Getting wood gas from a rocket stove

As I mentioned before when I did my rocket grill project, I wanted to find a way to take wood gas from the rocket stove and channel it to the side burner. Here’s some work I’ve done, though there is a lot more to do to get it working:

We see from the video that it is indeed possible to collect some wood gas from the rocket stove for combustion elsewhere. With some improvements, more gas should be able to be drawn off, certainly enough for a sustained combustion.

This has got me thinking about using a rocket stove to build a wood gasifier. Note the way the gasification grate is made. Here’s a video on how I built it for reference:

What would happen if we put a simple butterfly valve at the top of the heat riser. Start the stove as normal with the valve open. In a minute or two when gasification begins, the intake of a small engine is connected to the air intake of the grate (with the appropriate coolers and filters). As the engine is turned over, the butterfly valve is shut and the uncombusted wood gases are drawn through the air injection holes of the grate. From there, they pass through the coal bed, get cracked further, are cooled and filtered, and finally fed to the engine for combustion.

I see such a system as having a great potential for a small wood gas system. Wood can be added to the fire with no smoke production, start up times should be very fast, and construction is very easy.

It is a rough idea, but one I plan to develop as time allows. Let me know what you guys think in the comment section of the first video in this post. This would make a great open source project.

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Preparations for wood gas generator

I have yet to find a deal on a generator to convert to wood gas. Because of this, I’m going to have to build my own. Right now, my power back up system is made of a 24v computer UPS connected to two deep cycle batteries in series. These are maintained by grid power and give me up to 4 hours run time for my outdoor wood furnace. This is fine for short outages, but a good ice storm will leave me needing something better.

I recently picked up a couple of these alternators to use for my project:

24 volt 35 amp military surplus alternator
24 volt 35 amp military surplus alternator

 

At 840 watts, they produce more than the 650 I need to keep the wood furnace running at full heat output. I have a 3 hp small engine, which should produce adequate power even with wood gas to run this alternator.

The next phase of this project is to source the materials I will need to build a wood gasifier.  This project has been a long time coming, but now that I have a welder, construction should go smoothly once I have all the materials needed.

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DIY Vapor Carburetor

While carburetors have disappeared on automobiles, they are still found on small engines. They are notorious for being the cause of many small engine problems. To counter this, I decided to build an experimental vapor carburetor from a couple of gate valves, pipe fittings, and a old propane tank. Here’s what I came up with:

[youtube_sc url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jqxpScG5aZs”]

We can see from this video that the basic principles work remarkably well, though this design isn’t very portable. A couple of things are needed to make this better. First, an air filter is needed. Some sort of anti backfire device would be good as well. A piece of stainless steel scrub pad inside the air intake T-fitting would do the trick.  Last, but not least, a more portable design.

Vapor carburetors are often made out to be a magical device that can turn a car into a 100+ mpg beast. Its simply not going to happen. A car that requires 20 hp to propel it 60 mph with 100% efficiency could get 134.4 mpg. We know the overall efficiency of a car is nowhere near that. How about a more realistic number like 30%? The car would get a tad over 40 mpg, a number that is still very difficult to obtain.

Many vapor carburetor designs are supposed “crack” gasoline into lighter more volatile fuels, this being the mechanism behind the 100+mpg claims.  The problem with that idea is that these lighter fuels have lower amounts of energy, requiring more fuel consumption to get the same power output. There is no free lunch out there.

That doesn’t mean we can’t develop cars with better fuel mileage. With the incredible efficiency of modern fuel injection systems, we just aren’t going to get better mileage by changing the fuel delivery system. Finding ways to utilize waste heat and recovering energy lost in braking stand to give better mileage results than a magical vapor carburetor.

At any rate, the vapor carburetor is easy to build and can be tuned to work with many small engines.  The vapor carburetor lacks the more complicated mechanisms and tiny fuel passages of modern small engine carburetors, which should lead to better reliability. There is great potential for computer controlling one of these, which would lead to better small engine life.

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Making biochar and cooking with a homemade rocket stove

It has been awhile since I did anything worth blogging about. Here’s my latest rocket stove build, designed to cook and make biochar:

[youtube_sc url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=41yGQJUs2Mk”]

Most of the biochar I’m making is for a charcoal gasifier, though I probably will set some aside for gardening next year. Being able to use the wood gases released to cook food or heat a house increases the overall efficiency of such a system.

Here’s a couple snapshots of the rocket stove in case you are interested in building one yourself:

IMG_0369Note how the back is made with three hollow blocks. On either side at the base, you have another hollow block set slightly offset. The sides and front of the heat riser are made with solid blocks.

IMG_0370All the broken blocks you see in the above picture can be replaced with a full solid block. To get better results, level the dirt beneath the stove. If you have any concrete blocks or bricks laying around, see if you can build a rocket stove. I think you will be impressed.

This design is perfect for cooking with, since you do not have to continually push in fuel. I find that a small load of wood provides a hour of good cooking heat.

For those who have had questions on my rocket stove DVD, I have decided to simply upload the series to Youtube, due to lack of interest. I’m running behind on the project, so be sure you are subscribed to my channel.

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Emergency "free" power

Often when someone gets interested in off grid living, they want to convert their whole house over to solar, water, wind, or any combination of them. For most of us, reality sets in when we compare the cost of doing so against our budgets.

There is no reason not to at least have the ability to run lights or small electronics during power outages. I’ve shown how to build cheap or even free solar panels before. What about using human power or even gravity?

Here is a demonstration I did on using gravity to power a LED:

[youtube_sc url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T_1Ir4ZIWCk”]

If you are interested in building one yourself, here’s the howto video:

[youtube_sc url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q6q1oOflJT8″]

I’ll be doing more videos on this project in the future showing how to get longer run times, while still using cheap materials and fairly low weights.

Here’s how I took a microwave and made a hand powered emergency generator:

[youtube_sc url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vm6cir_FeEM”]

As you can tell from these videos, it doesn’t cost much to build small power generators from scrap materials.

I’ll continue doing work on these projects and post progress reports here as well as on youtube. These projects are a great way to teach physics to children and are a great starting point for science fair projects.

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DIY Steam Engine

If you’ve ever checked into steam power, you’ve probably noticed the high cost of steam engines. With an old four stroke engine, a few bucks, and a couple tricks up your sleeve, you can build one for very little money. Let me show you how I did it:

[youtube_sc url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qxh8NWgqjD4″]

As you can see, the conversion is simple and will work just as soon as the epoxy and rtv sealant have cured. What about running on steam? It is far more impressive:

[youtube_sc url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aiPEci-wtRg”]

I don’t necessarily endorse building the kind of boiler I did, but it does show a cheap way to do it. Monotube boilers are far safer as the amount of water being turned into steam at any given time is quite small. The flexible tubing will split instead of producing a major explosion. Keep in mind that as the pressure of the steam goes up, so does the temperature.

A steam accident will yield crippling, if not lethal results. Proceed with great caution and a lot more education than a couple of Youtube videos if you decide to try out steam.

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Poor Man's Power Backup Video Series

I’ve got my video series up and running on how to take a UPS and turn it into an emergency power supply. With a little creativity, you can convert one into a homemade inverter generator. Be sure to look at some of the points below the video to address any additional ideas or concerns.

[youtube_sc url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wAFAMQtjA-o” playlist=”wEdxp6mvtfw,to__QWcP828,9uYUx4SJsG4″]

First, be sure to scrap the batteries you got from the UPS. You’ll get a couple of bucks to offset any costs incurred in turning it into an inverter. Also, see if you can find an old computer or computer power supply to get a small cooling fan instead of purchasing a new one. Scrap the computer parts to recover even more money.

Get a multimeter to monitor the charge of your battery. Harbor Freight has a really cheap model that is ideal for this use. They come in handy around the house and car anyway. At that price, you might as well get a couple. Also, you will want to have a gallon of distilled water to keep your electrolyte level good.

If you live in an area where there are few natural disasters and power outages are short, using the UPS to charge the battery is probably the best route to go. The marine battery I used costs only $75 or so and has many times the capacity of the stock battery. Smaller marine batteries can be had for even cheaper and all of them will outperform the stock battery for not much more money. Moral of the story – upgrade the battery and enjoy your power longer.

Remember, it is not necessary to purchase a battery to use with the UPS if you plan to use it with your car. The car battery is enough. In that case, I would connect a long set of jumper cables directly to the battery leads of the UPS. The car then should be parked close enough to a window so the UPS can be inside the house. Use a rolled up towel to prevent air leaking through the window.

It should go without saying don’t leave your car running in a closed garage. In the recent power outage in the northern U.S., a man actually died from carbon monoxide poisoning from his generator. Don’t let this happen to you. Please use common sense and a carbon monoxide detector.

Also, get a set of spare keys and lock the vehicle while it is running to prevent theft.

Be sure to turn off your car’s lights, radio, blower, and any other accessory that uses power. This will ensure maximum power is available for your power needs.

A riding lawnmower can also be used to provide charging power during a prolonged outage. This will use less gas than an idling car and will work fine if you keep your power requirements light. Adjust the throttle until the battery slightly charges or stays level under load. This will further conserve fuel.

I personally use a deep cycle battery in conjunction with the UPS so I can use my solar panels instead of the car. The car is my backup for less than favorable solar conditions. You can build a 100 watt panel for as little as $45 if you are handy with a soldering iron and ordering from ebay.

I’ve got many more ideas along these lines. Stay tuned for more posts and videos.

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Poor Man's Power Backup – Introduction

Since work and weather has slowed my rocket stove DVD production to a halt, I decided to work on another project until I can pick it back up. Bad weather affects all of us, and in recent years, it seems to be affecting more of us more often.

Being able to provide light, heat, food, water, and sanitation during extended power outages caused by natural disasters is an important skill set to have. I’m putting up a series of videos on Youtube on how to do these things on a budget.

Here’s a teaser video that shows some of the basic elements of the electrical system I’m developing:

[youtube_sc url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wAFAMQtjA-o”]

Stay tuned for more videos on how to keep your family more comfortable during inclement weather.

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The Parasite Circuit Revisited

Some of you might remember this post: http://greenenergyexperimenter.com/wp/?p=258

I’ve gone back to experimenting with this circuit and others now that the weather is pushing me indoors. By joining one end of two signal diodes, you can make what is called a Avramenko diode plug. If you place a LED across the other leads of the diodes, you can have a visual indicator of stray EMF.

It is entertaining to hold such a device near TV screens, CFLs, and household electronics. Some make the diode glow brighter than others.

To set up a little experiment, I attached a antenna from the common end of the Avramenko plug and ran it to a CFL in the ceiling. I placed my multimeter leads across the ends of the Avramenko plug to measure the voltage as well as current available. I was pleasantly surprised by the results:

16.2V @ 28.3uA, making a whopping .458mW of power! Not much power at all, but enough to light an LED.

I then wondered what would happen if I added an earth ground to the negative side of the Avramenko plug. The results were a bit more impressive: 21.9V @ 52.3uA, making 1.15mW of power. This is a 251% increase in power!

Here’s a video of this experiment:

[youtube_sc url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JdCVHkx8K0s”]

Again, let me stress the low levels of power here. It would take the grounded version of this circuit 1000 hours to produce 1 W-hr. What if we raise the potential by increasing the length of the antenna? Hundreds if not thousands of low(?) current volts can be stepped down through a microwave oven transformer to a more useful voltage levels, possibly just right for charging a deep cycle battery.

This will involve a bit more circuitry to accomplish, but I think it is doable. I’ve used microwave oven transformers to do this before:

[youtube_sc url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=23FSP4WppEk”]

The trick here will be to build up a good voltage in a capacitor, then dump it through the microwave oven transformer, creating pulses of power.

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Solar Panel / Heater Quick Update & Thoughts

If you ever want the sun to stop shining, build a solar panel. Its been 4 days since I built my half panel and the best sun I’ve had was behind thin clouds.

Today was different, though. 17 degrees and the clearest day I’ve seen in a long while. Perfect for testing the peak output on my panel. In spite of two cells having defects, it was able to put out the full 6 amps the cells were rated at. It also managed to put out a tad over 10 volts, putting the peak power at a little over 60 watts!

Large Homemade Solar Panel
Large Homemade Solar Panel

This means at best my system will put out 120 watts of electricity under full sun and produce heat for air or water.

Why have I stayed away from solar for so long? Let’s look at it this way. Assume the full panel can put out 100W for 8 hours a day. This amounts to .8kWh output per day. My electric company charges me 8.5 cents per kWh, so my solar panel would save me about 7 cents a day when there is good sunshine.

The full panel will cost me $40 to build. This means it will take at least 1.6 years to pay for itself. With the variable nature of the weather, it will be more like 2.5 years. This does not take into account batteries, charge controllers, etc.

By using the excess energy to heat air or water, you can shorten the payoff. By how much is what I am trying to establish.

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