Sunday, 18 March 2007

Transitional Transportation

Many folks have touted electric vehicles and bio-diesel as clean alternatives to fossil fuel based transportation and I have more than a passing interest in the subject, yet there was always a niggling doubt about their eco credentials.
Let me state up front that I'm a big fan of backyard bio-diesel as using a waste resource appeals to the scavenger in me, but there are only so many fish and chip shops around and true waste oil is a limited resource
Commercial bio-diesel was comprehensively debunked by George Monbiot last year and the Toyota Prius outdoes the Hummer in environmental damage, neither is morally or environmentally acceptable in the long term or as a transitional technology

I understand and accept that the personal car has a limited use-by date but what of those areas with no public transport, how do small towns and remote communities cope with an oil embargo or similar shock? My guess would be localised adaptations using local resources and the one resource that most areas can count on is woody bio-mass.

Wood gas powered over a million cars, trucks, buses and trains during and immediately after world war two when fuel was severely rationed and can do so again. I'm not advocating it for "business as usual" but I do see it as a useful and doable response to a petroleum emergency as it
A- uses biomass from marginal landscapes and so does not compete with food for our arable land
B- can be built by any competent workshop using scrap gas cylinders
C- can be adapted to any motorised transport so that it
D- uses existing rolling stock instead of using more resources

I'm willing to put my money where my mouth is and will post more on this in the near future


Big Gav said...

As far as the Prius vs Hummer story goes, the story isn't as straightforward as that article makes out - more details here :

The Naked Mechanic said...

Thanks for the link Gav, I'm aware that the story was slanted and should probably flesh out my posts in more detail.
The main point for me is that batteries involve some nasty processes in resource mining and construction, maybe the EEstor capacitor can get around that

Diotima said...

hello, rob. I have always felt the same about biodiesel. But i wasn't familiar with woodgas. Maybe you can answer some questions about it. Is the power output of woodgas lower than usual?
Is the engine's "wear and tear" greater?
Could I use it to commute 180 kms/ day? Do you know how much wood would be needed for that kind of trip?
I'm currently living in South America and trying to decide on an efficient way of getting to the city until we can finally be self sufficient and stay home. TIA,

The Naked Mechanic said...

Hi Diotima, expect a 25% power loss with woodgas, it likes more timing advance and this could be awkward on a computer controlled ignition system but is not impossible (Brazilian flex fuelled vehicles are doing this) engine wear and tear should be unchanged. Most of these questions are covered in the FAO documents at the bottom of my links list.

The Naked Mechanic said...

Forgot to add that I expect to achieve 4 or 5 kilometres per kilo from my vehicle (it's nearly finished)

Ken Boak said...


I was interested about your post about woodgas.

In November I was lucky enough to meet Johan Linell from Sweden, who at just 25, is rapidly becoming a world authority on wood gas conversions.

He came over to London to convert a Toyota HiLux pick-up truck, which is the subject of a forthcoming TV programme.

Johan has converted several vehicles, and is tapping into the residual knowledge base that remains in Sweden regarding the WW2 woodgas conversions.

His website (English version) is here

I am more interested in woodgas for stationary combined heat and power applications - running on woodchips.

I run a 1951 Lister 6hp engine which I hope to convert to woodgas later this year.

Details at my site

Ken (London)