Note: In my next biofuels post I'm going to talk about ancient forest management. For thosuands of years humans learned to manage forests to produce fuel reliably in the same piece of land for centuries.
Obviously our energy needs are greater now. But biofuels can contribute a renweable portion of our energy needs.
I've been delving into the world of biofuels, specifically wood. And I've found a pretty cool thing I had no idea existed. The wood gas generator. A wood powered engine. Put wood into a barrel, and drive around for a while. The wood powers an internal combustion engine. As it turns out, it's a very old technology using a process called gasification.
It's pretty neat.
Here's a wood powered tractor
Now...one of the most interesting things about wood as fuel, in addition to it being renewable, is it's carbon negative.
No, really. Instead of burning fossil fuels like coal and releasing CO2 buried for millions of years, burning wood releases CO2 that would have otherwise been released through the tree's natural biodegrading process. But! Some of the carbon is locked up in charcoal and ash that won't decompose for hundreds, even thousands of years.
Burning wood removes carbon from the system.
But there's always a fly in the ointment.
Some would argue it's not REALLY carbon negative because of the energy required to transport the huge and heavy wood...the gigantic trucks required to haul the wood across the landscape and the machinery used to process it.
Once you add in the transportation, you've easily removed any of the carbon neutral or carbon negative benefits.
But let's say we started using the wood itself as fuel for the trucks hauling the wood, and the machinery processing the wood.
Ever hear of a wood gas generator?
I hadn't heard of them until last week.
As it turns out FEMA offers a free blueprint to create a wood gas generator in its report "Construction of a Simplified Wood Gas Generator for Fueling Internal Combustion Engines in a Petroleum Emergency."
If you think that report looks a little hoaxy, you can also check out an article on How Stuff Works about wood gas / gassification generators.
The energy is created through a process called Gassification.
Better Gas(ification) Mileage
Believe it or not, one of the main uses of wood gasification has been to power internal combustion engines. Before 1940, gasification-powered cars were occasionally seen, especially in Europe. Then, during World War II, petroleum shortages forced people to think about alternatives. The transportation industries of Western Europe relied on wood gasification to power vehicles and ensure that food and other important materials made it to consumers. After the war, as gas and oil became widely available, gasification was largely forgotten. A future petroleum shortage, however, may revitalize our interest in this old technology. The car driver of the future may ask to "fill 'er up" with a few sticks of wood instead of a few gallons of gas.
Here's another source from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
Coal, wood and charcoal gasifiers have been used for operation of internal combustion engines in various applications since the beginning of this century. The utilization peaked during the Second World War when almost a million gasifiers were used all over the world, mainly vehicles operating on domestic solid fuels instead of gasoline.
One of the big advantages of this vs. steam is that it's MUCH cleaner. Particulates and tarry stuff is captured in a filter and the burned material is mostly hydrogen. With a steam engine, you're blasting a lot of particulate and smoke into the air (though I am NOW told by terryhallinan that this is not true, that steam totally kicks gassification's butt on all fronts).
You can make a wood powered car. A wood powered tractor. Or a wood powered truck, used specifically to haul....
...wood, which makes the use of wood as a carbon neutral fuel for heating or electricity actually Carbon Neutral or Carbon Negative. If they need more fuel, well, they're haling it.
Here's a video of people with a functioning wood gasification stove
As a final note, thanks to Zenbassoon
We'd also be helping to cut down the largest source of methane, a powerful greehouse gas, in the world...
Termites are of insect Order Isoptera, appeared during Cretaceous time, and are distant relatives of cockroaches. Symbionic bacteria in their gut assist in the digestion of fiberous plants, yielding methane (CH3) as a byproduct. In aggregate, the flatulent termites are the largest source of methane gas on Earth, and a major contributor to green-house gases. The large bubbles often found adjacent and attached to the termites in amber is bacteria-produced methane.