A storage tank holds corn kernels to fire the boiler that supply radiant heat to the Harley dealership.

A combination of the latest and the oldest provides radiant heat to a motorcycle superstore.

Walk in the front door of the Zylstra Harley-Davidson/Buell dealership in St. Charles, Ill., and you can have your pick of some 300 motorcycles on display throughout the 50,000-square-foot showroom.

We suppose that’s “cool” in one sense of the word, and the megastore only adds to it with its own in-store training academy, a playhouse for “minibikers” and all the clothing and accessories either sex would need to look the part.

Corn kernels are pushed up through the center of the burner and the spent kernels are swept away.

But walk around the back for another definition of the word. Wet Heads will find a different source of heat for the miles of Watts Radiant PEX tubing that provides warmth for the new building.

A towering tank of corn kernels sits outside the back of the store. From there an auger moves the corn on demand into a 2 million Btu boiler made by Canadian company Pelco.

While corn isn’t the usual fuel of choice, the dealership owners also own farmland, so they certainly knew the potential of an alternative, renewable heat source. We caught up with James Descourouez, vice president, Admiral Mechanical, Hillside, Ill., on a snowy day in February as he paid a service call to the site.

We were struck by the combination of the latest and oldest within the mechanical system.

On one hand, it’s a bit of science fiction. Descourouez used an infrared, handheld device to check the Wilo pumps that control the flow of the heated water to and from the radiant system. While doing that, he explained also how a Web server integrates the radiant system along with the more conventional Lennox HVAC rooftop system, which allows the boiler and HVAC system to work as one.

The forced-air system is needed to satisfy fresh air requirements and the obvious air-conditioning needs in the summer. Thanks to the server, the owner can control temperatures throughout the building without worrying about buying and installing controls software for any one computer.

Then on the other hand, open the door of the boiler and you can see there’s really no conventional burner. The corn kernels have to be lit by hand, although once they’re fired up, the system is largely automatic. The auger delivers the corn kernels to the “burner,” pushing them through the center of the flame.

Photos courtesy of Ken Short

While digital controls easily tell you the particulars of the boiler’s performance, there is certainly a large of amount of work that needs to be done by hand to keep everything operating.

Due to the starch content of the kernels, for example, corn doesn’t simply just burn up. These resulting hardened nuggets of spent fuel have to be swept clean every day, although the boiler does do some of this itself.