I Went 84 MPH in a Wood Gas Truck


Back in June — wow, how time flies, and wow, how I am overdue to write this up — I had the pleasure of attending a gathering of wood gas gurus.

You may be wondering: What is wood gas, who are these gurus, and what do they do?  

Well, basically, they use wood chips to power their trucks instead of gasoline.

This is wood gasification, the process of burning wood chips (or pretty much any other biomass material) in a high-temperature, oxygen-restricted environment — such as a gasifier placed in a truck bed — that creates hydrogen and carbon monoxide gases. Those gases are flammable and can then be burned just like gasoline vapors are burned to power an engine which then propels a vehicle.

While the idea of burning wood to power a truck may sound zany, it’s actually a proven option. Wood gas vehicles subbed for gasoline vehicles overseas during World War II — when the military got dibs on gasoline. Also, MOTHER EARTH NEWS has been experimenting with wood gasification since the late 1970s. (See the 1981 article Wood Gas! Wood Gasification Powers This Truck. Our predecessors at the magazine even developed a wood gas generator plan.) And there are hundreds (maybe thousands?) of wood gas aficionados across the country who engage online in groups such as the Wood Gas Yahoo group.

For some perspective on wood chips versus gasoline, it takes about 16 pounds of wood to equal the power output of a gallon of gasoline. And 1 cord of wood (basically, a cord is enough wood to make a pile 4-feet deep by 4-feet high by 8-feet long) can power a medium-sized truck for more than 5,000 miles.

Trudy Richardson
3/31/2012 5:03:43 AM

You are right. However, you cannot put this setup in a car! So, drive the truck and pretend it's a car. If you need to haul something, get a trailer. :)

Walter V. Bunn
3/4/2012 6:26:07 AM

Rather then hooking that directly to the truck, you could run the wood gasifier through a distilling rig, where those vapors will be cooled down significantly. If you do that, you get methanol, and you can store methanol, use it to make biodiesel, or use it to supplement an ethanol compatible vehicle. Don't drink it, since it will make you go blind, but if don't want to give up the bed of your truck, but you want to take advantage of the wood chips in the area, gasify the wood, cool the vapor down, and store the resulting liquid.

Evan Schmeits
2/25/2012 11:19:14 PM

But it would be pointless for me to drive a truck with a gasifier in the bed because the only reason I drive my truck is to take advantage of the room in the bed when I need to haul stuff.

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