Confessions of a full-time woodgas driver

Sorry this turned out so long…

Having lived with “everyday woodgas” for several years now in a 2-driver family, here is my opinion on that idea.
It would have to be a lot of really short trips to not make sense. (or wood supply would have to be very difficult)
Yeah it’s a bit of a pain to light up all the time, but the fact is, once it is lit for the day, unless you let it sit for many hours unused, it is lit for the day and takes very little effort to “restart” later in the day. It’s like when we used to harness a horse in the morning. Once he’s harnessed, he’s harnessed.
As long as you don’t leave the hopper too full and let it get cold, it is very very easy and fast to light up and go. Get a big blower to move a lot of air fast. Don’t rely only on bilge blowers. find an old vacuum motor etc. Build a system that shaves seconds/minutes off the process and it becomes routine and not very taxing at all.
Yes, there are times that I use gasoline, or more likely another vehicle, instead of wood because I am in a hurry and only going a very short distance… but most of the time it is worth lighting up.
I kind of compare it to my days with only horse and buggy. And whether or not to harness the horse and hitch the buggy instead of jumping on a bicycle.
I figured out I could harness a horse and hitch the buggy in about 3.5 minutes. If I’m in a hurry, it takes less time to light the gasifier and be heading out the driveway. This does require a system built for efficiency. Lifestyle.

Also, I have been meaning to make a correction about something I posted a long time ago. I can not find where I posted it, but it has been nagging on me for a long time. It sort of fits here, so I will put it here.

A long time ago we were talking about the cost of woodgas and whether it was a hobby or a real way to save money. At the time I posted that I believed it was not really something one was going to save a lot of money with…since then I have kept some records of miles and costs…We have rebuilt gasifiers and spent hours of labor and miles of welding wire, etc.
I have to say, I was wrong. Woodgas can be done as an expensive hobby, or in a thousand other ways…but the way we have done it for the past few years has saved us thousands and thousands of dollars in fuel expense.

I think the tricks to this are multi-fold:

  1. Using it as often as possible for as much as possible (within reason). Always opt for the woodgas if possible. TRY to find a way to use it. Don’t get lazy with it. Use it enough to “KNOW” the technology so it is second nature. Just like knowing what a bad spark plug wire feels like, know what the gasifier feels like.

  2. Switching the brain to think of it is a normal regular part of the mechanical inventory, just like the chainsaws, concrete trowler, ice truck, wood chipper, skid steer, etc.
    It is easy to start off in woodgas seeing it as an anomaly or a hobby project. Something weird or different or out of place. But it has to become part of the development process. Seen (by me) as just another tool in the drawer. Just another option for moving this machine down the road.
    Allowing it to become part of the normal everyday operation of things allows you to think of it differently… keeping the parts and materials needed for it just like we would for any other vehicle or piece of machinery. For instance, buying bulk quantities of rubber fittings or thermocouples or steel or whatever, etc. to get the price breaks, just like I buy fuel filters for my reefer units in bulk, or buying diesel fuel 2000 gallons at a time, or buying a 500 ft roll of chainsaw chain that lasts 15 years instead of paying 3x as much at the saw shop, etc.

  3. Standardizing. Rather than doing woodgas as an art project. Bring some of Henry Ford’s wisdom into it. Make the same parts over and over, keep old used ones that still have life in them, make them all so they fit together in another unit.
    The gasifier parts in a truck should mostly be like the other parts…interchangeable from one to the other so they are re useable. Also, maybe build 2 or 3 pieces at a time while you’re set up for it already.

  4. Maintaining morale. Don’t be a purist. Having a woodgas vehicle that only has woodgas is probably going to get you discouraged. Having the objective to not use any gasoline is a great thing to operate with, but if you have yourself a law that won’t allow you to turn the rheostat knob for the fuel pump, you will likely get discouraged with it, and eventually start opting for the “easier” machine.

Having a functional, effective system of operation with woodgas that reduces your fuel bill by 60%…and actually operating in that way, is lightyears ahead of some philosophical purist , “I’m never going to use dino fuel in my woodgas truck…” system that doesn’t actually get used or accomplish anything because you are discouraged with it and instead opt for the wife’s mini van most of the time.

In the same sense, using it as one of multiple options. Going to Atlanta for 5 difficult, heavy loads with a woodgas truck, spending 2 days doing it, maxing out your equipment just to make sure you don’t buy any fuel, over working your machine,…Or, using the 1 ton, or borrowing one, or paying your friend to haul one easy load from Atlanta… If I’m stuck with too much of a purist attitude, I will not make choices that are logical and make sense. Recognize it for what it is for and also recognize that the technology has it’s limitations. That way you can keep from becoming discouraged with it.

  1. Be a world-class scrounge. If you need a definition of this. Watch old episodes of MASH and pay attention to Radar Oreilley. Always gathering pieces and parts. Whereever, however you can.

  2. Maybe this belongs in the morale list: Get yourself a personal woodgas mechanic like Jakob. Nothing makes woodgas easier than having an energetic teenage son who is an expert in the technology. :grin:

My conclusion: When given a fair chance as a technology, woodgas (atleast the WK) CAN be $-saving and not just the coolest hobby in the world. I did not start with that opinion. I grew into it through experience and keeping track of the numbers.


Billy ,

You read my mind !! Very well written !!


Yes Billy, Like Wayne K is trying to show us all: gently redirecting when we are off “Building Space Ships” (one of my best electronics instructor’s favorite lines).


Great done-it: now-I-know; statement, Billy North.

A statement that needs to be Site pinned for early reading. And later re-reading every time fellow gets despondent.

I hope AdminChris reads your statement and pins it some place site out front. Not buried over, lost, in an Electric car topic.
“Real World Woodgas Using” by Billy North
Best regards
Steve Unruh


@Chris This statement of what Billy North has said needs it own thread and stay up front like your open statment, like Steve U. Said. Also like Wayne K. has said Billy has read Wayne’s mind.
A thousand likes, I agree.


I largely agree with you, Billy, but we must also acknowledge the shortcomings:

  • the thermal efficiency of this run is, in my opinion, less than 90% over long distances
    energy value of wood 4kWh / kg
    wood consumption per 100km - 60kg (1kg / mile)
    therefore 240 kWh / 100km
    the electric car consumes 20kWh / 100km
  • at short distances the efficiency is even worse
    -gasification of wood to drive the generator increases the efficiency by up to 30% and at the same time waste heat can be used for heating (with us the heating season lasts 6 months)
    -for wide use of wood gas vehicles, the only solution is an electric car that is charged on a generator

I am also a supporter of proven technology, but the world is moving forward, …


Very well written, Billy.
Makes even more sense if you happen to live where wood grows like weed and if you’re already a wood junkie and a hoarder :smile:


Right now wood gas is an option available to you if you want to learn how to do it. There will come a time when there is no other option. Look at the big panic we saw a couple months ago when the pipe line feeding the eastern seaboard was shut down for a while. How long before the people in parts of Louisiana are going to be charging their electric vehicles again? The idea that I should be totally dependent on the functioning of the national infrastructure is totally odious to me. 9 years ago we were locked in here with a three foot snowfall that was wet and heavy and took down power lines for a big swath of Northwest Michigan. 6 days without power and then the computer battery ran out and phone batteries and no way to find out what was going on. Some people were down for close to two weeks because it was impossible for the power companies to get to lines that were too far off the cleared roads. Our saving grace was that we heat with wood but still without power the pumps for my hydronic system didn’t run. That lit a fire under my ass.


For converting heat to mechanical power on small scale, the IC motor is unbeaten. And I don’t see that change in the near future. New technics don’t write off old ones. But you are right, efficiency is becoming more and more important.

Wood is a real energy source, electricity not. Still hard to make if the sun isn’t shining.

No criticism Tone, just my opinion.

Thanks for the resume everyone, very helpfull.


Yup charcoal is even better as you remove the Pyrolysis to an external system so heat is not lost in the exothermic process and losses trying to combat and overcome all that moisture of direct gasification. (The more I dig into all this the more Im finding charcoal systems are way more efficient if the energy is reclaimed.) Thus it can be use direct for primary heating. The charcoal systems waste less in process and with the water conversion some of this heat is reclaimed. Then use the generator for hot water as the generator use will not be around the clock so it is not viable for primary heat solutions. But would work fine for hot water production. Produce your charcoal around the clock while heat the home. This can be done and would actually be much easier to produce fuel for and then your charcoal yield is basically a free byproduct. Its all a mater of perspective.


and change in lifestyle to make those benefits real

Absolutely. When we had to work for our wood chunks, I would probably have some different experience and report. But our wood comes free for hauling 12 miles, gets loaded in our trailers, already cut to size, all hardwood, kiln dried, no bark, just have to bag it up. We leave one trailer and pick up the other on a rotation. 40 cubic yards a week if we want it.

Exactly, local production is a HUGE plus in the technology. Makes us able to produce our own fuel. In my opinion, far easier and cheaper than trying to produce electric power. Perhaps we need to use wood to make electricity to charge our electric cars… Is that what you were saying Tone?

Please explain, I don’t understand your statement. What is the world moving forward to? Electric cars? I hope I never have to rely on electric cars to do what I do. Where are we going to get all the electric? Don’t we already have rolling black/brown outs at times? Storms, production limitations, fossil fuel production? Nuclear? Don’t get me wrong, I know almost nothing about electric cars. And I am very well aware that the masses can not adopt woodgas tech.


Billy, I respect your thinking, my opinion is that an electric car is the ideal solution for my needs. The fear of this technology is unnecessary, it was similar when they started to install controllers in Otto and diesel engines, but it turned out to be good, the engines work reliably and more efficiently, … you can easily monitor and analyze the operation of individual phones processes and reset errors. Billy, I had in mind that development has progressed in a good way in terms of optimizing performance and developing batteries that allow the use of an electric motor to drive vehicles. Imagine cogeneration on wood that charges your batteries in vehicles and machines, drives electrical equipment around the house and workshop, and waste heat heats buildings. just one more thought, already by using cogeneration on petrol or diesel and transporting on electricity, we would halve fuel consumption on Earth


Some of these issues break down into personal interest. I’m not qualified to deal with the issue of global power and fuel use. I am qualified to free myself from those concerns however, so that’s the path I choose. Reliance on grid supplied power is just another form of slavery. Needing enough sensors in a car to tell you that you farted and the air quality is sub-standard makes you reliant on highly skilled techs to solve whatever issues you have or you don’t move at all. Another subtle form of slavery. Right now there are probably more than a million cars that are just about new and and now junk because water got into all their electronics. Even if the problems were not catastrophic they aren’t going to get replacement parts because they are in container ships that can’t get unloaded or if they finally do get unloaded there are not enough functioning trucks and too few truck drivers to deliver them to your auto parts store. The more you are able to rely on your own means and skills the less you are dependent on a world that is certainly not being run in your best interests. When your Tesla is lawn art I’ll still be sucking something that burns into cylinders.


You are right on quote #1. Everyone will have unique needs that may or may not be solved by a battery EV. :slightly_smiling_face:

I don’t think it is fear of new technology (even though Chevy says your 2017 Bolt EV may catch fire without warning!)
It is the practical consumer saying" I don’t believe this is a good place to invest my hard-earned time and money." It is a significant investment, a large fraction of my salary and the cost of my home, which are the measurements I use. I am afraid, if you understand, not true “Fear”, that I will pour my savings into another expensive lawn ornament! :cowboy_hat_face: :innocent: :thinking:


Steve asked for this video awhile back. When I made this video, I was speaking to Jim Mason, about his GEK. I didn’t believe a complicated machine would survive. I didn’t realize how right I was. By 2011, I was camped out at the bush, with no grid, no gas, and no money. Turns out the gas producer will work just fine, in deep snow, as long as you can get it lit.

It’s a good message to myself now. I have gotten lazy. Fat with gasoline.


I love that chopping stand thing you got going on. Although my gassers will remain simple and non automated in standard form I am bringing back the automation but for different reasons. The charcoal units dont really need it like the direct fuelers but for some they want push button operation. So next year Ill be working on a cell app. The automation can already self run the entire system on its own now. So with this cell app as long as there is fuel in the machine you will just command the thing to fire up from a cell phone. Off Grid systems that have this system for battery charging wont even need to do that much. The machines can read the battery bank and self run when it sees the battery are becoming low and self shut down after a charge cycle. That part of the automation will be on the generators I offer and will no longer be apart of the gasifier systems. So those that want this system will need opt for my gen sets. Ill be building the first one this year with the V Twin Honda over this fall and that will have the battery AGS detection feature with autonomous operation. Of coarse there will be manual back systems as well. Yeah Im in Michigan its called a winter wonder land for a reason and Im on the lakeshore and get all the lake effect snow… I hate snow and I hate winter!! lol

One thing i want to note, its not our idea to automate these machines. This is market demand driving all of that. The majority of the market wants the automation and is the driving force behind this development. At least is for my clients. I had no plans to automate any farther than the grate a hopper agitators. But when someone says they want automation to certain things or its a deal breaker on an $80,000.00 sale. In this niche market you take any sale you can get and develop it especially when there an opportunity develop beyond your current level. I had automation background but I had no coding experience especially C language I had some knowledge of ladder logic for machine tuning is all. I could hardly work a cell phone, I had to learn and fast. That was 8 years ago now, today I can control the world with a cell. lol.


I was thinking today, for an “everyday driver” I sure haven’t been able to put many miles on the wood truck lately. Haven’t really gone anywhere that wasn’t in an ice truck.
I have been burning lots of diesel through the ice trucks though. I’ve driven more miles since March than I have in the last 2 years combined. Running 300-400 miles a day adds up quick. I get just about 2 days of ice route out of a drum of diesel. OUCH!


A big 1 1/2 ton v-12 dodge truck on a long frame with a ice freg. And a place to haul planty of wood. A little hybread driving mixed in on the route. I know some one who could build you that kind of truck and so do you.
That would take the OUCH away for good.


Just needed to bump this back up for others to read that haven’t read it yet by Billy North.