Wood Gas Generator: Run Your Truck on Firewood!

| 6/4/2009 2:11:00 PM

Tags: wood gas, wood gasification, alternative fuels, wood chips, wood-burning truck, wood gas generator,

Wood gas, or wood gasification, is a decades-old renewable energy technology that converts chunks of firewood, wood chips or other cellulosic biomass to charcoal, volatile and combustible gases, and occasionally, combustible liquids.

The process, which is called pyrolysis, is accomplished by cooking the wood (under low oxygen conditions) in a wood-gas generator and collecting the vapors, which are then directed to the vehicle's (ideally a truck or SUV with room to carry the gas generator) carburetor to be burned instead of gasoline.

Wood chips for truck fuelThe principal “waste” product from this process is charcoal, which is now being studied as a valuable amendment for some soils. (To learn more, read Make Biochar — this Ancient Technique Will Improve Your Soil.)  

This process was used to fuel trucks in England during World War II. Because today’s society continues to be extremely dependent upon gasoline as our primary fuel for transportation, wood gas has received research attention from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). A report, prepared by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, which works for the Department of Energy, provides detailed instructions for construction, installation and operation of a wood-gas generator. Download the report (NOTE: this is a 25 MB+ file and thus may not be feasible to download over a slow Internet connection) via the following link: Construction of a Simplified Wood Gas Generator for Fueling Internal Combustion Engines in a Petroleum Emergency.

The purpose of the report "is to develop detailed, illustrated instructions for the fabrication, installation, and operation of a biomass gasifier unit (that is, a "producer gas" generator, also called a "wood gas" generator) which is capable of providing emergency fuel for vehicles, such as tractors and trucks, in the event that normal petroleum sources were severely disrupted for an extended period of time. These instructions are prepared in the format of a manual for use by any mechanic who is reasonably proficient in metal fabrication or engine repair.

This report attempts to preserve the knowledge about wood gasification as put into practical use during World War II. Detailed, step-by-step fabrication procedures are presented for a simplified version of the World War II, Imbert wood gas generator. This simple, stratified, downdraft gasifier unit can be constructed for materials which would be widely available in the United States in a prolonged petroleum crisis. For example, the body of the unit consists of a galvanized metal garbage can atop a small metal drum; common plumbing fittings are used throughout; and a large, stainless steel mixing bowl is used for the grate. The entire compact unit was mounted onto the front of a farm tractor and successfully field tested, using wood chips as the only fuel. Photographic documentation of the actual assemble of the unit as well as its operation is included."

mac westman
4/6/2012 3:45:02 AM

wood gas is a great idea, ive seen it in action to run a strait truck before, granted it was very primitive, but the thing moved, also another way to help cut down on fuel use is HHO. using distilled water and electrolytes, you can use and added alternator to create fuel out of water, there are many products you can get for this application also.... the thing i like about wood gas, especially in the county, is if your running low, pull over and pick up some storm limbs and power on.

john rockhold
9/13/2011 2:58:57 PM

Yes, you really can run a truck or car on wood chips. Stay tuned for some big news in the wood gas world this week, hopefully.

jonathan spreadborough
1/27/2011 3:05:30 PM

Lots of people have started using woodgas for motor fuel. Check out http://www.woodgas.net Some great project have been posted in the member pages. Lets keep woodgas rolling!

hiram berry
9/8/2009 2:54:11 PM

Very nice! This is an example of using modern techniques to enhance the application of the old ways of permaculture. If one just considers the energy efficiency of the process only looking at the liquid fuel produced (mostly methanol) for internal combustion engine use, as I assume most people do, it is not a particularly effective method. However if we consider this from a holistic perspective, the benefits are huge. The biogas fuel is just a nice byproduct which makes the proliferation of the technology economically attractive to individual practitioners in the short term; the real benefit in the long run is the production of the Terra Preta for virtually permanent soil enhancement. The areas in Amazonas improved this way hundreds of years ago are still enormously more bioproductive than surrounding unimproved areas. Also, any cellulosic material can be used, not only wood, for the input and solar heat input is well suited both for drying the biomass and for the pyrolysis process.

9/5/2009 6:59:06 PM

The only way I would want to use wood gassification is as a hybrid. There is (if I remember right) a gas volume issue with idling the engine down and revving the engine back up as the light turns green and you start to go. As a hybrid, the engine can stay at a constant speed and power until the battery pack is fully charged. The engine can change speed at ease up to full power (if there is such a thing as power with wood gas!)

steve mcrorie
9/5/2009 1:36:59 PM

No need to cut down trees, there is plenty of wood material already fallen in our nations woods. It merely requires a bit of harvesting and assists with reducing ground fuels and ladder fuels that lead to upper story forest fires that burn millions of acres each year. Government lands (BLM, USFS) already contract or use personnel to hand stack and burn this material on the ground to no useful purpose other than to reduce ground fuels, to reduce the possibility of large forest fires. Why not utilize the fuels to produce a gas to fuel other processes? If you read the report in the article (26 something MB's), green wood is not acceptable for wood gas production ... it contains too much moisture and has to be dried first. Already dead trees contain less moisture. In my locality, we don't have to deal with additional moisture from rain/snow as it is a high desert. This would be an ideal process to reduce major forest fires and produce a couple of products from material that goes to waste otherwise. So, this isn't about cutting down trees just to make a fuel for use elsewhere. It is about electing to use alternatives to the petroleum process, and to create benefits from under used, or unused products. A well managed forest is more beneficial to man than one that is not. It not only protects you somewhat from forest fire, but assists with retaining the water in the ground for your use later. Healthy, uncrowded trees work to mans benefit as well and reduce the opportunity for beetle larva to dessimate huge tracts of forest lands and destroy a valuable resource. I'm sure there are drawbacks, but I sure see some advantage to using wood and other forest products to produce materials of use. I would also investigate the link in the article for Oak Ridge National Laboratory ... they have some cool things going on. Nope, this is not about cutting trees. It is much more.

goody dockstader
9/5/2009 9:16:53 AM

Are we cutting down trees? How good is that.

tom fafard
6/15/2009 3:08:34 PM

I have been a part of TMEN since 1970 or so. The Wood Gas Generator was a great series. If I was living out somewhere now I would have one generating power all of the time. There are plenty of sources of fuel for the units and you can pick up a cheap stationary generator. Another source not spoken of much is Bio-Gas. TMEN produced plans for that long ago as well. In fact when there was a TMEN expermintal "farm" all of these things were running and you were able to visit them (in North Carolina I believe). There are many things we all can do...the thing is to just start with something.

david marshland
6/15/2009 10:05:09 AM

Could this be a practical replacement/alternative fuel for a butane or propane fuelled cooking stove?

6/13/2009 7:46:38 PM

One addition to this article is also the fact that burning wood or 'producer' gas is extremely clean for the environment.Gasified wood cumbustion is the cleanest way known to consume wood fuel or any biomass for that matter.Would'nt it be nice if a bit more research into this fuel were done by private industry??hint hint Ford!

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