Sunday, April 17, 2011

Praxis: Gasogene Updated. "25-year-old Chevrolet given an eco-friendly makeover to run on wood chips."

German Adler Diplomat circa WWII with a gazogene-type wood-gas fuel generator.

A wood gas generator often known as a gasifier, is a wood-fueled gasification reactor mounted on an internal combustion engine, to provide a wood gas, a form of syngas. These devices are also known as gas producers.

Gasification was an important and familiar 19th and early 20th century technology, and its potential and practical applicability to internal combustion engines were well-understood from the earliest days of their development. Town gas was produced from coal as a local business, mainly for lighting purposes, at least initially, and experience in the trade was widespread; most practicing technical people would know a good deal about it. When stationary internal combustion engines based on the Otto cycle became available (and especially after the Otto engine's patent expired and entered the public domain), internal combustion engines began displacing steam engines as prime movers in many works requiring stationary motive power.In 1873, Thaddeus S. C. Lowe developed and patented the water gas process by which large amounts of hydrogen gas could be generated for residential and commercial use in heating and lighting. Unlike the common coal gas, or coke gas which was used in municipal service, this gas provided a more efficient heating fuel. Gaseous-fuelled internal combustion engines were commonly fueled by town (lighting) gas during the late 19th century; however, the high price of town gas caused many stationary engine works to switch to using producer gas during the early 20th century. Producer gas has less heat content, but was substantially cheaper to make than town gas was to purchase, due to its generation by partial combustion of coke, a byproduct of coal, rather than through the town-gas process of destructive distillation (pyrolysis) of coal.

By the time World War II arrived in United States and Great Britain, many internal combustion engines of the Otto type were in use in automobiles; however, they were fueled by petroleum-based gasoline, not coal or wood-based town or producer gas. Due to the war, civilian uses of petroleum were sharply curtailed in both nations. In Great Britain, petroleum shortages and rationing were common; in the United States, petroleum rationing was the law of the land, as almost all petroleum was diverted to the war effort. Due to the lack of gasoline from petroleum, older people recalled how to build gasifiers for both wood and coal, and how to convert internal combustion engines to run on gaseous fuel, and wood gas generators were in active production. Large numbers of such generators were constructed or even improvised; commercial generators were in production before and after the war, for use in special circumstances or in distressed economies. -- Wikipedia

Imbert Wood Gasifier.

Definition of GASOGENE
gas·o·gene, noun \ˈga-sə-ˌjēn\

1: a portable apparatus for carbonating liquids

2: an apparatus carried by a vehicle to produce gas for fuel by partial burning of charcoal or wood

Years ago when I was reading up on the French Resistance of World War II, I ran into mention of "gasogene" taxis, that beat the German restrictions on gasoline by using the gasification of wood chips as fuel in wood gas generators of the "Imbert" downdraft type. The system was originally designed around 1920 by French inventor Georges Imbert. (See schematic above.)

Here is the Wikipedia citation on wood gas generators. Here is an article on the 1942 Swedish Kalle-type charcoal gasifier which burns cleaner than wood chips.

Kalle charcoal-gasifier mounted on the front of a World War Two-era sedan.

More info can be had by going to Build A Gasifier: The One Stop Shop On Gasification, where you can download a 1989 FEMA manual on the subject.

I was reminded of all of the above by FG's forwarding me this link about a modern version built on an El Camino in Finland. It strikes me that these are going to get very popular very soon. Heck, I have a 1999 Chevy Blazer that needs a $400.00 fuel pump that I can't afford. Maybe I can convert it.

"Juha Sipila's El Camino pick-up can cover 125 miles on a hundredweight and half of wood chips but carries enough timber for 800 miles."

Fifty years ago the Swedish government set up a research programme, but it was later dropped as too cumbersome and the equipment needed to be towed in a trailer.

But now as engineers appreciate that wood gasifiers are highly efficient - about 75 per cent of the fuel energy is extracted from the wood - more experiments are being carried out.

In addition the vehicles don't need a conventional chemical battery which gives it an added advantage over electric-powered cars - and the burnt residue ash can be used as fertiliser.

Clearing out the burners - and the fact that it takes twenty minutes to get them hot enough to produce gas - are seen as minor disadvantages.

An earlier incarnation on a Volvo.


Anonymous said...


Unknown said...

This is one of the coolest things that I have seen in a while. Thanks!

Carl Bussjaeger said...

Lindsay's Books carries "How To Convert Wood into Charcoal and Electricity" ( that folks might be interested in. The author started with building a charcoal retort to produce charcoal for an iron melting furnace. Then he tapped the retort gas output, filtered it an ran it to a homebrewed electrical generator. I think that makes a little more sense than a mobile installation. Instead of running the gas feed directly to a motor, you could compress and store in a tank for your vehicle; that way you aren't dragging the whole thing around and killing your mileage.

Anonymous said...

interesting effect.

There was a bridge Over a motorway had to be completely replaced about 25 years ago, after a trailer full of carpet caught fire under it.

Anonymous said...

Check out making diesel from vegetable oils too.

Oil is heated with lye (old catering size water heater), then methanol is added. the glycerol and water separate out and you have the methyl ester for diesel.

The longer you can let it stand for water to separate out, the better.

Sunflower gives the lowest waxing temp.

Some diesel engines will run on untreated vegetable oil, but expect frequent filter changes, and exhaust smells like a deep fat fryer.

Don said...

FEMA (in a moment of actually being useful) did a study and published a halfway decent primer.

Dr.D said...

Mother Earth News has plans available on building a wood gasifier


Anonymous said...

I have done this with hit and miss engines , and I would save it for the final acts of desperation as it is very similar to burning mud !

What few realize , is that Congress has amended the first law of thermodynamics , making it possible for those annointed to burn cash under their mash to replacing the heat lost through inefficiencies in the process . This made ethanol a viable , economic, and renewable fuel source . I have applied this recent development by cramming the money DIRECTLY into a wood gas generator , thus increasing efficiency even more . My prototype runs on dollar bills , but with enough funding and the complete backing of the american people , I will have it running on 100's in no time .

Anonymous said...

"The Mother Earth News" - now that brings back memories!

I read about producer gas in one of those issues back in the 70's. My very conservative parents were subscribers, and found much in common with their "back to the land" philosophy - although not enthralled with their politics, nor certain horticultural practices!

This might be viable with a large high-compression V8, pre-1968 emission controls.


Anonymous said...

Here is the FEMA paper on Wood Gasifier.

I hope to be building one very soon. They will run a gas powered device, or vehical. A Diesel motor requires fuel to start, and then can be powered by a gasifier.

Bad Cyborg said...

Both Don's and Anon @ 2:56 PM's attempts produced unusable, truncated URLs. Let me suggest that you use tinyurl to reduce the length of URLs to post here.

Here is a tinyurl reduced link.

I also added the Soil and Health and Lindsay Books websites to my EOTW links folder.

Anonymous said...

I was in Germany as a child shortly after WWII and saw many of these wood burning automobiles