Blogs Car Info Our Show Deals Mechanics Files Vehicle Donation

A Woodchip-mobile?

See a recent (2010) article by Vesa Mikkonen on up to date versions

Car Talk’s Googler doesn’t work as well as the one the rest of us use. Or their college interns haven’t learned that you can use the internet for something more than gaming and downloading music and TV shows. I was about to post the same Wikipedia entry

I learned in college that when petroleum ran short in WWII Germany the citizenry had to resort to fuels like wood gas because it could be easily adapted to spark ignition engines.

Here’s an instructible where it’s been done to a 90’s civic, including a step-by-step guide and video.

hey guys, Hans was right! It is possible!
That’s how the North Koreans run their trucks. Due to their limited options of gasoline as fuel, but they have lots of woods! There’s a video in one of the links!

I remember a high school demonstration in the 60’s where the teacher showed us that carbon monoxide (yes, the same stuff that’s so dangerous to breathe), CO, burns readily. Cannot believe you two educated guys did not know this.

The burning wood chips heated a boiler and the resulting steam combined with the CO in the combustion gas to produce methane. The result was an engine than produced about 25% HP of the gasoline fueled engine, but was better than nothing.


So didn’t anyone else do the high school science experiment where you fill a testtube with wood shavings and heat it and light the escaping gas? Gasification was also used on industrial scale to make “Town Gas” where they did a similar process on coal (normally) and used it to run gas lights in cities. If you live in Seattle Gasworks Park is remainder of one of these facilities.

Yet another web site with pics:

Google Gasogene car. The French version

I learned about this for the first time on THE COLONY, a really awful tv program. Either way, showed the evolution of the wood chip system. Its available on Netflix.

I remember in high school chemistry class we would distill wood in a test tube and collect the gas in a upside down flask, light a match and the gas would shoot out a blue flame. My teacher at the time said it was hydrogen gas.

I believe the term is gasification. When you cook wood chips, not burn them, at a certain temperature they gasify, or emit a combustible gas. This process must take place in a pressurized vessel. I think I heard the same WW II story a long time ago. T_wrench

Fuel shortages during WWII prompted searches for alternative fuels in England, Germany, Scandinavia and many other countries. One of the most unusual solutions involved the modification of vehicles for use with wood, charcoal, or coal. Typical modifications included A) a gas generator; B) a gas reservoir; and C) carburetor modifications and additional plumbing to convey, filter, and meter the gas into the engine.
The gas generator was an airtight vessel into which was introduced a charge of wood, charcoal, or anthracite coal. Heat was applied to the fuel either internally or externally to initiate a self-sustaining gasification of the fuel in an oxygen deprived environment. The resulting “woodgas” was piped to the reservoir, or in the case of small engines, directly to the engine carburetor. Wood-gas modified vehicles were therefore technically a “dual fuel” vehicle in that a self-sustaining gasification of the wood charcoal, or coal required another fuel to start the process.

“Holzvergaser” was the term used. The ones I saw were mainly on trucks in the early fifties in East Germany. Here is a reference:

We visited France in 1948. There were still quite a few old Renault taxis operating in Paris that had been converted to run on steam that was generated in a charcoal burner in the trunk.

I helped my father build and operate both a truck and a tractor that ran on wood gas in the '70s. He had seen them in WWII and was able to obtain a grant in collaboration with the Univ. of Florida to build and test the units. We were mainly testing filter systems.
The unit was a downdraft gasifier with a hot spot of about 2,000 deg. F to crack the wood smoke into combustible gas. Had to use stainless steel nozzles. See

Had a friend that after liberating Europe went for a ride around Germany with four other GI’s in a car that ran on wood gasification. He said it was very underpowered and they had to push it up some of the steeper hills. So Hans was right and remembers well for a ten year old.

I was peripherally involved in the construction and firing of one. It was called a wood gasifier and produced hydrogen. here’s a link to a few different types.
It worked well. Wood chips in and big clean flame out the other end. If you google gasifier images, you’ll see a blue honda running on a similar rig.

I agree with above comments. Heating/Burning wood in an oxygen deprived atmosphere causes incomplete combustion with can result in Hydrogen, CO, or other hydrocarbons, such as methane. This can then be burned in the cylinders of an i.c. engine (where there is enough oxygen). As mentioned, CO can be burned to get CO2 which releases heat. The trick is an oxygen deprived atmosphere in “burning” the wood. has more information