The Macro (approch) versus the Micro (approch)

Ha! Ha! I am often accused of rambling-on and dissertation’ing. Stop at the third paragraph to get my outlook as you may.

O.K. Woodgasification, wood-for-heat, pre-made charcoal using hot&active, burning down your house, burning up a forest, from a Micro approach it is all about understanding IONIZATION.
How much energy inputs (heat&pressure&turbulance) it takes to get complex gases and solid molecules to degrade, simplify, fly apart, into simpler sub-molecules.

Now starting from the standpoint of how much, how possible, to satisfy the current energy usages with annual sun falling made wood/charcoal for a Region; a Country; “the whole World”, is a Macro approach.

And these are such extreme beginning points that you will never, ever, progress all of the steps of understandings toward the center into something usable, achievable, and of practical use. Starting in-the-middle with already proven practical-usable is the wiser beginning.

I came-of-age in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s USofA.
All of the Micro explorations of the devotees of peyote, LSD, hallucinogenic mushrooms did not keep the tomatoes weeded, watered and maturing to eating.
All of the Micro inner discovery self examinations of Spiritually, and Religions did not keep the children bathed, clothed and fed. Indeed. The most devout explorers of theses Micro approaches shunned having children as a distraction to their explorations wanderings.
Now the same time-frame Macro approach was still taughting Nuclear Energy so cheap it will not be worth metering. Oh . . a few more problems to solve, eh? Just give us even more research/development money/resources and all will come to pass. (the last 20 years just erase 'Nuclear" and insert PV solar farms, Wind turbine farms, massive Tidal and Geothermal endeavors as the grand saviors)

Woodgas thinking Micro-managing electronic is the solution is a false approach. Wanna’ Micro? Study, come to a real understanding of molecular ionization of combustibles. THEN, you can make a woodstove burn virtually smoke-free. A practical-usable. THEN, you get your IC engine using the most fuel efficiently with the longest service life’s.

Bio-mass for ALL is a never will happen Macro: a keep-you-disstracted, smoke&mirrors, happy-dance lie. Wanna’ Macro?
First swear, and then DO replace 1/3 of your current energy with annual grown wood or charcoal. ONE THIRD. Take your choice: space heating&domestic water/cooking. Transportation energy. Electrical usages. Oh, you will learn. And be doing practical-usable things. More work-sweat fuel processing capable? Replace another third of your personal enrgy usages with wood…

You do know that it does not take and understanding of human micro-biology . . . or a Child-Phycology Degree to have, and raise children.
So why the feel for the need of down-to-the-little-itty-bitty Micro understanding to woodgas-for-power? Or a world-view Macro social/ecological understanding to make-wood-into-energy work, and be worth pursuing?

Start at the Middle of practical-usable first. Then as you have the have the urge to know more Why; work out to the extremes of Micro’s/Macro’s. Quit any time on your outward explorations. Never exploring so far away that you lose sight of the solid middle usable-practical Base you began from. A Base that does grow tomatoes and children.

Ha! And I lost most by the third paragraph.
No matter.
tree-farmer Steve unruh


I think what you are talking about here is usually called deconstructionism. Where it is considered that a problem can be understood by studying it’s parts. See
And what you are calling Macro is usually refered to as a ‘wholistic approach’. Where it is considdered that a problem can be understood by 'taking a step back and ‘seeing it in it’s entirety’. It’s an older approach and deconstructionism is newer.
My opinion is that both approaches are useful in different circumstances. Learning is a hard, messy business, and if you even try to stick to any particular method you will not get anywhere. Just do what works for you and forget whatever our educators are telling eachother.
My parents were professors. Just in case you wanted to know.



The US experience with nuclear has probably fallen victim to fossil fuel industry interests. Also, amazing instititional inertia / flaws in reactor design (like the (I believe) G.E. pattern reactors that blew in Fukusima, and probably the same as 3 mile island.) France runs primarily on nuclear, including the train system. I doubt their strategic planners are nearly as worried about international oil supplies.

India is developing thorium reactors which may provide them with reliable power for centuries. France and Japan reprocess, as 95% of the recoverable power isn’t reaped in a conventional reactor. Other approaches also exist, potentially more efficient and much cleaner (waste free) than current technology.

And then there’s CANDU heavy water reactors, or the Canadian “Slowpoke” reactor technology, now shelved…

While it’s correct to say that it was always a lie that nuclear would be so cheap as to be effectively free (possibly cold war propaganda), nuclear is an important and viable low emissions option that shouldn’t be so lightly discounted.

Regarding your main idea, of individual approaches, I basically agree, but will point out that economies of scale will make any system more efficient. A syngas biomass plant at the megawatt scale will beat the pants off any small system in terms of operating characteristics, reliability and efficiency.


About costs. Wayne Keith tells us in Have Wood Will Travel that he has put dead cats, plastic, chicken manure, and I’m sure other waste products in gasifiers. I know that Coors Brewing here in Golden, Colorado is gasifying their brewers grains and spent hops. And now New York City’s Department of Santitation has begun to gassify garbage at the old Fresh Kills landfill site on Staten Island. In both cases they are doing this to avoid the transportation costs of shipping waste. Perhaps its not about energy. Perhaps its about reducing waste disposal costs.


I agree about the potential side benefits of extracting energy and disposing of waste, small or industrial scale. No matter how carefully I shop and compost, my garbage bin fills up with plastic wraps and packaging. A wood gasifier stands as an ideal solution. Just as paper and cardboard are best recycled in a wood stove, the industrial “recycling” is greenwashing, taking more energy than it saves.

On a societal scale, yes, divert landfill waste to fire turbines.

But I figure these efforts are small efficiency boosts, and biomass though a much larger potential, still falls short of our energy needs by far.

Steve refers to getting a personal understanding of one’s energy budget, and then reducing it to sustainable human levels. (If I’m interpreting correctly). I appreciate that approach. Apply that to hand pumping water from a well, and carrying it in pails. That would be the end of the flush toilet!

That’s the evil of liquid fuels, too easy and energetic, most drivers may have never even seen gasoline, never mind a refinery, or oil well. Just turn the tap…

Summing up, to meet the energy challenges that will soon be on us, we need to look at increases in efficiency, reduction of over all energy and resource use (to buy reaction time), and diversify our energy production. Home and grid solar being highest value (though sadly not for parts of the west coast). Hydro and nuclear are the other contenders, and industrial wind follows. We need a diverse approach, and to downsize. But no real signs we’re doing either.

Dutch John had commented here a number of years ago, that driving on wood is great when prices are high. But if fuel ever runs out, it will just make you the highest value target.

But we should have a number of years where fuel prices are just a heavy budget impact.

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I don’t think this gassification thing is small scale. I went to a lecture at NREL (National Renewable Energy Labs) in Golden, Colorado. John Skahill, a chemical engineer there, was working with Community Power Corporation to develope a practical gassification process for Coors Brewing.
I can’t remember all the ways he talked about gasification being potentially usefull to society. But one of the things he said was that 40% of energy in the United States could be supplied from our western mountains, using labor that is currently dedicated to doing control burns and otherwise preventing forest fires. 40% is not small.

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A lot of these figures will depend heavily on how you account for the parasitic costs of production. How much energy needs to be spent to get any timber to a point of use? On the stump, having never smelted iron to build,a machine, or fueled it, sure, it seems like a significant figure.

The industry standard is something like one or two gallons of diesel per cubic meter to get cut lumber on a truck, and then there’s downstream processing and trucking, almost to the point of zero calorie return over fossil fuel.

I know in the case of theoretical ethanol energy in crop residue, it was estimated all of western Canada could provide 1/10th of our fuel needs, and then start subtracting, for the baling, gathering, trucking, etc. Said another way, the fuel produced might offset the fuel use of farming the same land.

And then we have to account for the ecological utility of the biomass, you can’t take more than a small percentage and still expect the ecosystem to persist to generate more.

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Personal responsibility has really changed my energy usage. South Africa forced Patrick to changed to personal responsibility. I think as long as it’s so easy for people to have electricity in the cities, it won’t change. We are adding more people to this planet, the demand will also increase.


Errr. The way I would imagine the operation there would be a gassifier with attached equipment to produce methanol on a logging road with a group of people gathering biomass and feeding it into a gassifier. An appropriate sized tanker would be parked near by. At the end of the day the workers would ride back with the tanker, and ride back with it empty the nest morning. This would not be a logging operation so much as an undergrowth and fallen limb gathering operation. Nothing would leave the immediate area but methanol or perhaps dimethyl ether. This would be about as labor effecient as what they currently do to control fires. It wouldn’t seem energy inefficient to do it this way. But I just came up with this in a few minutes. I’m sure someone smart could come along and think of something better.


Ok, I hadn’t understood that you were envisioning a syngas to liquid fuel process.

That additional complexity markedly drops potential efficiency. Using the Fischer Tropsch process at an industrial scale, with natural gas as the feedstock is said to consume 45% of the feedstock powering the process. I suppose on a smaller scale, and using syngas returns may be even smaller.

There have been mobile “biocrude” plants demonstrated, but utilizing slash and waste from logging operations. I doubt any of those approaches can even offset the fuel budget of the logging operations.

Aiming for gas to liquids probably wipes out any net energy gain, or very nearly so.

If ag waste available on flat fields with roads all around hardly pays, then rough remote terrain gathering of biomass certainly doesn’t. But if there is potential, I would focus on the ag biomass first.


If the Mass ( Macro ) does not get out of its comfort chair and understand the Individualist ( Micro ) then things will never change…

The Macro is driven by the profit from a few Micro, giving the comfort proclaimed to be best… MHO

Its not easy to change habits, comfort needs…

Macro is the whole picture included the extreme endpoints of either side ? sometimes its getting prohibited to replace your own energy by using natural resources, the question is why ?

To understand the need of change the direction, you’l need to learn AND understand what , why and HOW.

My father in law here in Thailand, does not have a car, does not need electric power, no aircon but however he’s smarter then i…

He can not read, not write, can not speak english, but still he can teach me by DOING…
On the way to the field he see’s and put aside old woodscraps, he picks them up on the way back home…
He cooks with it, heats a bucket of water to shower, steam the sticky rice, putting herbs in the fire to repell the mosquito’s and so much more …

His needs are not high, neither is his energy consumption… His macro life is much better then my micro thinking

I learned a lot from him, exactly to improve my own micro approach…

As many responses above are so true… my own opinion does not matter, its the perception from others on my DOING that will make the difference…

At any given day, it will always be easier to find the errors in someones approach, dough so much more sattisfying to finally understand why they did it their way…

I am in the middle and i DO explore my bounderies and beyond… sometimes i learn that i have to shift the place where i am, to get a clearer picture or just because someone else is right…


i contacted them, OBERON Fuels, more then a month ago… willing to buy /use their technology… still waiting for a reply…


That’s really disappointing. I thought Oberon was on the up and up. No I don’t have an ‘in’ with them.
However, there are others.
Community power Corporation has a modular Liquimax system that is built into 20 foot shipping containers.
Enerkem, Montreal, Canada seems to be doing something with dimethyl ether.
I suspect you allready know about Velocys.
NREL does a lot. I’m not sure whether they will work with you since you are not in country.
Oak Ridge National Labs also does a lot but similar to NREL.
I hope this helps.


Its not that crazy difficult. Copper oxide will catalize methanol. Mr Teslonian catalizes something (I’m not sure what) on YouTube.

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I’m not disputing that such efforts can produce liquid fuels. I am pointing out the significant limits and inefficiencies to such approaches.

As for Mr Teslonian, he demonstrates any number of sketchy rigs which seem to work in principle, but probably not for long.

The unavoidable limitations of gas to liquid make the potential quite low, a problem magnified if used with any remote forestry situation.

Remote on-site processing will eliminate potential side efficiencies, such as other utilization of process heat.

Ag land is a fair test case for such ideas. Biomass harvest is constrained to annual growth. (Although annual growth of biomass is at artificial levels due to petrochemical fertilizer). Access is excellent, and ag areas tend to be closer to population. Biomass is in very finely divided form ready for chemical processes.

I believe the greatest potential for biomass is small industrial processing in urban centers, where the waste heat can be utilized for district heating, greenhouse heating, other processes, and small steam electric generation.

There are many small towns and cities where such systems could have real benefit. But profit margins will likely be thin at best, arguably because our market is skewed by greatly under valued fossil fuels.

But most important to recognize is the fact that there isn’t enough biomass available to sustain our modern energy demands. As Koen points out in the case of his father in law, wise people are those who choose to do with less.

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Interesting exchanges guys. By all means feel free. What a peer-review forum is all about.
So, please do not let anything I further say limit you, and your exchanges.

I’ve been off-line for two days involved with the two little foster girls.
On my first topic starter post my Micro, and Macro was about do-it-yourself pursuing, and developing woodgas/charcoalgas-for-power.

I have in the last 10 years come to know and exchange with two men in particular who go clear down to the teeny-tiny-little-itty-bitty-molecular understanding and work their way up.
Ha! Both have made functioning working multiple wood gasifier systems.
Friends, these actually.
And they believe that their life-long from the Micro approaches science/maths/spiritual is what was had their works, workable. Sigh. Not really. Having lived stripped down lifestyles that had them needs-must heating with wood; cooking with wood gave them intuitive experiences they were tapping into. They stumbled at first (like me;) but a bit’o forums, pushing and pulling, got them to personal success’s . . . with wood fuels. Step away from easy woods into AG wastes, urban land-fill wastes and Opps!! . . . problems, problems, problems. Sure, sure. Catalyst-adds; grinding up and uniform pelleting of crap-fuels bits; and, on, and on allows “gasification” of crap-fuel-wastes.
Gets complicated and beyond personal use $'s and labor time worth it, real quickly.
Ha! And when I say “crap-fuels” I really do mean AG wastes of animal manures, and Urban/city wastes of human excrement’s.
Ask any known published out gasfier designer and they get constant requests for ability to build to fuel with these and more. ( Ahh-hum. “Crap-Fuels!!” to me is anything except naturally grown and harvested wood. But that is just cranky 'ol-fart, woodenheaded, me.)
Ho-hum. It is really all just so easy for personal use DYI when you use natural woods…
Have land. Plant, nurture local trees for fuels, building materials, and FOODs. Use your own animal and human manures on your own land.
Yep. Even I have to put out once-a-month plastics/metals recyclables. “Give back to Caesar, what is due to Caesar”. Mean: living in the any current real world society you have to fit in some, to be left alone in peace.

I do not pretend to support and feed the cities/urban’s/suburbans with solutions to anything. They have made their lifestyle choices. I’ve made mine.

Now by Macro approach by the individual DIY builder/designer/developer . . . in the past 10 years I’ve met these all along too.
One never fires up his parents bequeathed excellent, excellent double walled European cast iron in-room-woodstove. Instead he uses uses piped in natural gas and lined-in grid electricity. But he is well-educated. Has written and been published. He has made up a series of progressively larger, larger, more capable chipped wood fuel gasifers.
His decades of efforts stall with the ups&downs of petroleum prices/fears, and the bent of the current political party in power.
Another Macro approach guy designs and builds wood-cookers-for-the-People, women in particular. Educated and published out too. He does live rural. But when I asked he does not personally woodheat, either. Propane, I think. With again big-grid lined-in electricity.
I do like both of these fellows. But their Macro-for-others approach not based on personal thousands and thousands of hours annual heating with wood limits their impact and achievements greatly.
Ha! And then a third well know fellow who hippy-skippies back and forth between Micro/Macro approaches. When I asked why he models with commercial orchard nut shells he told me that they really did not have harvest-able woods available. And that they could get tons of nut shells delivered cheap. So predictably by his fourth generation of design it will only use fuel stocks that can be processed down to the size, weight and consistency of crushed nut shells! And these first-world one-button electronic systems get sent a long-tech-support-way to third world countries. Yet at home-base they now use piped-in natural gas and big-grid electricity too.

As far apart as Wayne Kieth, Vesa Mikkonen, Dutch John, Doug Williams, John Stout, Mike LaRosa and many others may seem; these fellows DO know and depend on thousands and thousands of hours of local harvested wood-for-power use annually.
You just cannot beat these kinds of personally cumulative experiences, no matter your intelligence, philosophy, or good intents.

tree-farmer Steve unruh


There is a problem lately with large biomass thermal systems failing , Failing because they were not built as designed , failing because they were built with substandard steel .


Wood is best used as a building material .Waste from sawmills are used for biomass power … Rice straw can also be used as a building material . Chemicals were first derived from wood . China is making fertilizer from agricultural waste previously burned , China is looking at making veterinary antibiotics from Phytochemistry


I hear you regarding idealism that never comes down to practical implementation. That’s a disappointing category to be in.

On the other hand, there are many technological approaches which benefit greatly from economies of scale, or the inherent energy and management economies of processes beyond home scale. We all like iron and concrete, but few would aim to make Portland cement or iron at home. Incidentally, I could imagine industrial cement and gypsum kilns fired on syngas, probably already done back in the day…

Regarding manure, incineration is objectionable, it should be applied to land. I do object to classing ag waste biomass as “crap fuel”. I would say it’s the real unrealized recource of the continent. Much of rural China reputedly heats and cooks with such marginal fuel.

For individual use such fuels are challenging, but maybe not impossible with different approaches. But from an industrial perspective, finely divided biomass is very amenable. It will burn in fluidized beds, swirl burners, or coal stoker type beds with little additional processing. And the bigger the scale of the system, probably the better it will work.

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Yes GaryT why I did clearly point out that my saying imho that clasifing anything other than natural grown wood as the ideal was strictly my own personal designation.
Forestry growing of trees versus mono-plantation growing is a true no till crop. Harvest and let the coppice’ing types sprout back. The others, inter stupm re-plant ( a single planters shovel bit-thrust, wiggle-rock, and stomp-down) one year cultured seedlings.
Understandable that in some parts of the worlds due to tornadoes, droughts and such that trees growing is extremely difficult.
A lot of the “and such” was/is American Buffalo, cows-goats-sheep-pigs, giraffes and similar never letting trees get established to self-replenishing take-off…

I’ve been driven nuts in the last ten years by cane-sugar baggsi(sp), corn-maize “stover”, wheat/oats/rice “chaff” people. All of these requiring massive annual full till or chemical-kill replanting. Why? To feed the urban-mass artsie-fartsie pizza eaters. Supply the energy detached users with just more ignore true base necessities.

Now the actual processing/manufacturing plants turn-our-processes-wastes-into-our-plants-engyy-inputs engineers do not need DYI foruming.
I’ve corresponded with a few of these types engineers too. What their owners are looking for in popular-appeal is crowd-sourcing favorable regulations and taxes breaks.
tree-farmer Steve unruh