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

EU Court Fines Poland for Hosting CIA 'Black Sites'

Ruling is first time a court has acknowledged suspects were held and tortured at the sites, under US program launched following the 9/11 terrorist attacks More

Migrant Issues Close to Home Spur Groups to Take Action

Groups placing water, food in the desert, or aiding detainees after release, have one common goal: no more deaths of migrants crossing illegally into the US More

Video At AIDS Conference, Prevention Pill Stirs Excitement

Truveda shows promise, spurring debate over access and other approaches 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.
Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debatei
X
Shelley Schlender
July 24, 2014 6:43 PM
In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Death Toll From Israel-Gaza Conflict Surpasses 700

Gaza officials say a shelling hit a compound housing a United Nations-run school in the Gaza Strip, killing more than a dozen people, during an Israeli offensive in the area. Heavy fighting between the Israeli military and Hamas militants continued on Thursday, pushing up the death toll. So far, more than 730 Palestinians and 35 Israelis have been killed in the conflict. VOA's Scott Bobb has the latest from Jerusalem.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video Israel Targets Gaza Supply Tunnels

The Israeli military has launched a ground operation in Gaza to destroy the myriad tunnels that may have been used to smuggle weapons to Hamas. VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports that could mean more hardship for the people of Gaza, who obtain some of their essential supplies through these underground passages
Video

Video Researchers Target Low-Cost Avatar Technology

Scientists at the University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies say 3-dimensional representations could revolutionize social media. Elizabeth Lee has more from Los Angeles.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.

AppleAndroid