Wood Gasification - Modern Farmer

Wood Gasification

A technology that works in any kind of weather and is accessible to even the most rural users, as long as you have a reliable supply of wood.

Consider wood. It isn’t just a nostalgic fuel for fireplaces and s’mores. The average cord of dried firewood contains the energy of about 170 gallons of gasoline. When wood is heated to the right temperatures in a low-oxygen environment, a chemical reaction called “gasification” occurs, producing a gas that can power a generator. Devotees love this technology that works in any kind of weather and is accessible to even the most rural users, as long as they have a reliable supply of wood.

OK, so you’ve never heard of it. That may soon change. As traditional fuel costs rise, wood gasification becomes an ever more attractive option. Some compare the gasification industry today to the solar business a decade ago, before technological improvements and booming demand spurred rapid growth. Right now, wood “gasifiers” (the devices that turn wood into gas) are finicky and expensive, and require a fair amount of mechanical know-how to operate. But that hasn’t stopped a devoted group of people around the world from swearing by this quirky fuel. Here’s why:

schematic

Rural Power

Availability of affordable electricity isn’t reliable, particularly in rural parts of developing countries. That’s the primary market for gasifiers made by ALL Power Labs, based in Berkeley, California.

“This is on-demand, renewable energy,” says Tom Price, director of Strategic Initiatives.

Most of the company’s products are exported to the developing world to replace diesel-fueled generators. Its 20 kW Power Pod (producing close to double the power a typical North American home would need) starts at $29,995.

Weather Shmeather

When solar and wind systems sit idle due to poor weather, gasifiers keep on trucking. This can make them ideal for backup power for ofthe-gridders, says Matt Ryder, owner of Vulcan Gasifiers in Muskegon, Michigan.

The company offers several models that generate about 3 kW of electricity, enough to keep the essentials running during a power outage. Ones that run on either wood pellets or wood chips start at $3,700, while more automated models start at $4,950. The company also offers 10 kW and 50 kW models.

The New Solar?

“It’s easy to make a simple gasifier,” says Price. “It’s hard to make one that’s simple and easy to use and reliable, and that’s what we’re working on.”

Ryder agrees that finicky tech is a drag on the industry, but says electronic components that monitor and adjust conditions inside the gasification chamber are quickly improving. In five years, he predicts they’ll be reliable enough to operate remotely with a phone app.

Top Photograph: New Power Cube Gasifier. / Courtesy All Power.
Diagram Source: peakprosperity.com.

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