Sunday, November 21, 2010

Wayne Keith unofficially breaks woodgas world speed record ...

Wayne Keith is a modern-day woodgas pioneer, a "deacon" of the woodgas community, if you will.  Back in 2008, Wayne and crew won second place in the Escape from Berkeley alternate fuel race.

I had the pleasure of spending Friday, November 19, 2010 with Wayne Keith and family.  Wayne first demonstrated his woodgas F150 experimental platform, as well as his woodgas Dakota "daily driver".  Later we took the Dakota out for a spin around the backroads of St. Clair County, Alabama.  Then, Wayne decided we should "stretch its legs" a little, so onto the Interstate we went.  With a good head of woodgas and about 640 F coming into the headache rack heat exchanger, we topped out at about 85 MPH - but only because of traffic!  We just couldn't get the cars out of the way on the stretch we were running.  But since that is almost twice the current official record of 47 MPH, so we decided to call it a day.  If it looks like we were going fast in the video, it's because we were!  As you will see, Wayne startled me a little when he took the exit ramp like he had a little Earnhardt in him.  No, we didn't roll the Dakota - I just quit videoing.  What a fun and instructive day!  Many thanks to Mr. Wayne and his family!

Wayne Keith's unofficial woodgas world speed record video:

More on Woodgas

Woodgas is quite simply a combination of H2 & CO, with a little CH4 or other heavies, plus the N2 that comes along for the ride from the air.  Woodgas is produced when wood is pyrolyzed and the products are partially combusted and then reduced, forming the CO and H2.

The "technique" of producing woodgas has its roots dating to the early 1700's.  Those early 1800's gas lights in Paris and the US were not from gas wells, but rather from producer gas - aka town gas or hydro gas - which is a cousin to woodgas, and is usually produced from coal.

Woodgas burns with a beautiful pink/purple flare, and is conducive to higher compression and advanced timing setups when used in existing internal combustion engines.

Video of the pre-startup flare from a Power Pallet, at the October 2010 All Power Labs workshop:

Woodgas falls into the partial solution category, with respect to our coming liquid fuels crisis.  Woodgas burns cleaner than gasoline or diesel, but it is problematic in terms of operation, at least in terms of the expectations of today's drivers, who expect to be able to turn the key and drive without another thought as to what is going on in the engine. Operating a gasifier and the related systems currently requires mechanical experience and attention to detail.  However, it may be possible to work out some of these issues.  Also, the difficulties of dealing with a gasifier might be more palatable when it is your only choice for getting from point A to point B in your vehicle.

As an example of this line of reasoning, the Department of Energy thought enough of woodgas as an emergency fuel that in 1989 their FEMA arm sponsored the Oak Ridge National Laboratory to design a makeshift woodgas generator which could be constructed out of commonly available materials - in this case metal trash cans and a stainless salad collander, and a few other parts!  The resulting design was problematic in terms of tar production (not desirable for engines) so it is shunned in woodgas circles.  However, the fact that the DOE was interested in the technique as a potential, partial solution to a severe petroleum shortage - should be instructive.  Gasifiers were used to power approximately one million cars, buses, trucks, trains, boats and generators during WWII, in Europe (Egloff 1943).  

We have referred to woodgas in a few prior posts:

 The coming liquid fuels crisis: the natural gas partial solution.

Oilpatch engineer replies to peak oil activist.

Last month I attended a wonderfully interesting three day workshop on gasification  at Jim Mason's All Power Labs in Berkeley, California.  Jim has unselfishly created an open source project to further the development of woodgas, and All Power Labs now has several products available for developers.  The Gasifier Experimenters Kit, or GEK, is available for purchase, as is the Power Pallet - a pallet-sized package consisting of a GEK supplying a 10 KW Kubota genset with woodgas.  During the workshop, with the assistance of Jim's friendly and motivated young staff, I was able to help construct a GEK and a Power Pallet.  We also witnessed an extended run of the Power Pallet - it is amazing to watch ordinary woodchips be converted into electricity on a small scale!  I intend to "write up" the workshop - the people, the experience and the education - but have not yet had a chance to put the notes in final form.  In the meantime, details of the workshop and some pictures and videos can be found on All Power's website:

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