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