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3. OPERATING AND MAINTAINGING YOUR WOOD GAS GENERATOR

3.1 USING WOOD AS A FUEL

Because,wood was used extensively as generator fuel during World War II, and since it is plentiful in most parts of the populated United States, it merits particular attention for use as an emergeney source of energy. When used in gas generators, about 20 lb of wood have the energy equivalence of one gallon of gasoline.

Wood consists of carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, and a small amount of nitrogen. As a gas generator fuel, wood bas several advantages. The ash content is quite low, only 0.5 to 2% (by weight), depending on the species and upon the presence of bark. Wood is free of sulphur, a contaminant that easily forms sulfuric acid which can cause corrosion damage to both the engine and the gas generator. Wood is easily ignited a definite virtue for the operation of any gas generator unit.

The main disadvantages for wood as a fuel are its bulkiness and its moisture content. As it is a relatively light material, one cubic yard of wood produces only 500 to 600 lb of gas generator fuel. Moisture content is notoriously high in wood fuels, and it must be brought below 20% (by weight) before it can be used in a gas generator unit. By weight, the moisture in green wood runs from 25 to 60%, in air-dried wood from 12 to 15%, and in kiln-dried wood about 8%. Moisture content can be measured quite easily by carefully weighing a specimen of the wood, placing it in an oven at 220o F for thirty minutes, reweighing the specimen, and reheating it until its weight decreases to a constant value. The original moisture content is equivalent to the weight lost.

The prototype unit in this manual (with an 6-in.-diam firetube) operated well on both wood chips (minimum size: 3/4 by 3/4 by 1/4 in.) and blocks (up to 2-in. cubes); see Fig. 3-1 (all figures and tables mentioned in Sect. 3 are presented at the end of Sect. 3). Larger sizes could be used, if the firetube diameter is increased to prevent bridging of the individual pieces of wood; of course, a throat restriktion would then have to be added to the bottom of the firetube so as to satisfy the dimensions in Table 2-2 in Sect. 2.

3.2 SPECIAL CONSIDERATIONS AND ENGINE MODIFICAITONS

To start the fire in the gasifier, the blower must be used to create a suction airflow through the wood in the hopper and downward in the firetube. If an especially high horse power engine is to be fueled by the gasifier unit, then it might be nccessary to install two such blowers and run them simultancously during start-up.

When the wood gas leaves the gasifier unit, all the oxygen pulled down with the air through the firetube has been chemically converted and is contained in carbon monoxide (CO) and water (H20). The wood gas is unable to burn without being mixed with the proper amount of additional oxygen. If an air leak develops below the grate area, the hot gas will burn while consuming the available oxygen and will create heat; this will almost certainly destroy the gasifier unit if it is not detected soon. If an air leak develops in the filter unit or in the connecting piping, the gas will become saturated with improper amounts of oxygen and will become too dilute to power the engine. Therefore airtightness from the gasifier unit to the engine is absolutely essential.

Ideally, as the wood gas enters the engine manifold it should be mixed with air in a ratio of 1:1 or 1.1:1 (air to gas) by volume. The carburetion system described in this report will provide this mixture with a minimum of friction losses in the piping. The throttle control valve and the air control valve must be operable from the driver's seat of the vehicle. The engine's spark plug gaps should be adjusted to between 0.012 and 0.015 in.; the ignition timing should be adjusted to 'early.'

3.3 INITIAL START-UP PROCEDURE

Initially, you will need to add charcoal to the grate below the firetube. Subsequent operation will already have the grate full of charcoal which has been left over from the previous operating period.

Fill the firetube with charcoal to a level 4 in. above the grate. Fill the hopper with air-dried wood; then, proceed with the routine start-up directions below.

Charcoal produced for outdoor barbecue grills is not well suited for gas generator use. To produce a better grade of charcoal, place a rag soaked in alcohol on the grate, or place 3 to 5 pages of newspaper on the grate, then fill the fire tube to a beight of 10 to 12 in. with well-dried wood. Have all the valves closed and let the Fire tuhe act as a chimney until the wood is converted to charcoal.

3.4 ROUTINE START-UP PROCEDURE

  1. Agitate the grate shaker handle for at least twenty seconds to shake down the Charcoal from the previous operating period.
  2. Open the ash cleanout port and remove the ashes from the generator housing drum. Lubricate the threads of the cleanout port with high-temperature silicone, and close the cover of the cleanout port so that it is airtight.
  3. Fill the hopper with wood fuel, and tamp the fuel down lightly. Either leave the lid completely off the fuel hopper, or adjust the opening around the lid to a 3/4-in. (or larger) clearance.
  4. Close the carburetor's air control valve and remove the cover from the blower exhaust on top of the filter unit. Start the blower, and let it run for thirty seconds to avoid explosion of residual gas in the system. Then, with the blower still operating, proceed with the next step.
  5. Open the ignition port, and ignite a 12- by 12-in. piece of newspaper; with a long stick or wire, push the burning sheet of newspaper into the grate; see Fig. 3-2. Close the ignition port. If no smoke appears at the blower's exhaust port, repeat the start-up sequence from Step (5). If repeated attempts fail. new chareoal should be added to the unit as dcscribed in Sect. 3.3, above, and the start-up ignition scquence should be repeated.
  6. After a few minutes of smoky exhaust, test the gas at the, blower exhaust by safely and carefully attempting to ignite it, see Fig. 3-3. When the gas burns consistently well, stop the blower and replace the cover on the blower exhaust.
  7. Open the carburetor's air control valve, adjust the engine's accelerator, and start the engine in a normal manner. Let the engine warm up slowly (two to five minutes). If the engine fails to start or dies repeatedly, restart the blower and repeat the ignition scquence from Step (4).

3.5 DRIVING AND NORMAL OPERATION

Shift gears so as to keep the engine speed (rpm) high at all times. Remember that it is the vacuum created by the pistons that provides the force which moves the gas from the gasifier unit into the engine.

Refill the hopper with wood (as shown in Fig. 3-4) before it is completely empty, but avoid refilling just before the end of engine operation. Periodically shake down the ashes from the grate. If your system is equipped with a gas cooler, drain water from the cooler from time to time.

Under operation in dry weather, the gasifier can be operated without the lid on the fuel hopper. However, when the gasifier unit is shut down the hopper must be covered to prevent air from continuing to burn the wood in the hopper. Under wet-weather operation, the cover must be placed on the fuel hopper, and then lifted up and rotated about 2 in. until the triangular pieces line up with the holes in the support bars. The tension of the screen door springs will then hold the lid closed. See Fig. 3-5 for clarification.

3.6 SHUTTING DOWN THE GASIFIER UNIT

When shutting down the gasifier unit, turn off the ignition switch and open the carburetor's air control valve for ten seconds to relieve any pressure from within the system. Then, completely close the air control valve, and place the cover tightly on the fuel hopper. When restarting after a short stopover, let the engine warm up briefly. After longer stops (up to one hour), tamp down the wood lightly and try to use the blower for restarting without relighting the wood fuel. After very long stops (over two hours) the charcoal must be ignited again.

3.7 ROUTINE MAINTENANCE

Periodically check all nuts on the gasifier unit, the fuel hopper, the filter unit, and the carburetor for snugness; check all penetrations and fittings for airtightness. In addition, perform the following maintenance activities as scheduled:

3.7.1 Daily Maintenance

Open the ash cleanout port of the gasifier housing drum and remove the ashes after shaking the grate for at least thirty seconds. Replace the cover of the port after coating the threads with high-temperature silicone to ensure airtightness. Open the drain tube, at the bottom of the filter container and allow any liquid condensate to drain out; remember to close the drain tube when finished.

3.7.2 Weekly Maintenance (or every 15 hours of operation)

Clean out the gasifier housing drum, the fuel hopper, and the filter. Rinse out the piping and connections to and from the filter. Replace the wood chips inside the filter, (The used wood chips from the filter can be dumped into the fuel hopper and burned to produce wood gas.) Use high-temperature silicone on all pipe connections and on the filter lid to ensure airtightness.

3.7.3 Biweekly Maintenance (or every 30 hours of operation)

Make sure that all pipe connections are secure and airtight. Check and tighten all mounting connections to the vehicle chassis. Check for rust on the outside of the gas generator housing drum, especially on the lower region. Coat with high-temperature protective paint as necessary.

3.8 OPERATING PROBLEMS AND TROUBLE-SHOOTING

A discussion of problems and their related causes and cures is contained in the trouble-shooting guide of Table 3-1. Many operational problems can be traced to failure to maintain the airtightness of all piping connections and fittings; the piping should be routinely checked to prevent such problems.

3.9 HAZARDS ASSOCIATED WITH GASIFIER OPERATION

Unfortunately, gas generator operation involves certain problems, such as toxic hazards and fire hazards. These hazards should not be treated lightly; their inclusion here, at the end of this report, does not mean that these hazards are unimportant. The reader should not underestimate the dangerous nature of these hazards.

3.9.1 Toxic Hazards

Many deaths in Europe during World War II were attributed to poisoning from wood gas generators. The danger of 'generator gas poisoning' was one of the reasons that such gasifiers were readily abandoned at the end of World War II. It is important to emphasize that 'generator gas poisoning' is carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. Acute 'generator gas poisoning' is identical with the symptoms that may develop if a heating stove damper is closed too early, or if a gasoline vehicle is allowed to idle in a poorly ventilated garage. Table 3-2 shows how poisoning symptoms develop according to the concentration of carbon monoxide in breathable air. It is important to note that rather brief exposures to very small concentrations of carbon monoxide result in undesirable physiological effects.

In case of carbon monoxide poisoning, first aid should consist of the following procedures:

  1. Move the victim quickly out into the open air or to a room with fresh air and good ventilation. All physical exertion on the part of the victim must be avoided.

  2. If the victim is unconscious, every second is valuable. Loosen any tight clothing around the neck. If breathing has stopped, remove foreign objects from the mouth (false teeth, chewing gum, etc.) and immediately give artificial respiration.

  3. Keep the victim warm.

  4. Always call a physician.

  5. In case of mild carbon monoxide poisoning without unconsciousness, the victim should be given oxygen if possible.

3.9.2 Technical Aspects of 'Generator Gas Poisoning'

Generator gas poisoning is often caused by technical defects in the functioning of the gas generator unit. When the engine is running, independent of the starting blower, the entire system is under negative pressure created by the engine's pistons; the risk of poisoning through leakage is therefore minimal. However, when the engine is shut off, formation of wood gas continues, causing an increase of pressure inside the generator unit. This pressure increase lasts for approximately 20 minutes after the engine is shut off. For this reason, it is not advisable to stay in the vehicle during this period. Also, the gas generator unit should be allowed to cool for at least 20 minutes before the vehicle is placed in an enclosed garage connected with living quarters. It should be emphasized that the gas formed during the shutdown period has a carbon monoxide cdntent of 23 to 27% and is thus very toxic.

3.9.3 Fire Hazard

The outside of a gas generator housing drum may reach the same temperature as a catalytic converter on today's automobiles. Care should be taken when operating in areas where dry grass or combustible material can come into contact with the housing drum of the gas generator unit. If a gas generator unit is mounted on a personal car, bus, van or truck, a minimum 6-in. clearance must be maintained around the unit. Disposal of ashes must only be attempted after the unit has cooled down (to below 150oF). Such residue must be placed away from any combustible material and preferably be hosed down with water for absolute safety.


Maila Markus Almroth.
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