Ethanol Fires: Clean & Green or Fuel on the Flames?


Sometimes, eco-friendliness is all about scale.

A hot 2008 trend in modernistic decor is the ethanol fireplace. Most models – such as this Planika model, pictured – look simply stunning: two glass plates sandwiching a fireplace with no burnt remains to rake or sweep up, and no flue, because the flame burns cleanly. You don’t need ventilation or smoke extraction. This fireplace can go anywhere.

A fire that emits nothing but small quantities of water and CO2 is surely as green as can be. And it’s using ethanol, a wholly renewable fuel. All this should leave you with a nice warm glow. But then we look further afield, at the misery being wrought by our current obsession with bio-ethanol – and the question has to be asked: is it more eco-friendly to use existing renewable sources of wood (biomass) instead? Welcome to a controversial topic in modern environmentalism.

On the widest scale, ethanol fires don’t look so planet-friendly – but the technology itself certainly is, and there’s no denying their aesthetic appeal. If you can find a source of bio-ethanol that you’re certain isn’t being mass-produced at the expense of precious food crops, then this is a worthy investment for your dream eco-home. Otherwise, like Donnachadh McCarthy, it might be time to re-think (not discard) your fireplace.

Image: Art & Home

Mike Sowden

Mike Sowden is a freelance writer based in the north of England, obsessed with travel, storytelling and terrifyingly strong coffee. He has written for online & offline publications including Mashable, Matador Network and the San Francisco Chronicle, and his work has been linked to by Lonely Planet, World Hum and Lifehacker. If all the world is a stage, he keeps tripping over scenery & getting tangled in the curtain - but he's just fine with that.