My Pet Project – Producer Gas and my SUV

Guest post by WUWT moderator Andi Cockroft

This has little to do with my beliefs (or otherwise) in CAGW, but more to the fact that I am tight with money and this project offers the ability to run my 5 litre SUV for free ! Please note however, this is only suitable for Petrol/Gasoline Engines – most definitely NOT for diesels

Now I should also state that I live on a block of “Native Bush” (read indigenous trees) in New Zealand, so I have a carbon sink of my very own. I also have access to an almost unlimited supply of pine from plantation operations where logging operations leave huge amounts of uneconomic timber behind – myself and several hundred souls benefit from this bountiful resource to heat our homes in winter.

Now I want to run my SUV on it as well.

So what is “Producer Gas”? Well our dear friends over at Wikipedia have an overview here. Unfortunately it is long on references, but short on detail.

So, I will define what I mean by Producer Gas, as a combination of various gasses obtained by “cooking” dry wood. Heat it enough, without burning it, and it will give off a mixture of primarily Carbon Monoxide and Methane – plus a few nasty bi-products such as tar etc. What remains we know as charcoal.

There are many different mechanisms for manufacturing Producer Gas, most concentrate these days on stationary platforms – however they are just as easily made for mobile use aboard a vehicle.

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This image of a Ford Truck conversion, (courtesy of Per Larsson’s Museum) shows one of the many ways it can be achieved – here strapped onto the side of the truck.

Note the extra radiator in front, required to cool the Producer Gas after its manufacture by “cooking” – internal combustion engines work better with cooler fuels (think of this as an inter-cooler).

But looking at this doesn’t really gel with the aesthetics I want to achieve for my SUV – so how can it be done that bit better?

Let’s just look at how Producer Gas is made.

There are different designs, and I have researched many over the years I have been contemplating this project – brought to a head now simply by exorbitant fuel prices. Here is my preference for a “Stratified Downdraft Gassifier”

OK, so how do we convert our fuel (pine for me) into Producer Gas?

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Here courtesy of http://www.gengas.nu/byggbes/index.shtml is the version I choose to build. On the right is the main Gassifier – here’s where all the magic happens – but do visit their site, it is a goldmine of information.

Wood Fuel in the form of dried pellets of wood (about 1” cube) are stacked in the hopper at the top, and feed under gravity into the fire tube. At the base of the tube is a dish or grate riddled with air-holes – much like a colander. Both the fire tube, and the grate must be made of pretty heat tolerant material such as stainless steel. We need a small opening in the Gassifier so we can actually set fire to the material in the grate – and for reasons we will see later, this will normally have charcoal in it.

But before we set fire to things, note the other components. In the middle is a filter unit that can be of many designs, but meant primarily to prevent nasty stuff such as tar reach our engine, Use sawdust, oil, water or sand to trap the stuff you don’t want, and then our gas heads off to the left to be mixed with air and on into our engine.

You may notice there are actually 2 throttle controls – one the master throttle, the other to control air. This is OK for an engine that will run at constant speed such as a generator, but for a vehicle it would be far better if these could be linked together – something I am working on right now.

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OK, before we can start our engine, we need to light our Gassifier. Easily done, with some charcoal in the grate, add a little lighter fuel if you feel brave, and light it. At the same time, note the provision of a blower – this is only used during this phase to get air flowing into the Gassifier from above, provide oxygen to the charcoal on the grate and start the process rolling.

I am told to expect 10 to 15 minutes for this to begin – but note THIS IS CARBON MONOXIDE – DO NOT DO THIS IN A CONFINED SPACE.

Also, you should include springs to hold the lid firmly on the Gassifier – not welded on. Just in case of a back-fire, the lid will momentarily lift, allow the built-up gasses to escape, then reseal itself.

My plan is to add a spark-plug to the funnel, so I can ignite the gas with ease. Once it is burning with a very pale blue flame then we can look to start the engine – just turn off the blower first.

It has been suggested that starting with petrol/gasoline and then switching to Producer Gas is far easier – but we will see.

The beauty of this design is that the production of gas is totally dependent on demand – ie the suction provided by the engine – put your foot down and it will draw and manufacture more gas. Ease off and it will slow down. And best of all, turn the engine off and it will simply go out – but that takes another 10-15 minutes, so restarting in that time should be just a matter of turning the ignition key.

I am in the process of building the Gassifier right now, and I have a pickup SUV, where I can mount the Gassifier outside on the back and run all that plumbing outside the cab as well. I will keep you apprised of my progress.

I am also working on a stationary engine coupled to a 20Kw alternator that will not only supply all my needs, but allow me to sell the excess (at 3x retail) back onto the grid – heck if they pay subsidies to windmills, then why not to me!

Up until now, I have only mentioned pine as a fuel source, but depending on where you live, you could use left-overs from many agricultural products – corn stalks, sugar cane, coconut husks – even coal if you really want to.

Also on the design-table is a device to take large pieces of pine and chop them into the ideal sizes required – and if I can run that directly of the engine, I just about have perpetual motion – well at least motion at zero cost.

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89 Responses to My Pet Project – Producer Gas and my SUV

  1. Jarmo says:

    A video of a guy who did in Finland. Kamina in Finnish means a small wood stove.

  2. devijvers says:

    Planet mechanics has done an episode on a converting a car to run on wood gas:

  3. Doug UK says:

    Excellent post – I run a Land Rover Discovery V8 3.9litre here in the UK on LPG . The engine “loves” it – the oil stays clean for far longer than when running on petrol and if I forget to put it on petrol for the annual MOT the tester thinks his machine is broken the emissions are so low.

    Here the price per litre for petrol is now £1.43. LPG is just 78pence per litre

    What got me thinking with this story is that our hedgerows in the UK get trimed back regularly and the trimings get fed through a shredder and the chippings just left on the road side . This technology could be very attractive. The raw materials are there.

  4. Patrick says:

    This is a really good read Andi, but how long do you think it’ll be before the NZ govn’t will outlaw this method of gas production or increases RUCs to compensate for the drop in tax revenue from regular fuels?

  5. DirkH says:

    Finnish wood gassifiers. Funny photos with contraptions in cars. German language page.
    http://www.holzgibtgas.com/viewtopic.php?t=6265

  6. Erik says:

    Wood gas vehicles: firewood in the fuel tank
    http://www.lowtechmagazine.com/2010/01/wood-gas-cars.html

  7. DBCooper says:

    But the CO and the CO2 are destroying the universe! Have you no decency?

  8. DirkH says:

    More fotos of Finnish gassifier cars. Finnish page.
    http://www.ekoautoilijat.fi/tekstit/kalustoesittely.htm

  9. Is there no limit to human ingenuity? This post has really cheered me up. Heath-Robinson lives on in New Zealand!

  10. iRishabh says:

    Tech Guys! tech team!! Innovative People! Keep it up!!

  11. Bob says:

    Dual fueling an SI engine. Neat. Of course if you had one without an engine you could add a tank of water, fire box and steam operated piston and just burn the pine.

  12. David A. Evans says:

    For the purposes of being able to maintain a standard gas/air mixture it is easier to start the engine using petrol until it’s warmed, otherwise you need to arrange some form of choke mechanism. Extra complication.

    DaveE.

  13. Dodgy Geezer says:

    A very Antipodean solution – some of the the ‘Mad Max’ cars seem to have been powered this way?

  14. walterschneider says:

    Not exactly environmentally-friendly, but it works. Wood-gasifiers were used extensively in Germany towards the end of the war, on trucks, buses and cars (especially on taxis), when gasoline was rationed and generally not available. In the end, Germany did not even have enough of it to fly the airplanes of the Luftwaffe.

    Still, it is a step in the right direction, in the direction of the stone age.

    Now, I wonder what the EPA will have to say about it. I remember that wood-gasifiers were stinky and messy, but the residue they produced could be used to help heat homes and to cook meals. That was a good thing, too, because coal was then not obtainable either, as the whole economy was in shambles, rubble and ashes.

    It took Hitler only 13 years to bring that about. We now take a little longer because we have to do it through peaceful means and on a world-wide scale. /sarc

  15. Kasuha says:

    Such things were used during WW2 here in europe when most of gas was confiscated for military purposes. These things were big, heavy, hot, smelly, and the produced gas was hard on engines. Even though it was rather cheap to run once the unit was mounted on the car they still stopped using these after the war as soon as normal gas became available. There were reasons for it.
    I’m not saying technology did not go ahead since then. But the design you describe is very similar to the old ones.
    Another thing is, you don’t completely stop it by taking your foot off the pedal – the gas will continue to develop while it’s hot, it will just stop going to the engine and will find whatever else way out. Your car WILL smell.
    With that said I still wish you success with your project and hope you will have fun with it. Just be really careful about the carbon monoxide.

  16. James Allison says:

    Excellent piece of no#8 wire technology fellow Kiwi. Beat the fuel tax. I salute you. Didn’t they have these things during WWII in France – gazogenes or some such thing.

  17. Bloke down the pub says:

    The BBC science programme Bang goes the theory used this method to convert a car to run on coffee grounds. As I remember, it was a sod to control the throttle and it stopped in awkward places on a regular basis. They did manage however to drive it from Birmingham to London, leaving a cloud of smelly smoke behind them, but enough of Birmingham.

  18. DaveF says:

    Producer gas systems were used on buses in Britain during the second World War. They weren’t very successful, and could only be used in very flat country. If your fuel is not a gas, or a liquid that easily vaporises, I should have thought you’d be better off with a steam engine. Still, good luck with it.

  19. jc says:

    Cooling the producer gas is ok for a first cut but better to (partially) run the engine on water. There are two reactions
    a – 2C+O2 = 2CO gives off heat
    b – H20+C = H2 + CO needs heat

    With wood the moisture in the wood reacts as per B but more water can be added.
    If the cooler is replaced by a heat exchanger where the exhaust from the gasifier heats the incoming air more water can be added ie free energy.

    Look at stuff on the old town gas to get an idea but use a countercurrent heat exchanger with a couple of stainless steel pipes

    To do this you need control stuff, thermocouple, microprocessor and pump.

    Also consider using charcoal (refer destructive distillation of wood) or a very cheap engine as the stuff from wood needs very good filtering for any engine life

  20. ChrisM says:

    There were two big problems with the old producer gas vehicles. The first was they were very low power. Most vehicles had real problems getting up to 50mph even with a tail wind. The other more serious issue was it wasn’t possible to fit an effective filter so the engine had a lot of bits of silica laden char going through them. This meant that they needed rebuilding every 1000 mile or so. they also needed decoking. They also went best on the old American big 6s and V8s. Combination of flat head, slow revs, low compression and relatively excess power as well as a big enough body to carry the device.
    The only thing going for them was they didn’t need liquid fuels so were very popular during the war. – desparate times called for desparate measures.
    From memory, the old DSIR put out a book on the trials and experiences of gasifiers in cars. This was in the late 70s so the National Library may have a copy.

  21. Petrossa says:

    But why do that when you can burn food? That’s not ecological. You must burn corn alcohol or something to be really carbon neutral. Tsk Tsk.

  22. H.R. says:

    Andi,
    In your promised update, would you please remember let us know your final cost for materials? Thanks!

    That El Camino that DirkH and others posted links to is an absolute beauty, but I’m seeing a lot of expensive stainless steel on that particular conversion and that means big $$$. Let’s see how much it costs someone who is tight with their money.

    I suppose that when you’re done, instead of pulling into a gas/petrol station and saying “Fill ‘er up,” you’ll have to stop at the garden store and say “Two bags of mulch, please.” ;o)

  23. Robert S says:

    What you describe isn’t producer gas. In the 19th C and more than half the 20th C – producer gas was generated from blast air and coke to heat horizontal and vertical retorts to produce coal gas, coke and coal tar from ranking coals.The process consisted of heating a rotating bed of hot coke with air to produce CO and N2 (blast); a fefinement was the introduction of an endothermic steam run to produce water gas. The producers were run cyclically to be self sustaining in heat balance. During the war in England coke trailers were towed behind buses generating producer gas to ‘drive’ the bus.
    This is from memory but full details are available from the Institute of Gas Engineers or the Institute of Fuel (now Energy).

  24. R.J.Kuiper says:

    Wonderfull. I am back in the war (’40-’45) . My father drove a car with wood as fuel!

  25. Keith Battye says:

    We did this in Rhodesia during the era of sanctions. Several farmers ran their tractors using a small gas producer bolted on the front. The problem then was that liquid fuels were all imported and firewood and coal were locally available. It was good fun to watch the tractor driver stopping every half hour or so to throw some twigs into the producer and then carry on ploughing.

    I was personally involved in the design and installation of larger , static, gas producers using coal. These were mainly used in the baking and food processing industries and also a paint baking line in our vehicle assembly plant.

    It was all quite old technology but we added our own improvements . . . quite instructive as how people always respond to difficulties with innovation and resolve. In our case the shortage of liquid fuels was caused by the UN.

  26. g3ellis says:

    Good on ya. The reactor is the biggie. I know your issue is capital. But I do wonder if this in conjuction with a hydraulic hybrid might be the size compromise. With the webs help and the fact that Mother Earth News has gotten old articles online, here is what I was referring to.

    http://www.motherearthnews.com/Green-Transportation/1978-03-01/This-Car-Travels-75-Miles-on-a-Single-Gallon-of-Gasoline.aspx

  27. Gillian Lord says:

    Gillian Lord says
    There was something similar in Australia in WWII. We called them ‘charcoal burners’ and they were usually pulled behind a car.

  28. Raymond Kuntz says:

    An interesting alternative to the cycle advocated here is one that produces Biochar in lieu of Charcoal, Don’t know if the gas by products produced are combustible however.

  29. Billy Liar says:

    Keith Battye says:
    April 27, 2012 at 3:38 am

    In our case the shortage of liquid fuels was caused by the UN.

    I’m getting déjà vu here.

  30. wermet says:

    This is an interesting concept that I had not heard about before. I have a couple of questions:
    1) How does the producer gas generated power efficiency compare with simply using a steam powered engine?
    2) When a accident happens (not if), can the producer gas generation system be adequately “contained” or “protected” to prevent it from becoming a major safety hazard?

  31. g3ellis says:

    Good on ya. I know you are capital challenged. Going forward, I wonder if someone wanted to try a smaller reactor as hydraulic hybrid. I remember this from before time began. And Mother Earth News has put their old archives online (there is a small, low velocity hydro plant design I want to look up too!)

    http://www.motherearthnews.com/Green-Transportation/1978-03-01/This-Car-Travels-75-Miles-on-a-Single-Gallon-of-Gasoline.aspx

    With the hybrid, the scale and heat might be more user friendly? Of course a high pressure hydraulic leak at the gasifier would be the new definition of blow torch :)

  32. Jimbob says:

    As a fellow Kiwi, I give a wry smile … forget the look of the technology, praise the No.8-wire production. As another poster said … 1943 all over again!!

  33. Gail Combs says:

    A guy I met in Leominster MA in the 1990’s ran his pick-up truck on chicken manure (methane)

    I think he may have bought this kit.

    Harold Bate the movie
    http://www.onf.ca/film/bates_car_sweet_as_a_nut/

    ‘Bate’s Car: Sweet as a Nut’ (1974) 15m 33s, directed by Tony Ianzelo.
    Harold Bate is an eccentric British inventor whose old car runs on ‘the material’, which we soon find to be chicken droppings (the engine compartment is full of weird gauges, hoses, and pumps invented by him, and the damn thing actually runs…)

    Mother Earth News
    Issue # 8 – March 1971
    The Harold Bate conversion kit for automobiles and vehicle engines in general, is available from EARTH MOVE for $33. This price includes delivery to any address of a full kit exactly as distributed by the inventor. This comprises: The conversion device itself which comes ready-to-use and suits all makes and types of engines. Full instructions and drawings for the device. Full instructions and drawings for ‘backyard’ Methane Gas production. The device allows a vehicle to run on any gas including Propane and Natural Gas (which is Methane as is gas produced from chicken manure). An emergency or permanent switch-back to gasoline power can be made at any time; even while in motion.

    No special tools, equipment or knowledge are required to make the conversion.

    Earth Move P.O. Box 13036 Washington, D.C. 20009 (NOTE: This company is no longer in business.)
    http://journeytoforever.org/biofuel_library/methane_bate.html

  34. AnonyMoose says:

    For fuel, don’t overlook the sawdust. A pellet mill can make wood pellets for a wood stove or gasifier.

  35. Reblogged this on gottadobetterthanthis and commented:
    Interesting. I’m not taking the time to try to look up the statistics, but it would be interesting to know if these kinds of projects are actually catching on. There are lots of informative comments on the post. I doubt anyone will be happy with a producer gas system conversion unless they have freely available cellulose fuel (and a penchant to tinker). Like windmills, there are many good reasons these systems have never been first choice for motive power.

  36. Mark_K says:

    How much wood would a wood car burn if a wood car would burn wood?

  37. Kaboom says:

    These “Holzvergaser” were a familiar sight in Germany after WW2 up into the early 1950s to power physicians’ cars when no gasoline was available to civilians.

  38. zmdavid says:

    What? I thought Producer Gas had something to do with the movie industry.

  39. eric1skeptic says:

    Sounds a lot like town gas http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coal_gas which was nice and cheap back in its heyday with just a few drawbacks (stunk, potentially deadly, etc)

  40. Russ in Houston says:

    This looks like a great system if you have a shortage of petroleum fuel. But we don’t have that problem just yet. maybe you should use your time campaigning against government regulations on carbon fuel.

  41. wsbriggs says:

    I would suggest that you invest in some better materials for the burner section – while stainless steel is temperature resistant, it will oxidize at high temperatures – 316 in BBQ grills will rust (yes, rust) in about 3 years. Inconel isn’t cheap, but it lasts.

    To start, get a small propane tank. You’re running a gas, with a different orifice and mix you can easily start and you don’t have spillage problems.

    Look at using the heat exchanger as a heat source for a gas cycle refrigeration unit for in vehicle airconditioning – I grant you, you probably don’t need it in NZ, but those in parts of AUS will. It’s also a great source of BTUs on cold days, but I’m sure you’ve already thought of that.

    Good luck!

  42. Fred2 says:

    http://gekgasifier.com/

    These guys will sell you plans, or a complete kit on a pallet, whatever you feel like.
    Combine that with a pellet burning furnace and you can run your world on wood.

  43. Olaf Koenders says:

    “..I also have access to an almost unlimited supply of pine from plantation operations where logging operations leave huge amounts of uneconomic timber behind..”

    It’s at this point my wry smile decided to appear. Onya! ;)

  44. Crispin in Waterloo says:

    I support the reference to the efforts at GEK – California gas, you could call it. This is a first class and very recent initiative by Charlie Sellers and the team in California. There are many problems associated with running an ICE on wood gas and they are really doing a good job of sorting it out. They are promoting experimenter’s kits with free plans you can take to your laser cutting shop.

    They have been so successful with their power plants that they are actually hiring people, if you have a technical bent. They recently hired one of the best known Stirling engine boffins from the UK which might lead in all sorts of directions.

    For those following biomass energy check also Roger Samson’s work on switchgrass, he who has promoted native grass fuels for more than 20 years. There is more annually available energy (per hectare) from switchgrass than wood or bamboo as far as I hear. Pellets are available in Ontario, 5, 6.4 and 8mm.

    Combine that with GEK products and you have California grass….

  45. Gary Pearse says:

    What about direct high pressure steam (10 t 20 MPa) into the cylinders of the SUV?

  46. Jimbo says:

    I am tight with money and this project offers the ability to run my 5 litre SUV for free !

    But I thought you were part of the well funded denialist machine.
    / SARC

  47. Erik says:

    @Gail Combs says:
    April 27, 2012 at 4:55 am

    A guy I met in Leominster MA in the 1990′s ran his pick-up truck on chicken manure (methane)
    —————————————————————————-
    “Chicken farmer Harold Bate discovered an eco-friendly way to power his car using decomposing chicken and pig manure as low-cost methane gas car fuel.”
    http://www.motherearthnews.com/green-transporation/chicken-manure-car-fuel-zmaz71jazgoe.aspx

  48. Heggs. says:

    Best of luck with your project man. Here’s a youtube link to a guy who has taken the idea to the next level. Engineer775 has some very cool projects and I visit his channel a lot.

    Heggs.

  49. MrV says:

    Phew. I thought you were going to talk about running your SUV on human produced gas for a minute there. Now that would be ‘tight’.

  50. Dave Mitchell says:

    There are higher-tech variants of this process to manufacture transportation fuels – coal to liquid (CTL) and gas to liquid (GTL) technology. CTL was pioneered by the German scientists Fischer and Tropsch – the Fischer-Tropsch (F-T) process. This uses a source of carbon – coal, lignite,wood etc, partially combusts it to produce CO and H2 (syngas), and then recombines these gases over a catalyst to make a range of hydrocarbons. Initially, this was a scientific curiosity, but in war-torn Nazi Germany when oil was hard to come by, a significant fraction of the oil for the war effort came from the F-T process. After the war, cheap, abundant oil made the process uneconomic and it vanished. It was reprised in Apartheid South Africa to overcome oil shortages arising from economic sanctions. Despite the FT process’s unfortunate association with nasty regimes, it flourishes today. South Africa still operates a very large CTL plant. A large development in GTL has also taken place recently, as this technology has a lower CO2 footprint than CTL. It also produces a different range of hydrocarbons, such as waxes. These can be readily hydrocracked to make both diesel and petrol (and even aviation fuel). Incidentally, the F-T diesel product is sulphur-free. Normal diesels has a high sulphur content which not only produces toxic SO2, but also result in a very smokey exhaust.

    If you are a AGW proponent, you’d frown upon F-T processes due to their CO2 footprint. But the reality is that they convert local energy resources into that most useful of forms – liquid transportation fuels. In South Africa a very significant fraction of national fuel demand is met from local coal and gas resources, which saves valuable foreign exchange on imported oil. Also, many thousands of highly skilled jobs are created locally and the industry produces large tax revenues for the government. The chemical feedstocks and by-products are used to produce a huge range of polymers, fine chemicals and fertilisers, generating valuable export income. A large number of countries either have built, or are now exploring, GTL – including the Middle East, where by-product gas is often flared (eek more CO2) as there is no local market for it. The US is also investigating CTL, since it is now awash with cheap shale gas. Imagine a World where we were no longer dependent on the Middle East, and other equally unstable parts of the globe, for our energy. China, with its immense coal reserves, is looking at CTL. However, the larger CO2 footprint than GTL will make CTL unpalatable for most other countries, whileever the AGW mindset prevails. No doubt China has an eye on energy independence, something most European governments seem to have completely forgotten about. US/European shale gas developments combined with CTL have the potential to radically change the energy landscape, and most importantly, the price of liquid fuels, since CTL/GTL-derived synthetic crude oil is now much cheaper than crude oil.

    I take my hat off the boffins in NZ for their technology. Sadly, producer gas has a relatively low energy density and so is never going to get you breaking any speed records. The feedstock is certainly the right price though (free). For your next challenge, consider building a Fischer-Tropsch plant. In fact NZ toyed with the idea, but chose instead to manufacture methanol from its local supply of natural gas, and convert it to synthetic fuel via the Mobil process. A process which it has now abandoned. There is an interesting history on this at:

    http://www.techhistory.co.nz/ThinkBig/Petrochemical%20Decisions.htm

    The take home message is that if anyone ever says to you that peak oil has passed and we are doomed to run out of transportation fuels in the next few weeks/months/years – just mention the two magic words: Fischer-Tropsch, and best of all, no food crops were harmed during the making of this fuel.

    Disclaimer: I am actually in the employ of big oil, so please treat the above as complete denialist propaganda.

  51. P. Solar says:

    Ah, I love the Kiwis’ idea of an SUV . You guys always impressed me by not wasting anything. Last time I was down there I helped a guy fix his 1950 Lands tractor, still a workhorse on his farm.
    Probably something to do with not having an indigenous car industry.

    Best Kiwi T-shirt
    “The Kiwi: eats, roots and leaves. ” (note the comma)

  52. dp says:

    I can see a very punitive color coding process on the horizon to prevent people from using name brand BBQ smoker pellets in the family Buick :). The road tax will prevail!

  53. DirkH says:

    Dave Mitchell says:
    April 27, 2012 at 8:42 am
    “Disclaimer: I am actually in the employ of big oil, so please treat the above as complete denialist propaganda.”

    Thank you, Sir, for keeping this civilization running.

  54. William Abbott says:

    I have hundreds of tons of cedar (juniper) chips. Free – come and get them. Your producer gas will taste like gin.

  55. Steve C says:

    Excellent! It’s always good to hear about bits of alternative tech like this, and I love that pic of the Ford truck conversion – it would give a Health and Safety weenie a heart attack on sight, I’m inclined to agree with those who question whether this is really producer gas, though – shouldn’t it be called “wood gas” or similar? Producer gas, as I recall, consumes charcoal, rather than leaving it unreacted.

    I think JC’s comment is right. I have a dim memory from schooldays a half century ago of learning that they used to use plant which generated producer gas and water gas alternately, using the heat from the exothermic reaction (C + air) to jolly along the endotherrmic one (C + steam). I can’t remember whether they mixed the two products together, but I can’t see that it would be too bad to do so if you can tweak the engine.

    Re people wondering about steam engines, I recall from a TV programme some years ago that the Stanley Steamer of about a century ago used to use one gallon of water and ten gallons of diesel per mile. If my memory is right (and I haven’t accidentally swapped the figures!) that doesn’t represent the most economical means of transport. Having said that, the performance of the Stanley was amazing for its time, and it would hold its own easily in modern traffic. As long as the route was along a river or canal … :-)

  56. Ted Cooper says:

    Reminds me of WWII when the shortage of gasoline made the sight of gas producers quite common on commercial vehicles and doctor’s cars.

  57. DaveF says:

    Steve C 10:08:
    In my neck of the UK woods there is a gentleman who takes his hundred-year-old White steam car out to all the steam fairs etc. His car uses petrol (gasoline), has a top speed of 50mph (which is plenty when you only have rear-wheel brakes) and he says it does 30 miles to a gallon of petrol and 14 miles to a gallon of water. I believe it is a ‘flash boiler’ steamer.

  58. George E. Smith; says:

    “”””” grumpyoldmanuk says:

    April 27, 2012 at 12:37 am

    Is there no limit to human ingenuity? This post has really cheered me up. Heath-Robinson lives on in New Zealand. “””””

    Well Grumpy, Heath Robinson, is getting a bit long in the tooth; well assuming the old bugger still has some teeth.

    Those gasifiers were quite common in Kiwiland during WW-II. I can attest to having thoroughly inspected one about 1942 as I recall. I can even remember the color of the car; a sort of Orange Brown Detroitosaurus Maximus; usually owned by farmer types, rather than city slickers; also more room in the back seat to put more sheep.

    But the WW-II “charcoal burners” were a lot more spivvy than those big brewery cauldrons you blokes have on the back or sides of your pickemup trucks. My recollection is they were about 18 inches tall, and maybe 8-10 inches in diameter max, and could run on either wood chips, or even coal or “coke”; well basically it is a carbon thing; with some hydrogen if you are lucky.

    But you have to remember in WW-II days, NZ was at the far end of the petroleum supply road, so these “some assembly required” renewable energy” sources were the secret to getting around. Well there still was the tyre problem too.

    But remember what Rutherford said; We haven’t the money, so we have to think.

    Now the GIs who were down there for a little R&R before going back to hell on earth, did have access to some Yankee gas.

    I’m among those, incidently who believe petroleum is simply liquid rocks; and there’s nary a dinosaur molecule in it anywhere.

  59. crosspatch says:

    If you have all that pine available, why not just use a liquid fuel: turpentine and after you get all the turpentine, THEN make gas from the wood, too. Use the turpentine as your “starter” fuel and then switch to gas.

  60. R. de Haan says:

    Here’s a nice “stove” volvo
    and some more links:
    http://houtgas.be/?page_id=12

    You use what you can use and zero money for fuel, we can’t go cheaper can we…

    Unfortunately the entire scene in Europe is infested with people who believe they have this mission to save the planet. Unfortunately.

  61. R. de Haan says:

    Series produced Lanz Tractor 1942

    They could have won the war with this one.

  62. R. de Haan says:

    Sorry, forgot to post the link of the “stove” Volvo
    http://houtgas.be/?attachment_id=65

  63. Sparks says:

    If I built one of these “producer gas” machines, I’d need to get some wood, where’s the best place to get wood? anyone got wood? I need wood for my “producer gas”machine!

  64. john says:

    Anyone interested in building a wood gas tractor (or anything else) might want to check out these plans.

    http://www.gengas.nu/byggbes/index.shtml

  65. Malcolm Miller says:

    During WW2 there were thousands of cars and trucks in Australia fitted with charcoal burning gas producers. Fuel was severly rationed – I remember being allowed two gallons one month and three gallons the next for a long time. They were dirty and harmful to engines, but they worked when there was no other fuel available. When fuel (petrol) rationing ended, several years after the end of the war, they disappeared immediately.

  66. Mike McMillan says:

    Wonder how many miles per cord you get?

  67. Steve says:

    Why not just use the wood to make wood alcohol and burn that?

  68. Rhoda R says:

    Ingenious and all that but:

    1) CO2 was the bug-bear behind all this ‘eco-‘ crap NOT lack of petrol.
    2) I don’t mind higher levels of CO2 but CO is a different story all together
    3) These things work so long as they’re a niche movement but out economies would be even more depressed if anyone thought that these were a general solution.

    This is a hobbiest movement not some sort of real world solution. As Ace of Spades would say: Political leaders, lamp-posts, rope: Some assembly required.

  69. RoHa says:

    Learned about producer gas back in high school at a time when the text books were hand written in Latin. Understood the gas. Never understood the stupid name for it.

  70. Pamela Gray says:

    I think the name is a riot!!!! To bad you couldn’t do something with the OTHER form of producer gas. Now that’s what I call having your bean burrito to go!

  71. This power source was very common in Sweden during WWII. It is said that 70 000 vehicles used it. In Sweden it was called “gen gas” (or “gengas” as a compound word), “gen” for “generator” – the burner was called a generator. Actually worked fairly well, but it took minutes to start a car the first time of the day and the engine would only get 70% of the usual power. But it was only used by taxis, buses and official traffic (private driving was banned). The military used ordinary petrol but mixed with up to 50% ethanol.

    –Ahrvid

  72. Jimbo says:

    Dave Mitchell says:
    April 27, 2012 at 8:42 am
    “Disclaimer: I am actually in the employ of big oil, so please treat the above as complete denialist propaganda.”

    I’m still waiting for my check. ;-)

    Maybe I missed something but your comments above looked like anti-oil. Finally, I echo DirkH’s sentiments, thank you. Almost everything that is man-made we enjoy today is directly or indirectly as a result of fossil fuels. I always tell anti-fossil fuel Warmists to simply get off the grid and go wind and solar. Very few actually are prepared to do that as NH winters can be a killer – see recent Eastern European winter when hundreds dies ON-GRID.

  73. wsbriggs says:

    For those sticking comments in about steam engines, Bill Lear, he of 8-track, and Learjet fame, spent millions of $ trying to make steam work in the ’70s. His comment, “The thing about the Rankine cycle is that it’s rank.” The killer was the oil-water emulsion that formed over time and caused bearings and pistons to fail for lack of lubrication.

    There is a lot of bogus information on the web about what he did and didn’t do. The Wallis steam engine never worked, and the turbine steam engine wasn’t efficient at all. Learium didn’t exist – it was supposed to be the solution to the oil-water emulsion problem.

    Closed cycle steam turbines are a good bet, provided you use them to generate electrical power to drive the vehicle. Personally, I think just using electronically commutated generation on the turbine shaft is a more efficient way to get to electricity. And if electricity is what you want, why not just use nat-gas or a liquide derived therefrom to drive the turbine in the first place.

  74. Fredrick Lightfoot says:

    I live in Italy, were the National sport is devising ways to beat the tax man, I have a Lancia Kappa 3 liter station wagon which has a commercial ( off the shelf ) Methane plant, I have in my house gas heating and cooking, my friend the plumber put me a connection in the garage, I bought a pump and from this I fill the high pressure gas cylinders in my car. (6 diving bottles ) they fit better than the original
    Cost of installation and parts Euros 2,340
    cost of plumber and pump Euros 1,976 (plus beer and wine )
    cost of driving 10 km Euros 0.05
    autonomy ( km driven on one tank ) 750 – 800
    Note, the word wood does not appear in the above, and I bet my system costs less, works better,
    ( will do 180 km plus on the autostrada ) and the only refilling is click and turn the valve, and I don’t have to carry an axe in my tool kit !

  75. Fredrick Lightfoot says:

    Methane in service stations in Italy cost plus minus euros 30 cents a liter Germany about the same .

  76. richardscourtney says:

    jc:

    I conducted a review of wood pyrolysis developments for the EU in the early 1990s. The following provides a very brief introduction to the chemistry of the pyrolysis and its pertinence to use of wood-derived product gas as fuel in internal combustion engines.

    Your post at April 27, 2012 at 1:40 am is very wrong. It confuses the first stage of carbon combustion with a misunderstanding of the ‘water-gas shift’ reaction when it says;

    “Cooling the producer gas is ok for a first cut but better to (partially) run the engine on water. There are two reactions
    a – 2C+O2 = 2CO gives off heat
    b – H20+C = H2 + CO needs heat
    With wood the moisture in the wood reacts as per B but more water can be added.
    If the cooler is replaced by a heat exchanger where the exhaust from the gasifier heats the incoming air more water can be added ie free energy.”

    Oh dear, NO!

    Firstly, wood (and also coal) is mostly carbon (C) and it combusts by reacting with oxygen (O) in a two stage reaction process; i.e.

    Stage 1.
    Carbon combines with oxygen (e.g. from the air) to form carbon monoxide (CO); i.e.
    2.C + O2 -> 2.CO
    This reaction is endothermic; i.e. it consumes heat (it does NOT give off heat as you say).
    And this need for an input of heat is why starting a wood fire requires an input of heat.

    Stage2.
    Carbon monoxide reacts with oxygen to form carbon dioxide (CO2); i.e.
    2.CO + O2 -> 2.CO2
    This reaction is exothermic; i.e. it emits heat.

    Importantly, the heat emitted by Stage 2 is much more than the heat consumed by Stage 1. And this is why a fire emits net heat and why a fire can spread when it has started.

    Gasification (or pyrolysis) of carbonaceous material (i.e. wood, paper, coal, etc.) consists of starting the fire then providing sufficient oxygen
    (a) to convert all the carbon to carbon monoxide
    and
    (b) to convert sufficient of the created carbon monoxide into carbon dioxide for provision of the heat needed for the conversion of the carbon to carbon monoxide.

    The result is a gas that contains much carbon monoxide and some carbon dioxide. And if this gas is burned then it provides as much heat as burning the carbon would provide (ignoring losses).

    Such a gas can be used as a fuel in an internal combustion engine. However, the reaction rate of the product gas is low, and faster reaction rate is needed for its efficient use as fuel in an internal combustion engine. This is where a water-gas shift is useful.

    Hydrogen (H) burns much faster than carbon monoxide so an addition of hydrogen gas (H2) to the carbon monoxide gas improves the efficiency of the product gas as fuel in an internal combustion engine.

    Hydrogen (H) burns by combining with oxygen to form water
    2.H2 + O2 -> 2.H2O
    with release of much heat.

    And hydrogen can be obtained from water during the pyrolysis. But NOT as you say.
    The ‘ water gas shift’ reaction burns carbon monoxide with the oxygen in water to form carbon dioxide, and it uses most of the released heat to separate the oxygen from the hydrogen of the water; i.e.
    H20 + CO -> H2 + CO2
    This reaction is the water gas shift. It releases some heat (n.b. it does NOT consume heat) but releases less heat than burning carbon monoxide with oxygen gas.

    Wood contains some water and additional water may be added to obtain optimum hydrogen in the product gas. Again, burning the resulting gas releases as much heat as would be obtained by burning the wet wood (ignoring losses).

    An important consideration is the effect of substances other than carbon and water in the wood. These substances will affect the contents of the product gas and, therefore, the usefulness of the gas as fuel in an internal combustion engine.

    There are three basic problems of such other substances.

    Firstly, their presence may affect the pyrolysis reactions I have described above. This can alter the performance of the product gas as a fuel. And variations of such substances in the wood may cause the quality of the gas to vary with resulting unpredictable performance of the internal combustion engine.

    Secondly, the substances can damage an internal combustion engine that uses the product gas as fuel. For example, tars can coke in the engine so induce damaging friction, and compounds of sulphur and chlorine can severely corrode the engine.

    Thirdly, the substances make the engine exhaust very polluting.

    I hope this post is useful to understanding why pyrolysis of wood has only been used to obtain a fuel of last resort for use in internal combustion engines.

    Richard

  77. For all the comments above, thank you. Regret I have been travelling, and am now down in Christchurch helping my partner sort out her house – it faired far better than many, and the devastation all around is a humble reminder of the ferocity Mother Nature can unlease.

    DBCooper says:
    April 27, 2012 at 12:33 am
    But the CO and the CO2 are destroying the universe! Have you no decency?

    Not sure if you left off the /sarc tag or not, but just in case, what I propose is actually carbon neutral – grow sustainable timber takes in CO2. Process that to release CO and CH4 primarily. This is burnt to produce energy (ie we go forward) and CO2 with some H2O.

    Robert S says:
    April 27, 2012 at 3:08 am
    What you describe isn’t producer gas

    The term is used to describe many different gasses, mostly derived from application of heat to a hydrocarbon. But a rose by any other name would smell far better than my “Producer Gas” machine

    Russ in Houston says:
    April 27, 2012 at 6:35 am
    This looks like a great system if you have a shortage of petroleum fuel

    I care not a hoot about peak-oil and all that, but in NZ, we have a Government (getting close to dictatorship) that has an ETS in place, and is determined to tax whatever it can – including cow farts !!!
    This is just my way of getting my SUV running for free – not 10c per Km – but free

    crosspatch says:
    April 27, 2012 at 1:33 pm
    If you have all that pine available, why not just use a liquid fuel

    Because I don’t want to “double dip”

    If I have a process that takes the fuel and runs the vehicle, why would I want to go through a messy distillation process at home – and be limited by the range of a tank-full? Plus I have to keep the process going when I am not there – this way I only handle the fuel once – plus of course the biggie – I just love tinkering and screwing with peoples’ minds !!!

    Steve says:
    April 27, 2012 at 4:13 pm
    Why not just use the wood to make wood alcohol and burn that?

    as above

    Fredrick Lightfoot says:
    April 28, 2012 at 11:22 am
    Methane in service stations in Italy cost plus minus euros 30 cents a liter Germany about the same .

    I already have an SUV running LPG – at about $1.25 per litre – around twice the cost of your methane – but regret Methans is not available here unless your into DIY – and that’s not on my pet-project list just now – maybe when I move to the Country.

    OH, and to all who suggest a low power output – that is precisely why I have chosen to use a 5-litre low-compression V8 – 1970’s style.

    Andi

  78. Rhoda R says:
    April 27, 2012 at 6:08 pm

    Ingenious and all that but:

    1) CO2 was the bug-bear behind all this ‘eco-’ crap NOT lack of petrol.
    2) I don’t mind higher levels of CO2 but CO is a different story all together
    3) These things work so long as they’re a niche movement but out economies would be even more depressed if anyone thought that these were a general solution.

    This is a hobbiest movement not some sort of real world solution. As Ace of Spades would say: Political leaders, lamp-posts, rope: Some assembly required

    I never said anything about the lack of petrol – just its price !

    Perhaps you also missed the point of the process – whilst we might produce CO and CH4 – plus some other nasties – when this gas is burnt to produce motive power, it is all converted back again to CO2 and H2O.

    Then the CO2 is taken up by the same Pine plantations as part of regrowth for me to use next harvest. Or since I have my own mini-forest in my back yard you could say that my Native trees are teh jeat-sink.

    Totally Carbon Neutral and no cost – if I can get the filtering right to protect my engine

    Andi

  79. Sorry RhodaR – missed one final reply;

    3) These things work so long as they’re a niche movement but out economies would be even more depressed if anyone thought that these were a general solution

    Stationary Producer Gas engines are a very viable solution for remote locations where hydrocarbon fuel is available. Think of any timber-producing areas, sugar crops, grain, coconut, palm etc – yep not suited to desert areas – but if you have something that’ll burn then a gasifier may provide the answer.

    There are already commercial companies buiding these machines that easily out perform solar (12 hours per sunny day?) and wind – when it blows. A gassifier will work quite happily as long as you can persuade someone to keep the fuel loaded.

    …and yes if you burn fuel you could just go gas-turbine – but I think you’ll find this far more cost-effective

    Check out the NZ site http://www.fluidynenz.250x.com/ for a mass of archive material on gasification.

    Wanna buy a 15Kw stationary gasifier plant? http://www.gasificationaustralia.com/

    Just Google it – you’ll find the movement is far bigger than you might have thought

    Andi

  80. Heggs says:

    @Andi
    Ty for the links.That carbonized apple picture was amazing.

    Heggs.

  81. IAmDigitap says:

    DBCooper says:
    April 27, 2012 at 12:33 am

    But the CO and the CO2 are destroying the universe! Have you no decency?

    Well PLAYED, Mr COOPeR:

    WELL PLAYeD!

  82. Grey Lensman says:

    Just use a Tesla turbine. The linked video shows how easy to make and how materials really matter not depending upon the output/use you require

  83. Brian H says:

    P. Solar says:
    April 27, 2012 at 8:50 am

    Best Kiwi T-shirt
    “The Kiwi: eats, roots and leaves. ” (note the comma)

    If you dare, please provide a Kiwi-definition of the slang verb, “to root”. In the US, it’s meaning is just to dig for roots, or paw through a messy pile in search of something. Not so in NZ …

  84. Brian H says:

    Ugh, mea culpa typo: “it’s its meaning …”

  85. Robert S says:

    To root for ……..means to back or support someone or a team; be a ‘cheer-leader’ for etc

  86. Kiwi versions:

    Root – as in dig for roots – eg Wild Pigs rooting in native bush

    Root – as in carnal knowledge – eg horizontal mambo

    Andi

  87. Brian H says:

    Andi;
    Yep, that’s the one!
    Interesting to insert that into common expressions —
    — Root for the home team
    — find the root cause
    — rootin’, tootin’ cowpoke
    — root canal
    — root rot
    — root vegetables
    — yank out by the roots
    — touch up your roots

    Your turn!
    ;p

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