This Truck Runs on Wood Chips!

Reader Contribution by Staff
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Robert “Chip” Beam drives his wood-powered Isuzu Trooper in the Green Grand Prix in Watkins Glen, N.Y.
Photo by David Duprey/AP Wide World 

More than 25 years ago, MOTHER EARTH NEWS reported on how to run a truck with wood chips. The idea is still sawin’ after all these years. 

As reported yesterday in The New York Times, Robert “Chip” Beam of Williamsport, Pa., converted his 1988 Isuzu Trooper SUV to run on wood chips (see photo). The Trooper runs 20 miles on 25 pounds of wood chips, which Beam gets for free. Visit the Beaver Energy website to learn more about the Trooper.

Beam tells the Times that in the summer of 2005 he was inspired to figure out how to run cars on a fuel aside from gas. So he got to work, crafting his system from our articles and various other online resources. Unfortunately, it doesn’t sound like he found the conversion plans we offer. 

Like the original MOTHER EARTH NEWS woodburning truck, Beam’s system has a furnace that sits in the back of the vehicle. He can use just about any type of scrap wood, which is burned to produce carbon monoxide and hydrogen, which burns in the Trooper’s original engine without modifications. The Trooper can go up to about 45 miles per hour and emits a faint smell of charcoal barbeque. 

Beam says he’s now working to create “the fastest wood-powered car on the planet.” Specifically, he’s modifying a 1991 Mercury Cougar. I’m curious to hear how the system will fit in the trunk!

I hope to contact Beam to learn more about his setup. And we’re also going to soon post a detailed report prepared for the Federal Emergency Management Agency by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the Department of Energy called “Construction of a Simplified Wood Gas Generator for Fueling Internal Combustion Engines in a Petroleum Emergency.” Stay tuned. 

In the meantime, here’s a comprehensive list of our articles and plans related to wood chip power: 

You can use wood chips to power a truck or other gas or diesel engine by using this wood-gas generator fabricated from recycled water heaters. The generator converts the energy in the wood into a gaseous form that can be using instead of gasoline.  The plans include a materials list, step-by-step instructions and black-and-white photos. Advanced mechanical and metalworking skills recommended. 

UPDATE, 6/9/2009: 

I have finally tracked down a digital version of the FEMA report. You can 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.

John Rockhold is a green car enthusiast and Contributing Editor for MOTHER EARTH NEWS. Find him on

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