Wood Gasifiers - Pros & Cons

Pros & Cons of Wood Gasifiers (Logo)Wood Gas (Header)

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The Importance of Renewable Energy Resources

Our search for alternative energy sources that are not dependent on fossil fuels is forcing us to re-examine some old fuels that did not catch the attention of alternative energy research. One of them is wood gas.

What is Wood Gas?

Wood gas is the product of burning biomass or some other material containing carbon in high temperature with a controlled and limited quantity of oxygen. Such process creates carbon monoxide, hydrogen and small quantity of other gases such as methane. In the continued process, carbon monoxide and hydrogen are burned in the environment rich in oxygen to produce carbon dioxide, heat and water. Wood gas can be utilized to fuel stoves, furnace and even vehicles. "Wood gasifier" is the apparatus which facilitates this process and it can be stationary or mobile, as small as a cooker or as large as a power generating station. While most wood gasifiers use charcoal or wood as fuel, other types of biomass can be used, such as sawdust, wood shavings and agricultural waste - coconut shells, husks and twigs. Some people were even experimenting with using coffee grounds.

In 19th century, many European cites were heated by wood gas, and during the II World War, many cars were powered by wood gas instead of gasoline.

Today, wood gas is increasing in popularity, particularly among people who are trying to gain independence from power companies, and who have ready supply of cheap wood. Wood gasifiers are also increasing in use in the developing world, especially as highly efficient cookers.

Advantages of Wood Gas

  1. Wood gas can fuel spark ignition engines instead of petrol with minimal changes to the carburetor. With diesel engine, the only modification needed is adding a throttle valve that has to be added to feed the gas to the air inlet.
     
  2. Wood gas is highly efficient fuel. The gasification converts almost 75 percents of fuel into a combustible gas. Experiments have found that 1000 kg of wood can replace 365 liters of gasoline in normal driving conditions.
     
  3. Wood gasifiers can use as fuel the kind of biomass which would otherwise end up in the landfill. In Asia, people use rice husks, left over from the harvest. The produced ash is highly productive fertilizer. This makes wood gas completely renewable energy source.
     
  4. Cars using wood gas as fuel produce much less gas emissions than their gasoline counterparts. This is particularly evident in the quantity of hydrocarbons emissions and particulates, as well as carbon monoxide.

Disadvantages of Wood Gas and Wood Gasifiers

Wood gas is the product of burning biomass
  1. The biggest problem with using wood gasifiers is the production of carbon monoxide, a highly toxic gas that can kill even in small quantity. Regular maintenance of wood gasifiers is a must, and only tried and tested designs of wood gasifiers should be used with the degree of safety. For this reason, wood gasifiers should be installed outside of living areas.
     
  2. The process of wood gasification is complex and can be sensitive. Many things can go wrong to make gasification unsuccessful.
     
  3. Fuel is often bulky and needs a lot of storage space. In most wood gasifiers, there is need for frequent refueling. Some more modern wood gasifiers are automated.
     
  4. Ash and other residues are dirty and have to be disposed of carefully.

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Wood gas is the product of burning biomass or material containing carbon in high temperature with a controlled quantity of oxygen