The large, white tent glowed in the middle of the National Mall, a cozy contrast to the crisp November night settling in around it. A dozen chimneys poked through the roof, each representing a bright idea nurtured into reality — a new take on an old technology and a contribution toward the future of energy.

The Next Generation Wood Stove Design Challenge, or the Wood Stove Decathlon, took place Nov. 15-19 in Washington, D.C. The Alliance for Green Heat organized 12 teams in the spirit of innovation and collaboration to create a cleaner-burning wood stove. Some competitors were from established wood-stove companies. Others were independent inventors and students. They traveled from Europe, New Zealand and throughout the United States.

According to the Alliance for Green Heat, 2.3 million U.S. households use wood or pellets as their primary fuel source. The U.S. Energy Information Administration states that over the past decade, cordwood and pellet heating has grown by 39%, making it the fastest-growing heating fuel.

Wood stoves are predominantly found in rural and suburban areas where wood is plentiful. The availability of wood makes it an affordable fuel option, particularly for low-income households.

While pellet stoves have made strides toward cleaner wood heating, older stoves that heat with cordwood are often viewed as inefficient and harmful to the environment. Some of the challenges arising with wood stoves are the result of operator error such as using unseasoned wood or not giving the stoves enough air, causing incomplete combustion. This competition challenged participants to create easy-to-use, efficient and affordable stoves.

“When the right technology meets the right price, we could see a renaissance in wood heating,” says John Ackerly, president of the Alliance for Green Heat. “We expect the Design Challenge to produce stoves that integrate electronics, are ubiquitous in today’s appliances and can include novel features consumers want. A smart wood stove may motivate people to trade in their older, polluting stove and replace it with a higher-efficiency, higher-tech model.”

The Alliance for Green Heat called on the U.S. Congress to support the development and application of cleaner wood-burning stoves. Members of Congress who attended the competition include Rep. Dan Benishek (R-Mich.), Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) and Rep. Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.).

The stoves were not the only innovations at the Design Challenge. Cutting-edge technology was used to test them with tools provided by Wöhler and Testo.

“Without Wöhler and Testo, the emission measurement component of this challenge would have been nearly impossible,” explains Rebecca Trojanowski of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory. “This new technology, born from many years of development, provided us with exciting new tools for this competition. In the future we hope these instruments can be used to reduce the cost of developing and deploying cleaner and more-efficient stoves.”


Decathlon winners

The competition focused on innovation, emissions, affordability, efficiency and market appeal. Woodstock Soapstone won the overall competition, as well as an award for affordability. The team recognized that, due to the economy, many people use wood heat because they have to, not because they want to. It built the Ideal Steel Hybrid to retail under $2,000, focusing on using affordable materials (mainly steel) without sacrificing performance and consumer appeal.

The Woodstock Soapstone stove includes customizable sides, cooktops and andirons in a variety of colors, enabling it to go from quaint to quirky depending on customer tastes. The stove transformed throughout the competition, wearing moose antlers at one point and then a fish head and tail.

Travis Industries tied with Wittus for second place and won awards for the lowest carbon-monoxide emissions and market appeal. Travis’ Cape Cod stove has been certified by the EPA as the cleanest-burning, large, freestanding wood stove in the world.

In addition to second place, Wittus won an efficiency award for its XEOOS TwinFire. This contemporary, double-chambered stove uses a patented combustion system involving gasification to achieve 93% efficiency. It was originally designed to reduce pollution in developing countries.

The Hwam 3630 HIS stove was recognized for its innovation. Built in Denmark, this smart stove operates with a remote control, enabling users to set a room temperature. It automatically controls combustion with an oxygen sensor and thermocouple, and tells users when and how much wood to reload.

A team studying fire protection engineering at the University of Maryland won an award for the lowest particulate-matter emissions with its Mulciber stove. The team entered the competition with a unique perspective and knowledge about the behavior of fire.

The Next Generation Wood Stove Design Challenge inspired collaboration and a sense of community. Bill Clarke of The Osprey Foundation served as one of the judges and recognized the passion and compassion exhibited by contestants. “This was a competition, but a friendly competition,” he notes. “It was marked by the willingness to share ideas. People came together, working for the same cause.”

To further this sentiment, Team Travis donated its $5,000 second-place prize to the Alliance for Green Heat. And as Woodstock Soapstone accepted the grand prize of $25,000, it offered to share its winnings with the two contestants who did not have corporate sponsors: Jason Stewart, who came all the way from New Zealand, and Matt Remine, who drove across the United States with his stove in the back of his Subaru.

“The most important thing about these two guys is they really just looked out their window one day and said, ‘We could do better,’” says Woodstock Soapstone President Tom Morrissey.

And they did.


Additional resources

For additional information about the Wood Stove Decathlon, equipment or winners, visit the following websites:


About the author: Erin Holohan Haskell is a writer, photographer, designer, and marketing consultant. She runs Holohan Creative Services ( in the Washington, D.C., area.