One Straw is all about Being the Change you wish to see in the world. Most of my energy is focused on local, sustainable food production, but as it is written man cannot live on Bread Alone. So I was thrilled to have the opportunity to partner with some local folks in our Sustain Jefferson group during the Winter of 2007/8 to begin constructing a Stratified Downdraft Gasifier based on plans update by F.E.M.A. during the late 80’s The plans were found on Gengas (and are also located in the resource section in their entirety) and are intended to power a vehicle, usually a tractor, during an emergency fuel shortage -like if a Category 4 Hurricane hit the Gulf Coast and flooded a major metropolis. Not that that would ever happen…
The fact that the plans are designed for a crisis has some BIG upsides and some significant downsides. On the upside -the plans are intentional designed “loose” -you can build a FEMA gasifier from just about any scrap metal that even comes close to matching their plans which is fantastic if you and your community are freezing and hungry in a crisis: you can build one on a shoestring budget in relatively little time. The downside is that all that “looseness” in the deisgn means that alot of corners are cut and the design is not intended to operate for the long term, say sustained use in a Peak Oil or Energy Bioneer situation. More on those challanges in the more detailed pages and videos of this section of the blog.
Why am I excited about gasification? Several Reasons:
- You don’t need a PhD in Engineering to build one -though welding skill is needed.
- Its CHEAP. Even with a fancy copper heat exchanger, sourcing a used engine and generator we will come in at under 10% of a 15kw PV array.
- The Fuel is local and renewable. Any softwood will work just fine.
- Both Electricity and Heat are created, and captured, at once. Nice!
- The same system can also pump water, chip wood, etc if the engine has a PTO or if you convert other engines to run on the syn-gas.
- Super efficient burn means freaky low emissions and lots of run time: 10# of chips = 1 hour.
- The end result is Bio-Char -a fantastic soil amendment that literally sequesters 50% of the carbon input to the system.
Our gasifier is designed to end up as a small Co-Gen unit supplying both electricity and heat to a residence using only sustainably harvested carbon from the community. While we have successfully built a gasifier, we still need to iron out some significant details like a sustainable filtering mechanism, efficient heat exchangers, and sourcing a 12-15kw generator.
The technology is proven -literally millions of gasifier were in use in WWII in Europe and Korea was running taxis on them well into the 80’s. What we need now is to use the updated, safer, and simpler FEMA design and tighten up the design to allow it to be used sustainably in a home, long term, with reasonable maintenance limits -hopefully no more than with a typical outside wood burner. But this wood burner uses a fraction of the fuel and emissions, and you get electricity to boot
Interested in learning more? Check out the these pages for more info:
I will update the pages periodically with our progress and please drop comments with other resources you find out there. Wood Chip Gasification is incredibly exciting -and I love the grass roots nature of it!