Newbie questions - Woodgas camper

Hi all! I’m really excited to dive into learning about wood gas for vehicles, and I hope you don’t mind if I ask some newbie questions that I wasn’t able to track down through searching the forum.

First off for some background, my friend and I built a small gasifier as a standalone unit to power a generator. We’ve gotten to producing gas and successfully flaring it (yay!) but are still working out the kinks and honing our filtration so we don’t gunk up a motor. This is our first step, the next being applying it to our vehicles… which is what I actually want to ask about right now.

I’m planning on buying a used van and doing a camper conversion. I found Chris Seymour’s awesome trailer-mounted setup for the Ford Econoline, which answers my first newbie question of “can this be done to vans?”. Here are the rest of my questions:

  • Chris uses a charcoal gasifier instead of wood- what are the pros and cons of charcoal vs wood gas? Can you re-use the biochar from your wood and then re-burn it? As someone with a farm I plan on using the biochar agriculturally so I’m pretty set on wood, but I’m quite curious about the pros/cons of the two materials for vehicle gasifiers.

  • The big question: Is there a certain make or year of van (or specific engine) that is easier or harder to gasify? I’m mostly looking at extended Chevy/GMC, Ford, and Dodge vans from the 70s to the 2000s. Are carbureted engines better? Or vans without computers? I know Chris did the Ford van, and I know Wayne likes Dodges (Wayne- your trucks are incredible). Basically I’m wondering if its all a wash from a gasification perspective or if some manufacturers and year ranges are far easier or better to gasify. I’d like to be able to carry/haul a lot, and would need a v8 or v10. (I’ve been eyeing the Chevy 350 for parts availability)

I want this future ride of mine to be a home, a vehicle, and a showpiece for the incredible freedom and environmental benefits of wood gas. I do lots of teaching (sustainability and permaculture) so this will eventually get shown to lots of people- so I want to do it right! And the first step is choosing the right rig.

Any input is deeply appreciated, and I’m excited to get to know this wonderful community.


For traveling on long trips wood might be your best bet.


Hi Wesley, welcome aboard! You are now officially addicted for life…

Charcoal is easy to use, and wasteful to make. You throw away around half the energy as waste heat by making charcoal, which you may or may not find another use for. The gasifier can be very simple though, and will not tar a motor. Great for small engines, less great for road vehicles. I can’t imagine how much charcoal that van burned through… Wood gasifiers are slightly more complex as they make their own charcoal, use almost all the energy for fuel, and must process the tars and moisture from the wood. Personally I feel it’s well worth it, and it’s really the best way to go for a large vehicle.

Not too many vans have been done so far, but they mostly share engines with pickups. Plumbing space may be tight on some vans.

In general, we like OBD1 and very early OBD2. Eventually the computerized stuff gets smart enough to complain about woodgas. If you have inspections the check engine light will be a problem.

I’d prefer something with a real distributor, because you have a better shot at advancing the timing. Some folks have converted coil pack vehicles, with varying degrees of success… the computer decides the timing on it’s own, it can’t be adjusted…and you live or die by that decision.

Carb’d engines are usually older and less efficient motors, and we usually prefer multi-port fuel injection for simplicity and ease of use. If you use a carb, you may end up with an extra throttle pedal, or going in through the carb will eventually gum it up. However there are plenty of carbureted woodgas vehicles around, it’s very possible to do.

I’m including my general caution about motorhomes - the bigger they get the more this applies. I tell a lot of folks this who want to roadtrip in their woodgas RV…

Motorhomes are not the best choice for gasification for a few reasons. They are usually underpowered and slow on gasoline - woodgas will be twice as slow, since you’re losing about 30% of the engine power. Expect a top speed of 45-50 MPH. You need a large gasifier to make enough gas for the heavy load, which will itself add weight and length to an already heavy and long vehicle. Plan on burning 16-20 lbs per gallon… if you get 10 MPG now, you’ll need about 2 lbs per mile on wood. A 1,000 mile trip will be a full ton of wood, which you must chop, dry, and bag before the trip.

Then you need fuel storage - this will have to be towed on a trailer, or inside the vehicle. If you aren’t going to stop by home base to refuel, you’ll also need wood processing equipment on board, like a table saw. Any green wood needs to be air-dried for a while, so your travel range will be limited to the amount of dry wood you can procure.


Welcome to the world of wood gas Wesley.
You mentioned you built a gasifier, which design did you follow? Do you care to share some info on it, pictures dimensions etc? This will help others on here help you in the process of making an engine run.


Thank you so much Chris! Yall’s help is so much appreciated.

As someone not super proficient in cars, am I looking then for 1991-1995 vans to be obd1? That’s what it sounds like from a quick Google investigation. Is there a way I could check on that easily per make/year?

As for the motorhome disclaimer, those are very good points. Maybe I’ll look at the non-extended standard size 1ton cargo vans instead. But I’m not looking at actual motorhomes, just vans that are basically covered trucks with the same chassis. Seeing what Wayne can do with his v10 makes me think that some basic amenities in a cargo van could do fine. I’m guessing that’s the case as long as I keep the weight down, and potentially opt for a pop-top instead of a wind-dragging huge camper shell. Am I on the right track?

Yet another question- I love the idea of driving completely on wood and will probably go gas, but the idea of a 7.3 powerstroke or other long lasting diesel with veg oil conversion and a 1200 mile range is also kinda cool. How much more of a hassle is doing wood gas with diesel? I know you still need some diesel or oil in there. And has anyone tried it with a veg oil conversion? Just curious about all the options out there.

Definitely addicted for life!

Yep, that sounds about right. 1996+ is mandated as OBD2, however the early years were not so different from OBD1 computers. The big shift happened around 2000 in the Dodge lineup. Post 2003 you’re getting into CAN-BUS and very sophisticated systems.

Yep, lighter and smaller wins every time. I’d rather make it lighter than add more horsepower. You’ll thank yourself when you have to feed the beast. There’s also a pretty firm upper limit to what you can do with a vehicle sized gasifier. More than that, you’ll be running hybrid with gasoline.

Diesels are tough to convert, meaning extra $$. You need to lower the compression to 16:1, and use some diesel fuel as a pilot, or install spark plugs. Valve seats need to be hardened as well.

Because of all this, and the number of gasoline engines around, not many diesels have been done in this country. We don’t recommend them for a first project - walk before you run. If your heart’s set on a diesel, build a cheap beater truck (gasoline) and use it to learn all about woodgas first.

If you want to do veggie oil it won’t affect the woodgas, but it’s a whole other complexity to be on the same vehicle. We treat dino-juice as a safety net, and I’m thinking veggie oil is not as reliable to fall back on.

I don’t know much WVO rigs, but I think the motor usually has to be warmed up on diesel… which defeats the point, by then you’ll have switched over to woodgas.

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So far I have collected about 500 gallons of used veggie oil. The process of just getting the water out is difficult let alone trying to clean it. Remember, once it drops below a certain temperature, it will start to gel up.

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Thank you again Chris, great points all around. Agreed that gas is the way to go.

From what I’m hearing, the make of the vehicle is not much of a factor in terms of DOW, but (at the risk of asking something sometimes controversial) does anyone have any recommendations for Ford Econoline vs Chevy/GMC Express/Safari vs Dodge vans? Mostly thinking long term reliability, parts availability, ease of working on, and power.

Bill, I will upload some pics tonight when I’m back at my desktop! It’s a quaint little rig but you should have seen us jump for joy when we finally got it flare successfully.

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Those jump for joys just continue for me. Run an engine, make that engine do something useful, then make it useful doing something else. Next is to drive on wood. Jumping for joy never gets old for me.
The members on this site fill in the blanks in the areas I know nothing about. For me, it doesn’t get any better than this.


I’m right there with you Bill!

Here is the best picture I can find of the gasifier we built. It was based mostly on the FEMA plans. Two cyclone filters from discarded freon tanks, and one ammo box filter that my friend on the left is partially covering up. We ended up adding a second much larger media filter below the coiled exhaust. The frame is made mostly with an old bedframe. Laying on the ground in the background is the blower and torch assembly which we took off to transport it. We ended up replacing our non-air-tight air mattress pump with a bilge blower. But that is pretty much it!

This picture was before we added the second filter and switched from pine pellets to oak pellets. With only that tiny hay filter and pine, I would call it more of a tarifier than a gasifier. After we changed those two things, we were producing far less tar and could ignite the gas out of the torch after ~30 minutes of warmup (the bilge blower if a pretty darn slow fan).

Next step we were considering was to add a 3rd cyclone filter and then try it with an old genny to see what happens.

A very clean looking build. Nice job.
It being a ‘tarifier’ is not your fault, it’s in the design. FEMA’s are known for that. Although I did see a FEMA run a riding lawn mower all weekend in Argos. What I did was closed up the top and added air inlets about 8 or 9" from the grate. It still wasn’t an efficient design but it ran an engine without tarring it up. After that I was hungry for more and built a mini WK.


Thanks Bill! Forgive the newbie question, but how do the air inlets and closing the top reduce the tar output?

Also, I’m guessing mini WK is referring to Wayne’s build? I’m still new to the site and the lingo, is there somewhere I can read up on that design?

Many thanks!

Oh and another question related to my vehicle search- to clarify, if the late 90s is my upper end for vehicle years, what should my lower end be? 1990? Mid 80’s? I see nicely restored and well kept 80’s vans now and again and wonder if I should consider them in my search.

If you’d be happy driving it, you can woodgas it. There’s no lower limit to what you can convert. Model T’s have run on woodgas too…

Most of the trucks around here are mid 90’s because we like fuel injection and electronic ignition. They’re convenient, and if you hit the sweet spot, simple computers can be your friend. That said, some days I wish for a good old carburetor…

I think the most important thing when it comes to making woodgas thats clean that I did not understand in the first place is the char bed. Char is what drives the entire process (with heat).


This is how I understand it. I’m sure some of the seasoned veterans would give you a better understanding. To make good wood gas, one needs extreme temperatures in excess of 1300 degrees Fahrenheit according to Wikipedia. A member here has a thermocouple strategically placed and found the incoming preheated air is already close to that temperature before even touching the coals. This produces a more effective pyrolysis zone for wood gas production. It is believed the actual temps in the gasifier are probably around 2500 degrees.
By pulling the cold air in from the top and not preheated, the pyrolysis zone remains cool (relatively). The tar you see is unused energy that if the coals were hot enough, could have been usable wood gas. Instead, if carried to the engine, can bring some unwanted repairs.


If i were going camper van i wood get a 1995 year range v10 dodge port injected,you would have the extra power needed for a little extra weight,and that truck seems too work good hybriding when temps are exceded, .And that motor and trans runs good at lower rpms.And its been proven and tested by WK wayne keith Himself,too get the Nowtime Plans.That design Model truck Works well.If you want too maintain speeds over 55 and have fast take off power, you might want the dakotas with v8,or v8 s10.The 4 cyl trucks have been used,though the motors turn quit fast too get up too speed.I would rather have bigger motor,and let it work easyer.THE WK plans will save anybody a ton of money just in electric,weld rod ,or mig wire,The best part is the operator,education that you learn reading on the premium side.WK holds the world record on speed in wood gas trucks as far as known.And can drive slow and maintain tar free driveing, in his design. I have an old 1985 chevy 3/4 ton,it wont be doing any freeway driveing,just for haulimg wood 30 mile range,driveing under 55 mph likely,low buck starter,for me with wood gas, what ever you can afford will work too get it learned as Chris saenz said.

Thanks Kevin, I did some research and it looks like they don’t make ram vans with the v10, but they do have 5.2 and 5.9l v8’s. I definitely would feel better about the conversion if Wayne had already done a very similar one with his Dakota. I’ll need to research that build. And I need to get that premium membership!

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No problem, I havent ran my big under powered 305 chevy on wood yet,actualy i I might have went with the v8 dakotas when i see how well they work with wood gas, VS the bigger trucks on wood gas,at over a mile a pound ,not pulling any trailers, had i bought plans before buying the truck, on the other side of the coin,there is a guy here in the build section that gets allmost 2 miles a pound in his geo tracker.THOSE 4cyl.trucks turn quit a few rpms any way just on gasline,about 3000 at 55 that worked out good for quit a few miles round trip,as he can stash quit a bit of wood behind the seat or in pasenger seat areas. The dakots have enough extra power too pull 800 pounds of wood behind on a trailer,due too over sized motor ideal condition, They can drive 55? mph with the wood and trailer, caint do that with bigger trucks and reg size motors very long,or adding gasoline too get up to speed sooner.HOPE THIS HELPS,GOOD LUCK CHOOSEING/FINDING


All so the bigger trucks have less driveing distance,before needing too find refill spots.or stops.

I know I bought some 1998 Ford vans with V10’s. Not sure if they’re good candidates or not.