Wood gas

Wood gas

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Wood gas is a syngas
Syngas
Syngas is the name given to a gas mixture that contains varying amounts of carbon monoxide and hydrogen. Examples of production methods include steam reforming of natural gas or liquid hydrocarbons to produce hydrogen, the gasification of coal, biomass, and in some types of waste-to-energy...

 fuel which can be used as a fuel for furnaces, stoves and vehicles in place of petrol, diesel or other fuels. During the production process biomass
Biomass
Biomass, as a renewable energy source, is biological material from living, or recently living organisms. As an energy source, biomass can either be used directly, or converted into other energy products such as biofuel....

 or other carbon-containing materials is gasified
Gasification
Gasification is a process that converts organic or fossil based carbonaceous materials into carbon monoxide, hydrogen, carbon dioxide and methane. This is achieved by reacting the material at high temperatures , without combustion, with a controlled amount of oxygen and/or steam...

 within the oxygen-limited environment of a wood gas generator
Wood gas generator
A wood gas generator is a gasification unit which converts timber or charcoal into wood gas, a syngas consisting of atmospheric nitrogen, carbon monoxide, hydrogen, traces of methane, and other gases, which - after cooling and filtering - can then be used to power an internal combustion engine or...

 to produce hydrogen
Hydrogen
Hydrogen is the chemical element with atomic number 1. It is represented by the symbol H. With an average atomic weight of , hydrogen is the lightest and most abundant chemical element, constituting roughly 75% of the Universe's chemical elemental mass. Stars in the main sequence are mainly...

 and carbon monoxide
Carbon monoxide
Carbon monoxide , also called carbonous oxide, is a colorless, odorless, and tasteless gas that is slightly lighter than air. It is highly toxic to humans and animals in higher quantities, although it is also produced in normal animal metabolism in low quantities, and is thought to have some normal...

. These gases can then be burnt as a fuel within an oxygen rich environment to produce carbon dioxide
Carbon dioxide
Carbon dioxide is a naturally occurring chemical compound composed of two oxygen atoms covalently bonded to a single carbon atom...

, water
Water
Water is a chemical substance with the chemical formula H2O. A water molecule contains one oxygen and two hydrogen atoms connected by covalent bonds. Water is a liquid at ambient conditions, but it often co-exists on Earth with its solid state, ice, and gaseous state . Water also exists in a...

 and heat. In some gasifiers this process is preceded by pyrolysis
Pyrolysis
Pyrolysis is a thermochemical decomposition of organic material at elevated temperatures without the participation of oxygen. It involves the simultaneous change of chemical composition and physical phase, and is irreversible...

, where the biomass or coal is first converted to char
Char
Char is the solid material that remains after light gases and tar coal tar have been driven out or released from a carbonaceous material during the initial stage of combustion, which is known as carbonization, charring, devolatilization or pyrolysis.Further stages of efficient combustion are...

, releasing methane
Methane
Methane is a chemical compound with the chemical formula . It is the simplest alkane, the principal component of natural gas, and probably the most abundant organic compound on earth. The relative abundance of methane makes it an attractive fuel...

 and tar
Tar
Tar is modified pitch produced primarily from the wood and roots of pine by destructive distillation under pyrolysis. Production and trade in tar was a major contributor in the economies of Northern Europe and Colonial America. Its main use was in preserving wooden vessels against rot. The largest...

 rich in polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.

History


The first wood gasifier was apparently built by Bischof
Gustav Bischof
Karl Gustav Bischof was a German chemist, born in Nuremberg, Bavaria. He died in Bonn.He was a professor at Bonn and experimented on the inflammable power of gas.-Further reading:...

 in 1839. The first vehicle powered by wood gas was built by Thomas Hugh Parker in 1901. Around 1900, many cities delivered wood gas (centrally produced, typically from coal) to residences. Natural gas
Natural gas
Natural gas is a naturally occurring gas mixture consisting primarily of methane, typically with 0–20% higher hydrocarbons . It is found associated with other hydrocarbon fuel, in coal beds, as methane clathrates, and is an important fuel source and a major feedstock for fertilizers.Most natural...

 began to be used only in 1930.

Wood gas vehicles were used during World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

, as a consequence of the rationing of fossil fuels. In Germany alone, around 500,000 "producer gas" vehicles were in use at the end of the war. Trucks, buses, tractors, motorcycles, ships and trains were equipped with a wood gasification unit. In 1942 (when wood gas had not yet reached the height of its popularity), there were about 73,000 wood gas vehicles in Sweden, 65,000 in France, 10,000 in Denmark, and almost 8,000 in Switzerland. In 1944, Finland had 43,000 "woodmobiles", of which 30,000 were buses and trucks, 7,000 private vehicles, 4,000 tractors and 600 boats.

Wood gasifiers are still manufactured in Singapore, China and Russia for automobiles and as power generators for industrial applications.

Internal combustion engine



Wood gasifiers can power either spark ignition engines, where 100% of the normal petrol can be replaced with little change to the carburation, or in a diesel engine, feeding the gas into the air inlet that is modified to have a throttle valve, if it didn't have it already. On diesel engines the diesel fuel is still needed to ignite the gas mixture, so a mechanically regulated diesel engine's "stop" linkage and probably "throttle" linkage must be modified to always give the engine a little bit of injected fuel (Often under the standard idle per-injection volume). Wood can be used to power cars with ordinary internal combustion engine
Internal combustion engine
The internal combustion engine is an engine in which the combustion of a fuel occurs with an oxidizer in a combustion chamber. In an internal combustion engine, the expansion of the high-temperature and high -pressure gases produced by combustion apply direct force to some component of the engine...

s if a wood gasifier
Wood gas generator
A wood gas generator is a gasification unit which converts timber or charcoal into wood gas, a syngas consisting of atmospheric nitrogen, carbon monoxide, hydrogen, traces of methane, and other gases, which - after cooling and filtering - can then be used to power an internal combustion engine or...

 is attached. This was quite popular during World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

 in several European, African and Asian countries because the war prevented easy and cost-effective access to oil. In more recent times, wood gas has been suggested as a clean and efficient method to heat and cook in developing countries, or even to produce electricity when combined with an internal combustion engine. Compared to WWII technology, gasifiers have become less dependent on constant attention due to the use of sophisticated electronic control systems, but it remains difficult to get clean gas from them. Purification of the gas and feeding it into natural gas pipelines is one variant to link it to the existing refueling infrastructure. Liquefaction by the Fischer–Tropsch process is another possibility.

Efficiency of the gasifier system is relatively high. The gasification stage converts about 75% of fuel energy content into a combustible gas that can be used as a fuel for internal combustion engines. Based on long-term practical experiments and over 100,000 km drive with a wood gas-powered car, the energy consumption has been 1.54 times higher compared to the energy demand of the same car on petrol (not including the energy needed to extract, transport and refine the oil from which petrol is derived). This means that 1000 kg of wood combustible matter has been found to substitute 365 litres of petrol during real transportation in similar driving conditions and with the same otherwise unmodified vehicle. This can be considered to be a good result, because no other refining of the fuel is required. This study also considers all possible losses of the wood gas system, like preheating of the system and carrying of the extra weight of the gas-generating system. In power generation reported demand of fuel is 1.1 kg wood combustible matter / kWh electricity.

Gasifiers have been built for remote Asian communities using rice husk, which in many cases has no other use. One installation in Burma uses an 80 kW modified diesel for about 500 people who are otherwise without power. The ash can be used as Biochar
Biochar
Biochar or terra preta is charcoal created by pyrolysis of biomass. Biochar is under investigation as an approach to carbon sequestration via bio-energy with carbon capture and storage. Biochar thus has the potential to help mitigate climate change, via carbon sequestration...

 fertilizer, so this can be considered a renewable fuel.

Against general belief, exhaust gas emission from an internal combustion engine is significantly lower on wood gas than on petrol. Especially the HC emissions are low on wood gas. A normal catalytic converter works well with wood gas, but even without it, emission levels less than 20 ppm HC and 0.2% CO can be easily achieved by most automobile engines. Combustion of wood gas generates no particulates, and the gas renders thus very little carbon black
Carbon black
Carbon black is a material produced by the incomplete combustion of heavy petroleum products such as FCC tar, coal tar, ethylene cracking tar, and a small amount from vegetable oil. Carbon black is a form of amorphous carbon that has a high surface-area-to-volume ratio, although its...

 amongst motor oil.

Stoves, cooking and furnaces


Certain stove designs are in effect a gasifier working on the updraft principle—the air passes up through the fuel, which can be a column of rice husks, and is combusted, then reduced to carbon monoxide by the residual char on the surface. The resulting gas is then burnt by heated secondary air coming up a concentric tube. Such a device behaves very much like a gas stove. This arrangement is also known as a Chinese burner. An alternative stove based on the downdraft principle and typically built with nested cylinders also provides high efficiency. Combustion from the top creates a gasification zone with the gas escaping downwards through ports located at the base of the burner chamber. The gas mixes with additional incoming air to provide a secondary burn. Most of the CO produced by gasification is oxidized to in the secondary combustion cycle; therefore, gasification stoves carry lower health risks than conventional cooking fires.

Another application is the use of producer gas to displace LDO (light density fuel oil
Fuel oil
Fuel oil is a fraction obtained from petroleum distillation, either as a distillate or a residue. Broadly speaking, fuel oil is any liquid petroleum product that is burned in a furnace or boiler for the generation of heat or used in an engine for the generation of power, except oils having a flash...

) in industrial furnaces.

Production


A wood gasifier takes wood chips, sawdust, charcoal, coal, rubber or similar materials as fuel and burns these incompletely in a fire box, producing solid ashes and soot
Soot
Soot is a general term that refers to impure carbon particles resulting from the incomplete combustion of a hydrocarbon. It is more properly restricted to the product of the gas-phase combustion process but is commonly extended to include the residual pyrolyzed fuel particles such as cenospheres,...

 (which have to be removed periodically from the gasifier) and wood gas. The wood gas can then be filtered for tars and soot/ash particles, cooled and directed to an engine or fuel cell
Fuel cell
A fuel cell is a device that converts the chemical energy from a fuel into electricity through a chemical reaction with oxygen or another oxidizing agent. Hydrogen is the most common fuel, but hydrocarbons such as natural gas and alcohols like methanol are sometimes used...

. Most of these engines have severe purity requirements of the wood gas, so the gas often has to pass through extensive gas cleaning in order to remove or convert (i.e. to "crack"
Cracking (chemistry)
In petroleum geology and chemistry, cracking is the process whereby complex organic molecules such as kerogens or heavy hydrocarbons are broken down into simpler molecules such as light hydrocarbons, by the breaking of carbon-carbon bonds in the precursors. The rate of cracking and the end products...

) tars and particles. The removal of tar is often accomplished by using a water scrubber
Scrubber
Scrubber systems are a diverse group of air pollution control devices that can be used to remove some particulates and/or gases from industrial exhaust streams. Traditionally, the term "scrubber" has referred to pollution control devices that use liquid to wash unwanted pollutants from a gas stream...

. Running wood gas in an unmodified gasoline-burning internal combustion engine may lead to problematic build-up of unburned compounds.

The quality of the gas from different gasifiers varies a great deal. Staged gasifiers, where pyrolysis and gasification occur separately (instead of in the same reaction zone as was the case in e.g. the WWII gasifiers), can be engineered to produce essentially tar-free gas (less than 1 mg/m³), while single-reactor fluid-bed gasifiers may exceed 50,000 mg/m³ tar. The fluid bed reactors have the advantage of being much more compact (more capacity per volume and price). Depending on the intended use of the gas, tar can be beneficial as well by increasing the heating value of the gas.

The heat of combustion of producer gas (a term used in the U.S. meaning wood gas produced for use in a combustion engine) is rather low compared to other fuels. Taylor reports that "producer gas" has a lower heating value of 5.7 MJ/kg versus 55.9 MJ/kg for natural gas and 44.1 MJ/kg for gasoline. The heating value of wood is typically 15-18 MJ/kg. Presumably, these values can vary somewhat from sample to sample. The same source reports the following chemical composition by volume which most likely is also variable:
  • Nitrogen
    Nitrogen
    Nitrogen is a chemical element that has the symbol N, atomic number of 7 and atomic mass 14.00674 u. Elemental nitrogen is a colorless, odorless, tasteless, and mostly inert diatomic gas at standard conditions, constituting 78.08% by volume of Earth's atmosphere...

     N2: 50.9%
  • Carbon monoxide CO: 27.0%
  • Hydrogen
    Hydrogen
    Hydrogen is the chemical element with atomic number 1. It is represented by the symbol H. With an average atomic weight of , hydrogen is the lightest and most abundant chemical element, constituting roughly 75% of the Universe's chemical elemental mass. Stars in the main sequence are mainly...

     H2: 14.0%
  • Carbon dioxide CO2: 4.5%
  • Methane
    Methane
    Methane is a chemical compound with the chemical formula . It is the simplest alkane, the principal component of natural gas, and probably the most abundant organic compound on earth. The relative abundance of methane makes it an attractive fuel...

     CH4: 3.0%
  • Oxygen
    Oxygen
    Oxygen is the element with atomic number 8 and represented by the symbol O. Its name derives from the Greek roots ὀξύς and -γενής , because at the time of naming, it was mistakenly thought that all acids required oxygen in their composition...

    O2: 0.6%.


It is pointed out, that the gas composition is strongly dependent on the gasification process, the gasification medium (air, oxygen or steam) and the fuel moisture. Steam-gasification processes typically yield high hydrogen contents, downdraft fixed bed gasifiers yield high nitrogen concentrations and low tar loads, while updraft fixed bed gasifiers yield high tar loads.

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