With heating prices on the rise, the interest in waste-oil burning heaters is rising.

Heating oil prices rose by almost 40% last year, and some industry analysts are predicting a doubling of natural gas prices, if there is a cold winter, because supplies are low.

Users of electrical heat may not be immune, either, as electricity suppliers are increasingly using cleaner-burning natural gas to fuel their power plants.

Heaters fired by used oil have become more popular as prices for fuels have increased.

Monte Stone, president of Thunderbird Petroleum Products, LLC, which markets used-oil heaters and boilers manufactured by Shenandoah, said the heaters can burn used oil for substantial cost savings. "They are a 'no brainer,' if you have oil and a heating bill," he said. "It takes 2.5 gallons of LP to equal the BTUs in one gallon of used oil. If LP costs a dollar a gallon, then waste oil, converted to heat, is worth $2.50 a gallon."

"It is pretty rare that you can purchase a piece of equipment and have it pay for itself after one or two years," Thunderbird Vice President Linly Stum said. "After that, technically, it is profit."

The heaters will burn any petroleum-based lubricant, as long as the combination of the fluids is 50-weight or less, Stum said. If a shop does not generate enough waste oil to keep the heater supplied with fuel, used oil can be purchased (recently at 40 cents a gallon) or diesel fuel can be burned, he said.

In addition to cost savings, the addition of a waste-oil heater can reduce a shop's environmental liability. Recent court decisions have ruled that liability for environmental harm is not eliminated even when a licensed hauler is contracted to remove waste oil, said Shenandoah Sales Manager Mason Smith. That responsibility is eliminated if the waste oil is burned on-site in an EPA-approved used-oil heater, he said.

"With used oil, you have cradle to-grave responsibility with the EPA," Smith said. "Even if a licensed company picks it up, you are responsible forever. If you keep it on site, you eliminate that liability."

EPA regulations state that "used oil may be burned for energy recovery in used-oil-fired space heaters, provided that the heater burns only used oil that the owner or operator generates or used oil received from do-it-yourself oil changers who generate used oil as household waste; and the heater is designed to have a maximum capacity of not more than one-half million BTUs per hour; and combustion gases from the heater are vented to the ambient air."

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