Using Wood to Fuel a Generator! (How to Build a Wood Gasifier W/Demonstration)

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Introduction: Using Wood to Fuel a Generator! (How to Build a Wood Gasifier W/Demonstration)

About: I'm a kid with big dreams and some basic tools. I enjoy the art of creating things from things you wouldn't expect! I believe that if you want it, you CAN build it. If you're resourceful enough, nothing can ...

I made this gasifier a couple of years ago now as a second attempt at the technology. My first attempt had a few bugs. The blower wasn't able to move enough air, the unit was over-sized for the amount of gas produced, and the gas wasn't cool enough upon exiting the gasifier, resulting in an unsatisfactory amount of condensate getting to the engine.

So in this video and Instructable, I show you how I built my new and improved homemade gasifier out of parts I could find for little to no cost. I use mine occasionally for generating electricity when the need arises.

With this second machine I have been able to reduce the unit size and use what I learned to make the process more efficient. I also chose to stay away from media type filters with this design to practically eliminate maintenance aside from emptying the accumulated liquids in the collection jar.

Gasification for use in producing energy has been around for longer than some might realize. Back in the 1800's, coal was gasified for the production of town gas used for lighting, heating, and cooking. More recently, in WW2, gasifiers were not an uncommon sight to see attached to the backs of cars, trucks, and tractors as a result of the fuel shortages. The technology was soon forgotten because of the inherent convenience of liquid fossil fuels once it was more readily available.

The versatility of gasifiers still remain however. Many preparedness minded people are still drawn to them because of the potential for sustainability in a world where fuel might not be as easy to get. Imagine natural disasters. There's debris everywhere and most of it will be ripe for the picking to be utilized in a gasifier to generate power.

It doesn't take much thinking to realize the potential usefulness here. I am very much hoping to spread some awareness and educate those interested in the topic through this brief effort. So, in this video and Instructable, I'll be showing off the final product of just a week or so of work. The principles are quite simple and I believe that most, with some workshop knowledge and tools, should be handily capable of replicating this. Perhaps even improve on it!! The nice part is, they're quite cheap to make if you use re-purposed materials!

Supplies:

These tools will vary of course depending on what you have available, but here's what I used.

Tools:

-110v arc welder

-Angle grinder

-Hand drill

-Asst. hand tools (e.g. wrenches, tape measure, pop-rivet gun, etc...)

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Step 1: The Working Principals of the Reactor

Just a quick note... I apologize for my hands being present in some of the photos. I used photos pulled from the video footage. It certainly doesn't take anything away for this, but I thought it was worth mentioning. Moving on!

Gasifiers work on some very simple processes, so there is quite a bit of flexibility in the construction. The main parts can be labeled and explained in general terms while still conveying the ideas pretty easily. I'll start explaining from the beginning of the process to the end.

First stop? Fuel storage! A simple feeding hopper with sides that are steeper than the angle of repose for the highest friction coefficient fuel you could possibly use is ideal. But it's a just a metal bin. Anything that somewhat guides anything into the fire tube would be fine haha. Build it as big as you'd like! In my research, the general rule of thumb is that 20 pounds of wood is the approximate equivalent energy of 1 gallon of gasoline. So that'll be the determining factor in how long you'll be able to go in between refueling.

The fire tube is the next step. This is where the fuel is preparing to be burned in the shaker grate. The type of gasifier I'm showing you today is what is called a "stratified downdraft gasifier." This name is because of the operation of the fire tube. The air is pulled uniformly downward through the fuel in the fire tube, and, according to the informational that FEMA published on the use of gasifiers in 1989 for emergency use, there are four stages of reactions that occur in the fuel inside of it. I'll link the FEMA paper in the end of this Instructable. It's basically the Bible on simple gasifiers haha.

The stages work from the top down (downdraft.)

Zone 1. The upper-most zone is fairly uninvolved. This stage simply contains the unspent and unreacted fuel in preparation for the next.

Zone 2. This is the where the fuel starts undergoing the pyrolysis process. In simple terms, pyrolysis is the reaction of something being broken down into its elements through heat. The volatile components of the fuel react with oxygen here and are burned to produce heat for future pyrolysis reactions. All of the available oxygen should be spent upon exiting the bottom of this zone.

Zone 3. In this zone, hot combustion gases from the pyrolysis stage react with the charcoal to convert the carbon dioxide and water vapor into carbon monoxide and hydrogen.

Zone 4. Here is where your spent ash and carbon come to rest. However, they still play an important role in the process. The act as a buffer in two ways. It absorbs excess heat and oxygen, and it acts as a charcoal storage region. The action of it being a heat absorbing layer before the shaker grate can help to protect it from excessive temperatures and premature deterioration.

So, that's where most of the magic happens!! As you can imagine, the size of the fire tube is an important factor in determining the size of the engine that we can safely run. The more space in the tube, the more fuel that can react, the more heat and gas you can produce. There is a table with these numbers in the FEMA paper that I'll include down below.

Inside fire tube diameter (inches) Minimum length (inches) Engine power (hp)
2" - 16" - 5hp

4" - 16" - 15hp

6" - 16" - 30hp

7" - 18" - 40hp

8" - 20" - 50hp

9" - 22" - 65hp

10" - 24" - 80hp

11" - 26" - 100"

12" - 28" - 120hp

13" - 30" - 140hp

14" - 32" - 160hp

I know that's a lot of information for some welded metal tubes, but I think that you having a thorough understanding of what you're seeing can be pretty helpful.

After the fuel makes it's way down the tube it meets a suspended metal container with venting holes called a "shaker grate." This acts as a filter to deal with the used up fuel. The reason for the name and the need for it to be suspended is because it should be able to be externally agitated to sift down the excess built up ash. The straight forward way of constructing the grate suggested in the FEMA paper is to hang a stainless steel bowl with holes drilled in it from chains. It's simple, but effective. It's the way I built mine and it's held up quite well. I overlooked the shaker assembly in mine in the interest of simplicity. Running a moving part through the side of the reactor and keeping it sealed up was a pain in the butt in my first gasifier. I just drilled ample holes in the shaker grate to compensate for this and haven't had any problems. There really isn't a right or wrong way to drill holes in the thing either. I just got busy with a hand drill and a 5/16" drill bit.

Okay. now you're almost producing gas! Now, you just have to stick all of that into a sealed enclosure and run a pipe out of the side! I was quite pleased with the method of ash clean-out that I used in mine. It requires no tools to remove and it's just a simple remove it, dump it, replace it, and keep going. It also allows for easy maintenance of the parts inside. I show it in the video and it'll be easier for you to see than it is for you to try and imagine through my written description.

So that's the reactor! Unfortunately we can't use the gas from it quite yet though. It's too dirty and full of tar and other junk that we need to remove before piping it into our engine. That's where the need for filters exists.

'

Step 2: The Need for Filters in a Gasifier

Filters are vital to the extended life of our engine. Without them, the engine would get gummed up and meet its demise much sooner than we'd like. At the very least, the carburetor would become plugged, valves would get stuck, you'd eat the rings up due to the lack of lubrication, the engine would overheat, or a host of other things could happen. Obviously we really don't want any of those things.The solution is to try and remove as much of anything that isn't a usable gas as possible.

There are a few ways of doing that that people have come up with throughout the years, but the principles are the same. Condense liquids by cooling the gas and trap particles in a media. Water and tar are our biggest enemies here.

The viscous "tar" that's left over after cooling can actually be turned into another type of liquid fuel as well called "Bio-Crude," so it's worth trying to capture and preserve of much of that as possible aside from the fact that we don't want it sticking up our engine.

The way I chose to go about this is by putting a cyclone filter and a radiator in series behind the reactor. The cyclone filter is first up. The gasses are extracted from relatively high in the reactor itself as a first line of defense to try and reduce the amount of initial particulates entering the system. The gas is then pulled into the cyclone filter at an angle to initiate the cyclone which keeps the gas in contact with the walls of the filter for a much longer and more effective time. The cooler walls of the filter work to condense some of the water vapor and tar out of the incoming gas while also creating a wet sticky surface that should hopefully trap the majority of the particles. Gravity pulls the sludge down the walls and into the collection jar where they can be removed. The pickup tube that exits the top of the filter extends most of the way down inside of the filter, leaving about 3" between it and the bottom.

Next up is the radiator. I don't need to say too much about this. I just threw this together out of 2" square tubing and 1" non-galvanized pipe. The main purpose of this is to cool the gas and condense even more of the liquid out of it before it gets to the engine. The radiator is elevated so any condensate can hopefully make its way back into the collection jar.

That's about all there is to the filters! But we still can't use it yet... There's one more thing standing between us and full functionality!

Step 3: The Blower

We have to have a way to pull air in through the feed hopper and down into the fire tube to start the whole process so we can start generating gas to start our engine. Once the engine is running, we can rely on the vacuum of the intake stroke of the engine to sustain the gas production without the need for any electricity being consumed by the gasifier itself. I have future plans to possibly include a hand-crank blower unit to eliminate this need entirely in exchange for some more more work involved in startup.

For now, this is how I made my electric blower. The body is made of HVAC duct metal that was acquired from the free scraps that I had access to at one of my local heating and cooling places. I made my pattern on paper, transferred it to my sheet metal, and cut it out using a drill-operated nibbler cutter. I left tabs on the pieces that I bent over and drilled 1/8" holes into to use to pop-rivet the whole thing together. Your design and shape is determined by your gasifier layout, but hopefully you can take inspiration from my choices.

I would HIGHLY recommend using a 12 volt DC blower motor. Specifically for the practicality of it in a fuel crisis world. I used the heater fan from a 1992 Dodge Dakota that I previously dismantled for another project. Heater fans are also capable of moving quite a bit of air despite a fairly high resistance to airflow which makes them a good choice for this. It's very poor planning to use a 120v AC reliant system to use in case of your power going out... I needn't say more. Not to mention that a 12v system replacement would be very easy to find with the abundance of non-used vehicles around if things really got bad and this was being used heavily.

After the blower is just a length of tubing and a piece of metal pipe that's there just there so I can test the gas by seeing if it's flammable before routing it to the engine.

So, we can finally use our gasifier! Starting it up is an easy process and that's what I'll be covering next.

Step 4: Start Up Procedure

The starting of a gasifier is far from rocket science, but it's still vital information. On the top of the reactor is a tube that leads down into the side of the burn tube near the bottom. It's made from 1 1/4" metal pipe that has a coupler and a female pipe plug threaded in to the end for ease of use.

To start the gasifier, simply go in the following order: make sure you have clean and dry fuel in the hopper, remove the ignition port cap, insert something flammable that you can use as a wick, turn the blower on, ignite the wick, leave the cap off until you see the fuel in the grate burning, and then cap it back up. That's it!

As soon as the paper is burning you should see smoke coming from the end of the tube. In an installed gasifier set-up where the gasifier and engine are permanently connected, you'll need one more thing. You need a way to change the direction of the gas between a "flare" that you can vent the gas out of until it's ready for combustion, and the direct path to the engine itself. Mine is very rudimentary so I am literally just sticking the pipe into the air intake when it's ready haha. But it works!

Lastly, you'll need a pre-carburetor. This is just a valve set up mounted to the original engine carburetor. It's just a valve and a "tee" in the line that connects the gasifier outlet to the intake. On that tee is another valve. You use these two valves to adjust the mix of fuel and air to get the mixture just right for running the engine as optimally as possible. It also acts as a vent to let gas keep flowing when the engine is in the other 3 cycles of the 4 cycles that a 4-cycle engine uses.

It's worth noting here that gasifiers are not limited to just 4-cycle engines. As far as I know, you can run any internal combustion engine on syngas. Diesel, 4-cycle gas, 2-cycle gas (as long as you keep the engine lubricated,) and probably even a rotary engine!!!

Step 5: In Conclusion

We've reached the end of our journey! I had a lot of fun putting this together for you guys to see and hopefully you enjoyed it! I went into just about everything that's within my capability, so I hope I was thorough. If you have any questions or comments then please don't hesitate to leave a comment! I love your feedback! I hope I was able to peak your curiosity and maybe give you one more project to add to your list!

I'm trying to start up a YouTube channel that I'm hoping will gain some traction so if you'd like to see this kind of stuff consistently then I would greatly appreciate a "Like" and a subscription over on the channel here.

Here's the link to the FEMA publication as well! It's a wealth of information!

Thank you all so much for your time and I hope this was worth it!

-Tate

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    17 Discussions

    0
    tektoppro
    tektoppro

    13 days ago

    Very cool. It looks to me like the flame generated would be more efficient than a wood burner. Have you tried running it through a radiator to heat a space? I'm thinking it would be a great garage heater, and might effectively replace an outdoor wood burner?

    0
    Engineer-Poet
    Engineer-Poet

    26 days ago

    The guy who designed the Gasifier Tool Kit took things to another level entirely. For example, he essentially got rid of the tars in the product. He used engine exhaust heat to drive the drying and first-stage pyrolysis reactions and introduced the main flow of air after the fuel was fully charred, but before the char fell down to the gasification grate. The tars were burned off along with the pyrolysis gases, and any surviving tars broke down when the hot combustion gas hit the hot char for the gasification step.

    0
    thehouseofwhittaker2u

    one little note the tar produced from the burn / collected and refined out first from alcohol washing and evaporation' rinse and repeat as you see fit purity depends on what you want to apply it to. having arrived to the clarity desired it makes a proper polymer risen when once more refined washed and dyed in acetone appropriate binders and hardeners added you will arrive at a beautiful wood stain color and tough as nails product that you can use to build and number of wood project and finish it in it. boats and tables come to mind refined to pure clarity and you have something better than glass and ten time stronger than even the best laminated lot . i mean to try it soon one day myself. and all from ones labor and near zero cost what could be more gratifying ? also it can be refined for fule as well giving a gasoline like substance with proper additives

    0
    cablewim
    cablewim

    7 weeks ago on Step 5

    Interesting project. I was born and raised in the Netherlands and my first 4 years were spent under German occupation. My grandmother was a secretary at the local "gas company" where coal from the mines in Limburg were gasified. This was great because every day she would 'smuggle' a few pieces of coal in her bag to bring home so once a week we could burn them in the stove to generate some heat in the house. During the war, the gas was not distributed to the village, it was used for the war effort. For about 20 years after WW2 we cooked on this gas. Then the whole country switched to natural gas. My dad spent some time in 1944 designing 'wood gasifiers' for taxis to use since gasoline at the end of the war was not available for individual consumption! They were housed in large metal boxes tied to the roof of the car...

    0
    blkhawk
    blkhawk

    7 weeks ago

    Your video is the best description of how a gasifier works that I have seen so far. Many authors show off their contraptions but don't explain in detail the function of every part of the gasifier and how they are connected. Thank you for sharing your knowledge about this obscure but useful technology.

    0
    Randomonium
    Randomonium

    Reply 7 weeks ago

    Thank you so much! I appreciate that immensely! It's comments like that that make all of this so worth it.

    0
    hallcp
    hallcp

    8 weeks ago

    Wow, way beyond my understanding or skill level, but really fascinating. I had heard about the WW2 civilian cars using a scheme I presume is similar. But surely it was simpler, since it lived in the trunk of the car??

    1
    CB71
    CB71

    8 weeks ago

    That seems more my level of backwoods engineering.

    1
    RCs Stuff
    RCs Stuff

    8 weeks ago on Step 1

    This, Mr. Randomonium, is a work of pure genius. To paraphrase, you asked, why doesn't more people try to use something like this? My thoughts as to why is, a majority of people are probably put off by the idea of using ''scrounged'' materials to build a project. I do hope you aren't offended if I refer to you as a ''scrounger''. I'm a fellow scrounger & am very proud to be one. I may offend some of those people who don't scrounge, don't weld (may not know how to), & don't know how to cobble (I again hope I don't offend you by using this word, but I cobble some things quite often. To me, it's another word for experimenting), but these people don't realize how much fun they're missing. My personal favorite scrounged pieces are electric water heater tanks. They work great for a small woodstove,waste oil heaters, a smoker/cooker, or a barbecue grill if mounted on it's side. They're heavier gauge steel than 55gal. barrels so they last a lot longer. Most people in my area tend to use empty Freon tanks & flushed out propane tanks as portable air tanks, but that's fine. As long as something scrounged is put to use or repurposed for something else is the main & most important issue. Anyway, I digress. What type of metal did you use to make your ''fire tube''? it appears to be stainless steel. I also had a question about the 1st filter ''tank''. You explained that a good deal of tar & particulate matter may accumulate within this tank. I couldn't see 1, but do you have any way of cleaning this tank out periodically by way of some form of opening? I would think that after using it a lot, the tar etc. might build up enough to affect the cyclonic air flow down through this filtering tank. I'm fairly certain that it'll need to be smooth, but any buildup of tar & debris could affect it's efficiency by impeding it's cyclonic airflow. Have you used it enough yet that you've begun to notice anything like this or does the tank stay hot enough that any tar that is caught by this tank stays fluid enough that it runs out into the collection jar. Also, you demonstrated in your video that the top of your radiator assembly was cool enough to lay your bare hand on. How hot did the top of your radiator feel? I have 1 of those laser thermometers I bought at an inexpensive tool store & have found it useful for countless things. They are a very handy tool for fabricators of heat generating projects & the 1 I purchased from the store with the initials of ''H. F.'' has worked great for me. You also spoke about using a ''long'' section of tubing between the generators output to the metal tube that feeds into your T/valve ''pre-carburetor'' to help catch any moisture etc. that may still be created. Have you tried adding another collection container to this tubing by putting a T in the tubing line? I believe my last question is, have you tried using wind power to vibrate your ''shaker grate'' & to use the rotating motion of the windmill to spin your blower? By ''spinning'' your blower, I don't mean using the windmill to generate electricity (although that is a possibility), but by using the mechanical rotation of the windmill to mechanically drive the blower. By stepping up the speed of the windmill's shaft with different sizes of pulleys & belts, sprockets & chains (salvaged or ''scrounged'' bicycles are another favorite of mine), or some form of gear drive to spin your blower would make it totally external power supply free. Using the mechanical movement of a windmill much like how the original Aermotor Windmills did to pump water is something I use to design rotating or spinning contraption ideas that pop into my mind. A person could use scrounged bed frames or railing (another favorite of mine), rebar, old antenna masts, conduit, 2X lumber, etc. to make a decent height windmill tower & use whatever you want (seems like I see something different everyday) for the windmill blades. Being a proud & fellow scrounger of ''everything'', I'm more than impressed with your project & I'm, at this moment, looking out my window at my scrap pile along with the heavily wooded 20+ acre area surrounding my house with a strongly renewed interest. I do hope & look forward to hearing back from you regarding my questions & wouldn't mind discussing other ideas. Again, a genius project using scrounged or repurposed (as I suppose it should be called) materials. Thank you for sharing this with us. You take care, Sir.

    0
    FrankH99
    FrankH99

    Question 8 weeks ago on Step 1

    Very intersting. Is there a "next process" which would collect and compress the generated gas for future use, or is this system intended to only supply gas for a present time use while the gassifier is in operation

    0
    corski67
    corski67

    8 weeks ago

    Nice work! I've been curious about this for years! Thank you for posting a working model that most home fabricators could build. This has so many possibilities for a "living off the grid" scenario. You could use water as the cooling source and have a water heater fueled by the same source, for example. So many possibilities, all from the stored energy from the sun that is all around us! I think the best thing about this is the low emissions as compared to other fuel sources. I'm sure the tar (waste product) contains some energy as well. If you could find a way to extract that energy, you'd have a very efficient system.

    0
    JohnC430
    JohnC430

    8 weeks ago

    Very Nice!!!!!!! Thanks for sharing. I enjoyed watching your video.

    0
    DonnH1
    DonnH1

    8 weeks ago

    I talked an old fellow who lived in Germany during the war and things were tight over there too. Quite a few people used a gasifier to run their old cars, same thing in England and elsewhere. Where there is a will there is a way.

    0
    david_daggett
    david_daggett

    8 weeks ago

    Thanks so much! This is very motivating and I'm thinking of building
    one and attaching it to a vehicle for a demonstration. Before I started
    the biojet fuel flight demonstration project at Boeing commercial
    airplane company about 10 years ago, I built a biodiesel rig to educate
    myself. I'm now working to see if we (i.e. WA state U.) can make a
    business case for a woodchip to biofuel process and this would be a
    great learning experience again for me.
    Cheers, Dave

    0
    Contriver
    Contriver

    2 months ago on Step 5

    Wow, an impressive idea and work. I really liked it. Maybe I’ll try to create a similar one to yours with filling out small branches. Thank you very much!

    1
    Randomonium
    Randomonium

    Reply 2 months ago

    That means a lot to me! Thank you very much! I'd love to hear how you built yours when it's finished. Maybe we'll hope to see an Instructable on it?

    0
    Contriver
    Contriver

    Reply 2 months ago

    Hi Randomonium well, I will definitely show my result. As long as I am only thinking so if it is not close. I will be waiting for your new ideas!