Is an Air Curtain Burner the Same as an Incinerator?

The Difference Between an Air Curtain Burner and an Incinerator


Air Curtain Burners (ACBs) and incinerators each have their own particular operating objective:

  • An incinerator is defined as a machine that uses a fuel source to create heat. The heat it creates is then used to reduce a waste product to ash.
  • An ACB is defined as a machine used to reduce smoke (also known as particulate matter) from the burning of waste materials. The waste material itself is the fuel source, so the burn is natural – in other words, it requires no external fuel source to create the heat.

In short, while both machines are employed to eliminate waste, an incinerator creates its own heat to burn the waste, and an ACB traps smoke and particulates from burning waste. Let’s take a more in-depth look.


What an Incinerator Does

As mentioned, an incinerator needs its own heat source to burn waste materials. An incinerator therefore requires a secondary fuel to create the heat to do its job, and this fuel is often a significant amount of diesel, or natural gas.

An incinerator also requires significant preprocessing (like grinding) of materials before it can begin effectively burning.

This preprocessing has both a high monetary and environmental cost. The costs of transportation, fuel, and labor all come into play, as does consideration for the pollution involved, and the cost of mitigation measures for that pollution, such as flue gas cleaning systems and filter changes.


What Air Curtain Burners Do

An Air Curtain Burner is a pollution control device, not an incinerator, as ACBs do not have any systems designed to support combustion like a true incinerator does. You may have seen ACBs referred to as “air curtain incinerators,” but an ACB is better thought of as a container or receptacle for the burn, rather than the furnace itself. Incinerators can process a wide range of materials, while an ACB is dedicated to burning clean wood and vegetative waste. An incinerator, as implied above, must use a device like an ACB to control or contain the particulate matter that is released during the burning process.

Clean wood waste bound for ACBs may result from private or commercial land clearing, disaster recovery, or forestry management. Once it has been loaded into an ACB, such as an Air Burners FireBox, the burn is started by lighting the waste wood much like you would light a campfire with a small amount of accelerant.  The fire then continues to burn naturally, like a campfire.  But unlike a campfire the Air Curtain, once engaged will trap and eliminate the smoke.


How Air Curtain Burners Control Pollution

The “air curtain” is the technology that enables the primary objective of the ACB, to reduce the black carbon particulate matter (PM), or smoke, which results from burning clean wood waste. The air curtain traps the black carbon PM and reburns it, reducing it to an acceptable limit per U.S. EPA guidelines. (Black carbon absorbs up to 1,500 times more heat than does CO2 while in the atmosphere. After falling back to Earth, it has been found by the IPCC to accelerate the melting of polar ice which contributes to rising sea levels.) 

The air curtain is not actually engaged until the fire has grown in strength, in order to prevent the air curtain itself from blowing the fire out. It usually takes a quarter of an hour or so for the fire to reach a suitable strength. Once it’s properly going, the air curtain is activated, and thereafter runs at a steady state throughout the burn operation. Waste wood is loaded at a rate consistent with the rate of burn.

The air curtain’s primary purpose is to create a "secondary burn chamber." The air curtain acts as a lid that covers the open top of the FireBox. This lid traps smoke particles rising on the hot gases of the fire and keeps them in the container. These smoke particles are then reburned to significantly reduce their size. Once reduced, the particles can escape through the air curtain and appear more like waves of heat than like smoke. The result is much more environmentally friendly than open burning, with opacities well under 10% per EPA Method 9 Testing (as compared to open burning, which typically can run at 80% to 100% opacity).


Is an Air Curtain Burner a Better Alternative Than an Incinerator?

For the removal of vegetative waste, an ACB is by far the preferred choice to an incinerator. Many incinerators operate at fixed locations, whereas all of our Air Burners are mobile or portable, saving fuel for you and reducing the impact on the planet. Most incinerators also require grinding or other expensive preprocessing of the material in advance, ACB’s do not.  

As long as you’re feeding a FireBox clean wood waste, you don’t need to go to the trouble and expense of grinding it or chipping it in advance—we can accommodate whole logs and root balls. Air Burners’ technology controls black carbon emissions, while transforming the waste into both electric and thermal energy. It also produces an enriching soil treatment known as “biochar.”  Tested by over a dozen US federal agencies, and governments and businesses around the world, Air Burners is as green as is gets when it comes to biomass elimination.


Want to see Air Burners in action? Check out our video page.


Are you interested in Biomass Energy?  See how we use this technology to make electrical and thermal energy with our PGFireBox.