Seeking guidance for first project

Its my first post here, so ill go into a little more detail about my background. Edit- its a pretty long post! This site has been a great resource already. We are hoping to incorporate woodgas into our lives.

I am building up a new homestead and farm from scratch here in Northern Minnesota. We are miles from the nearest powerline, so we are 100% off-grid. We have been 100% gridfree homesteading for the last 5 years, and 3 more years of gridless boat/bicycle/tent living for before that. We currently use solar for electricity and wood for all heat and cooking. We live 30 minutes from town, where everything you buy marked up 30-100%. I enjoy this, because it makes homesteading more economically justifiable, but projects take longer, as we take monthly trips to the city 3 hours away to buy hardware and equipment. I dont plan to convert a car anytime soon.

Since moving here, 2 months ago, I have been amazed at how cloudy it has been. Our solar array, which worked fine for us in Maine (definitely not a sunny state itself) is proving inadequate, even though I tripled our battery size (15kwh storage). All of our neighbors (also off-grid) all use solar and batteries, but primarily rely on generators heavily October through January.

We expect to use a lot more power as we build up infrastructure. I plan on getting more solar panels, but solar has its limits here. As of Dec 5th we have 3 ft of snow and is going to be 0 deg F tomorrow night, and the panels are covered in a sheet of ice.

Ill also preface by saying that wood supply is not an issue, like i mentioned, we heat and cook 100% on wood, so we understand the work that goes into providing ones own fuel. We live on 20 thickly forested Acres, most of it needs to be selectively logged and regenerated. We have access to 20 more acres down the road, and could easily get access to another 40 acres if i just ask some neighbors. We have a peterson swingblade sawmill, which produces plenty of slabwood and sawdust/shavings, but we use the dust for mushrooms, toilet compost, and garden mulch, and will probably sell any extra for animal bedding.

I am still researching what the best system will be for our situation, and balancing ambition vs reality.

The reality is that engines are still unfamiliar to me, largely because i have always hated oil companies, so in the past, i just avoided the things that require them. I stuck a trolling motor in my sailboat so I could avoid dealing with an old outboard. I biked thousands of miles a year to avoid paying for gas. Having an off-grid homestead and profitable farm necessitates engines however, so it is time to learn. Along with engines, most metalwork is foreign to me as well. I can not yet weld. Another reality is that I do not have a large workshop, so projects need to be workbench sized, or undertaken outside. That severely limits what i can do, wrenching on things in -20 windchill is not fun. Losing a bolt in the snow isnt fun either. The snow will stick around until the end of april.

We currently run our generator through about 1.5 gallons of gas a week for fall/winter, but this will go up as we add freezers, woodworking equipment, etc. If I can make more electricity, I will find a way to use it.

I am not opposed to making and using charcoal, I have hoping to build a greenhouse heated by a charcoal kiln for a while, before I knew about woodgas, for biochar production. It sounds like those systems might be a bit easier to run, especially for the mechanically unconfident individual.

Our ambition (operational by fall 2023) would be to create enough electricity keep our batteries amply charged throughout the dark months here. Capturing and utilizing the heat would be ideal as well, even if its just thermal mass heating a greenhouse, we will take any heat we can get! This would probably be about 10 kwh batch runs 3-5 days a week.

Our BIG ambition (operational 2024 most likely) would be to use woodgas for a lot of our tractor use. This could also be used in theory to run a pto generator, supplying our electrical needs. I don’t currently own a gas tractor, I would never run one off of petrol because of how much they consume, so if i get a petrol tractor itd be for woodgas. We have a newer kubota 25hp diesel we use for all tractor work currently. However, having one tractor is not ideal. Its not fun to snake through the trees with an offest backblade swinging behind you. I will probably get a second tractor eventually anyway, so then the question is, do I just stick with a second diesel (used) or go with petrol? I desire about 35-40 pto hp, so that i could keep a brush hog on in the summer, and chip wood in the winter.

I figured that making wood chips would be the best way to process the wood into fuel for us. It seems like there are many chunker based system on this site, but we hope to use wood chips heavily for muchroom production and garden fertility, so if i can also use it for woodgas as well that would be ideal.

I can run a 4inch hydraulic chipper off of the kubota l2501, but a 40pto hp tractor would allow me to run a full 6inch chipper at full capacity, which i think is a big upgrade in production capacity.

I briefly mentioned we run a sawmill, we are currently using it to harvest and build all of our infrastructure our own trees. It is a swingblade design, which means the motor gets pushed (by me or my partner) back and forth down the carriage over the stationary log we are sawing. Is it feasible to run this 36hp kohler off the same gasifier that would be mounted on the tractor using flexible pipe to connect the stationary gasifier to the moving sawmill engine? Specifically, will the gases travel well down the pipe, and will a gasifier designed for a 60ish hp tractor engine be adaptable enough to be rigged up to run the 36hp sawmill engine?

Ok so hopefully thats enough background information! I try to be realistic about what we can accomplish, ill be building a pair of log cabins for us this winter, which will occupy most of my time, but i hope to spend this winter learning what i need to, in order to start on a woodgas project once the weather warms up in spring.

Ok so, based on what i provided, what would people recommend as a first project?

As a novice, it seems like just building a woodgas powered generator would be best. Is this a correct guess?

Or would starting with a bigger tractor motor be easier(bearing in mind i will have to spend a lot of time learning how to maintain and fix the old gas tractor i would probably buy)?

Are woodchips a viable source for either unit? I would be willing to charcoalize if it means a simpler lower maintenance gasifier design.

Thank you all in advance for your input.
Brent

Ps- sorry for typos, all i have is a phone to work on, and i have a hard time pressing the correct buttons.

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Welcome Brent.

Sounds like you have a lot of work ahead of you. I do not think you can accomplish all your goals without getting a welder and learning how to use it. Not that hard really. However you can make a simple fire updraft gasifier that will run your generator, without having to weld. That is a charcoal gasifier and you won’t have to worry about tar damaging your engine. As you gain experience you can start building more complex types of gasifiers but for personal power, where you have hardwood to convert to charcoal, I personally see no need. Look though the old threads. Your questions are pretty general. It will be easier to offer you some help with more specific issues. I would start by gathering up as much scrap metal as you can find. Old propane tanks, well pressure tanks, barrels, ect. We call that obtainium. Plate steel, angle and channel iron. All your goals are doable. We will be happy to help.

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hi brent, you will begin to love motors when you can feed them with wood- or chargas and not more with stinky gasoline…in my case it was so…began also without knowledge of all this stuff, learned welding with batteries, 3 batteries connected to 36 volts…works fantastic, and the batteries i load up with solar elecricity on 12 volts, al least when sun is shining, have described in the tools tips and tricks thread some months ago…so you must not buy immediately a welder…as first project i would recommend a little gasifier from propane tanks for a electric gen-set…or a stationary motor, how i use for my band-saw
ciao giorgio

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Welcome from a fellow MN resident! I wish i had more experience with wood gas in order to give you advice… but the truth is i am new to it myself.

Im currently working on a WK gasifier for a 97 dakota. This will be my first of hopfully many gassifiers. So my knowledge on the topic is limited. But im eager to finish it and start learning how to operate it. (Become part of the one in a million group.)

I comend you on living off grid! It is a lifestyle most could not do. I will admit i do find the idea enticing.
How far north are you? @BillSchiller lives in northern MN and is off grid as well. He has been finishing a cabin before winter kicks in full tilt.

I myself am more centrally located, near the Brainard area…we don’t have near the snow you do.

It feels like just in the past month there have been two or three individuals post on the site that have been from MN. It is nice to know there are others in the state that are also interested in woodgas and hope we can help support eachother in the future.

That being said this forum is a great resource, loaded with individuals that are happy to help you. Thier combined knowledge is priceless.

I agree with Tom, check out the existing threads. And if you get access to the premium side of the form there are many more threads with lots of details.

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Regarding tractors on woodgas… @Tone has done some incredible things Supplementing his diesel tractor with woodgas.

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That’s true but bear in mind that Tone is some kind of magician and pulls rabbits out of hats many of us don’t even understand are hats. If you are going to convert a tractor, best to start out on a gas powered one.

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Ditto what Tom said. I would start simple. Just get some kind of engine running anyway you can. I made a charcoal gasifier based on Koens Some school in Thailand thread. Gary Gilmore’s Simple-Fire is also good.
You can see most of my first project here.
Rindert

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Welcome too DOW Brent Holliday, THE drive on wood webcite, As said you have found a great place too receive lots of great addvice on building wood and or charco gasifier designs, I personobly built a WK gasifier for two chevy trucks, They were not all 100 percent WK design,s completed, though they run my truck down the road and never locked up any valves or stems. since , since then i bought a older dakota, 1999 v8 truck, i beleive the timeing is somwhat addjustable, but the 1996 too 1993 dakotas are the best choice of dakotas, due too better timeing adjustable, as they have less computor interfereence when adjusting the timeing for wood gas, wood gas timeing need advanceing too get full power available.All so there is a design gasifier for smaller engines, 2 or 3 cyclinder generator moter gasifiers, this book is more fore smaller engine gasifiers than v8, allthough i would use the WK book gasifier heat exchanger on a BEN PATTERSON small engine gasifier, because it recovers more heat too pull back into the hearth in order too keep the temps high enough too keep from makeings tar gas, as long as all gasifiers need low moisture wood, max moisture around 25 or 30 percent, though dryer is the better. good luck with your design makeing, I have both books, the ‘Have Wood Will Travel’ should be bought when ready too build , because the book and the design has a 6 mounth premium, for the book price of 50.00 bucks, and the design is part book and part vidio, if you are premium member you can watch the build vidio anytime years later.I like the wood gasifier builders bible for what you are trying too build, on ste smaller scale, as that gasifier is designed for 2 cyclinger posible though 3 and 4 cylinder might be the better choice,Here is the books .



allso the HAVE WOOD WILL TRAVEL book deigns has a good working hopper Gutter cooler that extracts both moisture and tar out of the smoke in the refill hopper, while driving, burning wood.I dont see the feature in the gasifier builders bible, I think book books make a nice set depending on size of motor useing, all you need is in them two books for sure.

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Thank you all for the great resources. It seems like a charcoal gasifier will be a good project to start with.

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Chris, we are 3 hours up the coast from Duluth. Its all this lake superior moisture. The clouds over the lake block the solar! We can have clear skies above us, but the suns so low this time of year that it’s behind the clouds over the water. All of the trees in the way don’t help either.

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brent, look also of the threds of eddy ramos - ramosedmundo- he has built a not very complicated gasifier without welding…this model you can use for small engines and bigger engines- one for all, because it is updraft charcoal and therefore has a very elastic reduction area…

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Brent, the magic is that there is no magic, you just need time, persistence, hardworking hands and to follow some basic gasification laws. A carburetor is a device that changes liquid fuel into gas, and a gasifier is a device that changes fuel in solid form into a gaseous state, but for the conversion to proceed well, certain conditions are necessary in the individual parts of the gasifier, this is also described in these books, which stated by Kevin and also many contributions on this forum. Wood is an ideal fuel for gasification because it contains carbon, hydrogen and oxygen atoms so bonded that if the gasification reaction is initiated in a complete gasifier without heat losses, it expires automatically and the result is super strong wood gas, but since moisture is present in the wood, on the gasifier loses energy, things get complicated,… the gas is bad, full of moisture, tar,… Friends recommend that you try gasification of coal at the beginning, since you perform certain procedures from the wood gasifier separately, …

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for first trials you can take the glowing charcoal from your stove, shoveling out always a part and give it in a bucket with cover -not hermetic but airthight- before you give new wood in your stove…so you get just a little stock of charcoal and must not think in the moment about making charcoal separately in a kiln or whatever…some here on the forum do so, and also i when i have the bread stove on fire…

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