, Ted Eller, spearheaded the Garn project.

Integral to its efficient use of small quantities of wood fuel and heat storage through heat exchange, the Garn system draws down smoke and gases from the fire, mixing with turbulent air into a fiber ceramic-lined reaction chamber where they are burned again at nearly 1,800 degrees F.

The Garn units, manufactured in St. Anthony, Minn., produce a small amount of smoke for only about 10 minutes, according to Ted Eller.

"It gets hot enough, it burns all the elements of smoke," he said, adding the smoke is burned in a secondary chamber.

Creighton said the Garn units eliminated the need for a diesel-fuel heater in the community center, which also is heated with two large, wood-fired hearthstone masonry heaters.

"Right now, we have 10 years (supply) of beetle kill," Creighton said. "Then we will plant lodgepole pines, which are fast growing."

Ionia is working with the state Division of Forestry to determine other types of trees suitable for reforesting areas denuded of spruce. Another possible alternative is larch.

Ted Eller said each Garn unit cost about $15,000. Plumbing was done for about $30,000 and other parts cost an additional $30,000, he said.

"Plus the cost of the building, the total was about $200,000," Eller said. Ionia anticipates saving about $1,000 per month it spent on propane to heat hot water for the kitchen, in addition to its savings in diesel fuel.

Phil Hermanek can be reached at

Subscribe to Peninsula Clarion

Trending this week:


© 2018. All Rights Reserved. | Contact Us