Fuel gas, produced by the reduction of coal and peat, was used for heating, as early as 1840 in Europe, and by 1884 it had been adapted to fuel engines in England. Before 1940, gas generator units were a familiar, but not extensively utilized, technology. However, petroleum shortages during World War II led to widespread gas generator applications in the transportation industries of Western Europe. (Charcoal-burning taxis, a related application, were still common in Korea as late as 1970.) The United States, never faced with such prolonged or severe oil shortages, has lagged far behind Europe and the Orient in familiarity with and application of this technology; however, a catastrophe could so severely disrupt the supply of petroleum in this country that this technology might be critical in meeting the energy needs of some essential economic activities, such as the production and distribution of food.
This report attempts to preserve the knowledge about wood gasification as put into practical use during World War II. Detailed, step-by-step procedures are presented in this report for constructing a simplified version of the World War II, Imbert wood gas generator.
This simple, stratified, downdraft gasifier unit can be constructed from materials that would be widely available in the United States in a prolonged petroleum crisis. For example, the body of the unit consists of a galvanized metal garbage can atop a small metal drum; common plumbing fittings throughout; and a large, stainless steel mixing bowl for the grate.
A prototype gasifier unit was fabricated from these instructions. This unit was then mounted onto the front of a gasoline-engine farm tractor and successfully field tested, using wood chips as the only fuel; see Fig. 1-1 (all figures and tables are presented at the end of their respective sections). Photographic documentation of the actual assembly of the unit, as well as its operational field test, is included in this report.
The use of wood gas generators need not be limited to transportation applications.
Stationary engines can also be fueled by wood gasifiers to run electric generators, pumps, and industrial equipment. In fact, the use of wood gas as a fuel is not even restricted to gasoline engines; if a small amount of diesel fuel is used for ignition, a properly adjusted diesel engine can be operated primarily on wood gas introduced through the intake manifold.
However, this report is concerned with the operation of four-cycle gasoline engines rated from 10 to 150 horsepower. If more information is needed about operating gasifiers on other
fuels (such as coal, charcoal, peat, sawdust or seaweed), a list of relevant literature is contained in the Bibliography at the end of this report.
The goal of this report is to furnish information for building a homemade wood gas generator made out of ordinary, available hardware, in order to get tractors, trucks, and other vehicles operating without delay, if a severe liquid fuel emergency should arise. Section 1 describes gasification principles and wood gas generators, in general, and gives some historical background about their operation and effectiveness. Section 2 contains detailed step-by-step instructions for constructing your own wood gas generator unit; illustrations and photographs are included to prevent confusion. Section 3 contains information on operating, maintaining, and trouble-shooting your wood gas generator; also included are some very important guidelines on safety when using your gasifier system.
The wood gasifier design presented in this report has as its origin the proven technology used in World War II during actual shortages of gasoline and diesel fuel. It should be acknowledged that there are alternate technologies (such as methane production or use of alcohol fuels) for keeping internal combustion engines in operation during a prolonged petroleum crisis; the wood gasifier unit described in this report represents only one solution to the problem.