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.
Wayne Keith, who could be nicknamed Mr. Wood Gas as far as I’m concerned, explains wood gas better than I can in this video: