Red - Hot
In Red Lake Falls, Northwest Manufacturing imports Europe's cheaper, greener heating methods to boost sales and stay ahead of increasing EPA emissions regulations.
Minnesota company Northwest Manufacturing makes one of America's cleanest and most efficient heating methods. But chances are good you've never even heard of it. It's known as Flex Fuel, a wood burning furnace for residential heating. The product has been a heating option in
Europe since 1997, but is just now entering the U.S. marketplace thanks to a partnership between Northwest Manufacturing and Austria's SOLARFOCUS, the product's designer. Unlike other wood burning furnaces, Flex Fuel can use three types of wood fuel: cord wood, wood pellets or wood
chips. And while other furnaces turn on or off to generate heat by burning fuel a little bit at a time, Flex Fuel burns the entire load of fuel and then stores the generated heat in a water tank for use when needed.
Northwest Manufacturing began in 1989 as an outdoor wood furnace manufacturer. It has since grown to 65 employees and offers a diverse range of heat-oriented products, from different sized outdoor wood furnaces and in-floor radiant heat to an outdoor grill that uses wood
pellets instead of charcoal for fuel. Chuck Gagner, president, first saw the Flex Fuel product at a pellet convention in Europe. He then partnered with SOLARFOCUS to manufacture it in the U.S. as an addition to his existing lineup of wood burning furnaces. With the EPA set to
redefine acceptable emissions levels for wood burning products this summer, Gagner says the Flex Fuel model's efficiency gives him confidence in meeting future regulations.
"It's carbon neutral burning, so you're not adding to global warming. The emissions testing that we've done confirms that we're burning at .04 pounds per million btu output, which is extremely clean as far as particulates," Gagner says. It's also solar ready, which means
that it can even generate heat using most solar panels.
The technology has enjoyed widespread popularity in Europe thanks in part to the Kyoto Protocol, which requires European countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. SOLARFOCUS currently exports 70 percent of its products to other European countries, most prominently
France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Romania, Spain, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.
To expand its customer base, Northwest Manufacturing also has begun producing a product from Sweden called BioMax to cater to customers with larger facilities. Boasting similar technology on a much larger scale, BioMax boilers can generate as much as 6.8 million btu's, enough
to heat an entire school, business or other large facility. The company has already installed the product to heat its own building.
Today, Gagner says BioMax and Flex Fuel customers in the U.S. and Canada save at least 50 percent on their heating bills in relation to traditional heating methods, and can recoup the entire investment in five years. Over time, rising oil, gas and electricity prices will
generate an even faster return on investment. Though he admits that introducing a product in a new country is a challenge, Gagner anticipates its growing popularity will help generate a 20 percent increase in revenue for his company this year.
"We're signing up new dealers weekly, so it has definitely grabbed the interest out there of people that are in the heating industry," he says. "They see the uniqueness of three fuels in one product and how clean and efficient it is, and that it's proven in its years of
being produced [in Europe], so they feel very comfortable selling the product."