Mother's Wood-Powered Truck

Our research team's wood gas experiments have been so successful they've used their gas generator to run a wood powered truck.

| March/April 1981

  • 068 wood powered truck 05
    Initially adapted to use alcohol fuel, this became a wood-powered truck with the addition of our wood gasification unit.
  • 068 wood powered truck 04
    Our researchers have developed a dual-fuel carburetion system.
  • 068 wood powered truck - diagram
    Diagram shows the parts of the MOTHER EARTH NEWS wood gas generator.

  • 068 wood powered truck 05
  • 068 wood powered truck 04
  • 068 wood powered truck - diagram

We recently featured an article about an Iowa couple who beat the high price of gasoline by adapting a woodburning fuel-gas generator to their pickup truck. In the piece we mentioned that MOTHER EARTH NEWS' research crew was "hot" to build a gasification unit of their own design and that we'd be reporting in a future issue on what we hoped would be an improved wood-fueled powerplant.

Well, the future is now, and—as sometimes happens—we have some good news and some not-so-good news. The good tidings, however, couldn't be better: Dennis Burkholder and Robyn Bryan (our resident experts on wood gas) have indeed designed and built a producer-gas generator and used it to turn our "old" alcohol-powered Chevy truck into a wood-powered truck. The "cooker" itself seems to be working perfectly, and the fellows have even designed a dual-fuel carburetion unit which—as far as we know—is just flat unique. To date, the pickup has logged about 1,000 wood-gas miles with no problems and can hold its own in stop-and-go traffic, on hills, and along interstate highways.

And, as you'll probably be glad to know, the bad news isn't all that bad: You see, because we really don't feel that a 1,000-mile test period is adequate to determine the long-term effects of producer gas on an engine, we won't release any detailed construction information—in the magazine or as a set of plans—until we've had a chance to put some more highway behind us, checked the oil for contamination, looked for unwanted deposits in the fuel distribution system, and inspected the valves and seats for wear.

Furthermore, although we've tried several different filter mediums (all of which did a fine job of scrubbing solid particles from the gaseous fuel for a limited time), we're still looking for an inexpensive straining material that [1] is waterproof, so that it can maintain its integrity in a moist environment, [2] doesn't break down under prolonged use, and [3] is capable of serving as a "flame trap" in the unlikely event that a back flash should occur through the system.

So, at present—even though we feel we've taken a giant step toward developing a practical and affordable alternative to petroleum-powered transportation—we still believe that our design has room for improvement in several specific areas. And when those refinements are made, be assured that you'll be among the first to know about them!

How Wood Gasification Works

Our converted pickup's fuel—scraps of wood usually no larger than a 6" length of 2 X 4—rests on a cone-shaped hearth that is, itself, contained within an airtight drum. A limited amount of oxygen is allowed to enter the vessel through an inlet valve, which also incorporates the forced-air blower used to create a draft when starting the fire (once the engine is running, its vacuum provides all the draw necessary to keep the fuel burning).

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