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

Lion Cecil's Killing Sparks 'Canned Hunting' Debate in S. Africa

Conservationists believe incident, which triggered worldwide outrage, will reshape debate about practice in which hunters are allowed to target animals bred for hunting More

Environmentalists Issue Warning on Mekong Biodiversity

Scientists say decades of economic development, hydropower-dam construction, lax law enforcement and trafficking have taken their toll More

US Urges Taliban to Stay With Afghan Peace Talks

Top US Afghan diplomat also meets with Pakistani, Afghan officials following news of Mullah Omar's death 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.
Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’i
X
July 29, 2015 9:34 PM
Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video 'Metal Muscles' Flex a New Bionic Hand

Artificial limbs, including the most complex of them – the human hand – are getting more life-like and useful due to constant advances in tiny hydraulic, pneumatic and electric motors called actuators. But now, as VOA’s George Putic reports, scientists in Germany say the future of the prosthetic hand may lie not in motors but in wires that can ‘remember’ their shape.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video 'Positive Atmosphere' Points Toward TPP Trade Deal in Hawaii

Talks on a major new trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations are said to be nearing completion in Hawaii. Some trade experts say the "positive atmosphere" at the discussions could mean a deal is within reach, but there is still hard bargaining to be done over many issues and products, including U.S. drugs and Japanese rice. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.
Video

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.

VOA Blogs