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Is There A Gasifier In Your Future?

Art Krenzel

Not all sources of renewable energy are as ethereal as sunlight or the wind. Some are as solid as a tree. Gasification of waste wood offers a renewable energy source for combustion.

Thermal Self-sufficiency

I recently met Richard and Karen Perez and we discussed Renewable Energy Lifestyles. It appears we have been traveling along parallel paths for the past 14 years. While Richard and Karen were concentrating on electricity, my work was and is toward home thermal self sufficiency (i.e. zero supplemental heat). By specifying appropriate insulation, adequate thermal mass and solar gain, most homes can operate the majority of the year without the additional thermal input of heating or air conditioning.

As an example, there is a house located at 7,100 foot elevation in the Rocky Mountains which is super-insulated, passive solar, and semi-underground. If there is a no (zero) solar insolation at all during January, they would lose only 0.8°F per day. It is so conservation minded that the heat given off by the occupants is included in the thermal calculations.

Most people would not consider thermal conservation at such an intense level to be a practical investment. Just as there are trade offs in renewable energy equipment, (PV's, batteries, generators, etc.), so there are trade offs in thermal design (solar gain, thermal mass, heating systems, etc.). With the homeowner's input as to their budget, convenience level desired and lifestyle aspirations, a home can be personalized in thermal self-sufficiency as well. The home can utilize locally available biomass energy as well as mixing and matching solar and thermal processes. Thus presenting the homeowner with a variety of energy options.

BioMass- Wood Energy

At the current time, I am promoting further development of a process which makes "producer gas" from waste wood products. The process is called "gasification". Gasification is the partial combustion of wood into gaseous products which can fuel a generator or automobile engine. A similar technology was used by the European countries during during WWII to power their vehicles during gasoline shortage. Producer gas is not the optimum fuel for mobile operations. However, these gases can be compressed and catalyzed into liquid methanol, an alcohol (CH3OH). The process will convert one ton of dry wood into approximately 150 gallons of storeable liquid fuel. Methanol can be used to power a car, generator, heat your home and used as cooking fuel. Methanol (not to be confused with Ethanol-a vital ingredient in home brewed liquid refreshments) is a storable liquid fuel which can be transported, pumped, delivered and utilized like gasoline. Due to its chemical makeup however, it burns cleaner, at lower combustion temperatures and with lower emissions than gasoline. It is the fuel of choice in the high RPM, high compression ratio engines used at the Indianapolis 500 race. In an engine properly designed for methanol use, approximately 1.3-1.5 gallons of methanol equals a gallon of gasoline.

The gasification process could power a generator engine with the output gases of a gasifier fired with dried wood chips. A

gasifier is a small well insulated combustion chamber permitting the very high temperature reduction of wood particles. The gasification process occurs without enough oxygen to burn completely to CO2 and water vapor. At these operating conditions, carbon monoxide and hydrogen gas are produced with a heating value of 150 BTU per cubic foot.

Producer gas can be used directly in an internal combustion engine. Wood, a renewable resource, becomes the sole energy input to the generator. The engine is derated to 75-77% of its normal output and can follow varying loads as necessary. Waste heat from the exhaust gases can be recovered by a heat exchanger and transferred via heat pipe to a large thermal mass. The thermal mass can stabilize house or greenhouse temperatures. This way the fuel used to generate electricity can also provide the heat to maintain the temperature of a house at no extra cost. A proper balance of house and heat loads with passive solar areas would allow intermittent operation of one wood fired power source supplying the entire daily electrical and heat requirements. I thank Home Power Magazine for this opportunity to bring an overview of the gasification project to you. Your comments are invited.

A School for Energy Transitions

In an attempt to foster renewable energy technologies, I propose the beginning of school for energy change . This school could provide an in-residence, educational experience in all forms of renewable energy. The facility would be complete with trained instructors, classrooms, fully equipped shops, organic farm and operating Renewable Energy Systems. It would provide an area where all manufacturers of RE equipment could display their products and demonstrate what it does best. Hands on instruction in your particular type of system along with theory and practical training could be available on a tuition seminar basis. RE equipment could be constructed by students at the school to fit their specific needs. We are currently seeking University affiliation to obtain proper certification for the courses being offered.

In an attempt to determine the interest in such a school among the Home Power readers, we ask you for your input. Would you be interested in attending, teaching in, or supporting such a school? Any ideas on improving the concept would be greatly appreciated as well. Please address your comments or questions on the school or on wood gasification to: Art Krenzel, Transitional Technologies, Inc., POB 117, Greenview, CA 96037 or call 916-468-2349.

Editor's Note: Art is well on the way to perfecting a homestead sized wood gasifier. In areas with significant waste wood (like the US Pacific Northwest), gasification can enable us to better use the renewable resources Mama provides. When the prototype has finished testing, look for a detailed construction article in Home Power. We applaud Art's idea of a school of renewable energy and will participate in the project.RP

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