News / Science & Technology

Movie Inspiration Fuels Wood-Powered Truck

Using the original renewable fuel to power vehicles of the future

Multimedia

Erika Celeste

Rick Bates mounted a specialized wood burning stove in the bed of his 1969 GMC truck and connected it to the engine.
Rick Bates mounted a specialized wood burning stove in the bed of his 1969 GMC truck and connected it to the engine.

From electric automobiles to solar wheels, hybrid cars are the wave of the future. But what about a truck that runs on the energy of the past?

An unconventional doctoral student is determined to make the original renewable fuel an efficient, economical and environmentally-friendly source of power for 21st century vehicles.

From movie fiction to reality

Rick Bates still remembers a war movie he saw as a child in which wood power saves the day.

"The hero in the movie escaped from invading Japanese forces by putting a wood-gas powered engine in a school bus and escaping with a busload of orphans in a bus powered by coconut shells," he says.

Bates always wondered if he could turn the stuff of movies into reality, but never did anything about it until he lost his job. That's when he enrolled in a doctoral program in bioprocess engineering at State University of New York in Syracuse. He wanted to see if he could make a truck run on wood.



As it turns out, the coconut-powered bus was not so far fetched.

"It was used widely in Europe during and before World War ll, and after World War lI in Germany and France because there was no fuel," says Professor Klaus Doelle, Bates faculty advisor. "It's actually an old technology which I would say (has) gotten kind of forgotten."

Wood gasification

The technology is called wood-gasification.

Wood heated at high temperatures with minimal oxygen cannot burn completely. Instead, it creates gases that can be used to power generators or internal combustion engines.

Bates modified his 1969 GMC truck to gasify wood. He mounted a specialized wood burning stove in the bed and connected it to the engine through a series of intricately coiled pipes and tubes. Dry, finely chopped pieces of wood are added to the hopper and the stove is fired up.

"After the fire got established, you would start the truck on gasoline and within half a mile or so you would switch it over to wood-gas," he says.

It is not as efficient as a gasoline-powered vehicle, and does not have the power, but Bates and Doelle say it has other advantages. An 18-kilogram bag of wood chips can be purchased for about $3 and is good for 52 kilometers. They say it is less expensive than gasoline, and more environmentally friendly.

"You can grow a tree in 30 years, versus your fossil fuel which takes two-or-three hundred, million years to form the carbon fuel," says Bates.

Doelle adds, "It would be basically carbon neutral because the trees have taken up the carbon from the air and basically we burn it and release the carbon again, so it would be a carbon neutral process."

Other renewable energy sources

Trees are just the beginning. Bates hopes to someday convert farm waste such as corn stalks, wheat shafts and even manure into renewable energy for vehicles.

"I think it would be impractical to expect to power a very large percentage of engines and applications that presently use petroleum on wood. If you try to, you would exhaust all your wood," he says. "But for areas of the country or the world that have a surplus of woody type fuel, wood-gas offers a good alternative to petroleum."

According to Bates, the wood-gas system can be hooked up to a car, or even motorcycle, connected to a trailer, and could work especially in the developing world and rural areas.

Doelle envisions an even more innovative application for the system.

"Imagine a garbage truck running on wood-gas that's produced by the garbage the truck collects," he says.

Bates and Doelle still have several more tests to run before the system is ready to hit the road. But when it does, they plan to show that the stuff of movies is not always just a fantasy.

You May Like

Turkey's Erdogan: Women Not Equal to Men

Speaking at conference in Istanbul, President Erdogan says Islam has defined a position for women: motherhood More

Ahead of SAARC Summit, Subdued Expectations

Some regional analysts say distrust between Pakistani, Indian officials has slowed SAARC's progress over the year More

Philippines Leery of Development on Reef Reclamation in S. China Sea

Chinese land reclamation projects in area have been ongoing for years, but new satellite imagery reportedly shows China’s massive construction project More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar Opposition to Keep Pushing for Constitutional Changei
X
November 24, 2014 10:09 PM
Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says she and her supporters will continue pushing to amend a constitutional clause that bars her from running for president next year. VOA's Than Lwin Htun reports from the capital Naypyitaw in this report narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar Opposition to Keep Pushing for Constitutional Change

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says she and her supporters will continue pushing to amend a constitutional clause that bars her from running for president next year. VOA's Than Lwin Htun reports from the capital Naypyitaw in this report narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Mali Attempts to Shut Down Ebola Transmission Chain

Senegal and Nigeria were able to stop small Ebola outbreaks by closely monitoring those who had contact with the sick person and quickly isolating anyone with symptoms. Mali is now scrambling to do the same. VOA’s Anne Look reports from Mali on what the country is doing to shut down the chain of transmission.
Video

Video Ukraine Marks Anniversary of Deadly 1930s Famine

During a commemoration for millions who died of starvation in Ukraine in the early 1930s, President Petro Poroshenko lashed out at Soviet-era totalitarianism for causing the deaths and accused today’s Russian-backed rebels in the east of using similar tactics. VOA’s Daniel Shearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests at a Crossroads

New public opinion polls in Hong Kong indicate declining support for pro-democracy demonstrations after weeks of street protests. VOA’s Bill Ide in Guangzhou and Pros Laput in Hong Kong spoke with protesters and observers about whether demonstrators have been too aggressive in pushing for change.
Video

Video US Immigration Relief Imminent for Mixed-Status Families

Tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants in the Washington, D.C., area may benefit from a controversial presidential order announced this week. It's not a path to citizenship, as some activists hoped. But it will allow more immigrants who arrived as children or who have citizen children, to avoid deportation and work legally. VOA's Victoria Macchi talks with one young man who benefited from an earlier presidential order, and whose parents may now benefit after years of living in fear.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid