Can A Motorized Bicycle Run On Trees?

Some of the earliest automobiles weren’t powered by refined petrochemicals, but instead wood gas. This wood gas is produced by burning wood or charcoal, capturing the fumes given off, and burning those fumes again. During World War II, nearly every European country was under gasoline rations, and tens of thousands of automobiles would be converted to run on wood gas before the war’s end.

In the century or so since the first car rolled on wood gas, and after hundreds of books and studies were published on the manufacturing and development of wood gas generators and conversion of internal combustion engines, there’s one question: can someone convert a moped to run on wood gas? [NightHawkinLight] finally answered that question.

The basic setup for this experiment is a tiny, tiny internal combustion engine attached to a bicycle. Add a gas tank, and you have a moped, no problem. But this is meant to run on firewood, and for that you need a wood gas generator. This means [NightHawkinLight] will need to burn wood without a whole lot of oxygen, similar to how you make charcoal. There is, apparently, the perfect device to do this, and it’ll fit on the back of a bike. It’s a bee smoker, that thing bee keepers use to calm down a hive of honeybees.

The bee smoker generates the wood gas, which is filtered and cooled in a gallon paint bucket filled with cedar chips. The output from this filter is fed right into where the air filter for the internal combustion engine should be, with an added valve to put more air into the carburetor.

So, with that setup, does the weird bike motorcycle wood gas thing turn over? Yes. The engine idled for a few seconds without producing any useful power. That’s alright, though, because this is just a proof of concept and work in progress. Getting this thing to run and be a useful mode of transportation will require a much larger wood gas generator, but right now [NightHawkinLight] knows his engine can run on wood gas.

59 thoughts on “Can A Motorized Bicycle Run On Trees?

    1. Isn’t the idea of the smoker that it prompts the bees to start eating honey which then makes them more sedentary? I’ve seen some bee keeping videos on youtube where the keeper uses a sugar and water solution to a similar effect.

      1. The smoke has a few functions (beekeeper here). It mostly distracts the guard bees. It helps block scent receptors so alarm pheromone (if released) isn’t noticed as much. It drives bees away from where your working (say you want to look at the comb that’s covered, or put a lid on without squishing any of the girls). Most importantly you get to look cool wave around a tiny lit stove, so you’re not only messing with a box of stinging insects, you’re also playing with fire:)

  1. The process of deriving gas from wood isn’t called “burning”, it’s called “destructive distillation”. “Destructive” simply means that the wood has undergone a chemical transformation, so you can’t reconstitute the original material from the resulting chemical components. This is in contrast with fractional distillation, in which the original substance CAN be (at least mostly) re-created by mixing together the products of the distillation process.

    1. Are you serious?

      I almost fell of my chair laughing, But then i realised that this might be the case… So please clarify if this is a joke or not as I might have just learned something.

  2. I’m no expert on wood gasifiers, I had done some extensive reading about them. They use an airtight chamber filled with fuel, premade charcoal, or Europe’s case, dried weeds along the roadside (a WWII vet told me that). Another fire heats the fuel chamber, which emits Hydrogen,CO, and methane among other things. If a larger rig is needed, there are those child,cargo wheeled trailers….

    1. There wasn’t any other fire. The chamber was lit up from the bottom and the door was sealed shut, and then a small air valve opened that let air in from the top. As long as the engine ran, it kept pulling air in through the top, through the fuel, and into the fire which burned with so little oxygen that it produced CO and other half-burned fumes.

      There’s updraft and downdraft gasifiers depending on whether they’re lit from the top or from the bottom. The version used for ersats fuel in Europe was generally bottom-lit because it allowed you to flip the top open and add more fuel as you went.

      Which was of course dangerous, because every time you open it you get a big belch of flammable gasses and CO from the thing.

  3. I remember watching old WWII documentaries showing very large double axle German trucks running on nothing but wood gas. If I recall, the gasifiers were big, but not really all that big so he should be able to make one with enough output to run that small engine. I think the hardest part is getting the fuel/air ration correct which might explain some of why he was not making much power there. He is a great builder and i am sure he will figure it out and get it to work well. Thanks for writing this.

    1. Finnish compressor driven wood gas truck. They make a point about how the engine develops more power than the NA gasoline engine, whereas the traditional wood gasifier without the compressor barely runs.

  4. I wonder how the emissions compare to fossil fuels. Seems like it would still be spewing climate killing gasses. Doesn’t seem so ‘Green’ compared to an electric bike. Guess you’d still have to charge the battery off the grid, fueled by coal or natural gas…

    1. Wood is considered a carbon-neutral fuel because in burning it, you’re releasing carbon that was stored by trees, who themselves pulled it out of the air over maybe 20 to 100 years. So no real net addition of carbon to the atmosphere, cos trees release the carbon anyway when they rot.

      Whereas when you burn fossil fuels (coal, nat gas, petroleum) you’re releasing carbon that had been sequestered for millions of years. Virtually all carbon released from fossil fuels is carbon ADDED to the atmosphere.

      But of course emissions are still emissions; wood combustion can release particulates and other harmful stuff, depending on the efficiency of the combustion system.

      1. >cos trees release the carbon anyway when they rot.

        Not all of it, and forest fires leave charred residues which no longer decompose.

        But think of the biofuel cycle as a circular roadway. If there’s a 100 mph limit all the way around, the cars driving there are evenly distributed. If one half of the roadway has 50 mph limit, most of the cars at any given time will be there. That’s what happens with trees and CO2 – they sequester the carbon in their bodies and keep it there for a long time, then release it, and almost immediately the CO2 is picked up again by other plants.

        You start burning the plants, and it’s like making the 50 mph zone shorter and shorter, distributing the cars elsewhere. In this case, extra CO2 in the atmosphere.

    2. well yes it still releases green house gasses but they come directly from the wood and you need to regrow wood to get new fuel, thus creating a much smaller circular system then “living things” + 1000s of years(?) = gas/oil/coal/turf in the ground.
      The time needed for one turn in this smaller circular system could actually be observable from/for individual humans.
      Not like most other fossil fuels where we just take ’em from the ground and don’t and can’t just rebuild the stock or even plan to.

      1. So, since all that fossil fuel, trapped underground, use to be free in the environment as living things. Why is bring it back into the above ground environment, where it once was, such a bad thing? Had to be a warmer, nearly winterless climate, to support the vegetation, to feed monster lizards and such. Still think we are recovering from the Great Ice Age, have thousands of years left, before getting back to normal (pre-ice age).

        1. IMHO: well for once it would drastically change our current environment (even more than it already does) and my guess is the weather would be far less stable with more drastic changes on shorter time spans (daily basis).
          Humanity as a whole wouldn’t be able to adapt to those short and long term changes so quickly (I assume).

          Human build structures wouldn’t far very good under those conditions.

          And it’s possible the CO(2) would be / was in the environment but NOT in the air, instead bound in jungles and bigger animals (dinosaurs?).

        2. “So, since all that fossil fuel, trapped underground, use to be free in the environment as living things. Why is bring it back into the above ground environment, where it once was, such a bad thing?”

          Because it’s NOT being brought back “as living things”: it’s being vented straight into the air.

          Bringing it back “as living things” would imply reforestation, something humans are actively not doing.

          Air quality was much different back then. CO2 was NOT present in the atmosphere at concentrations it will reach now. O2 was actually higher than now, which allowed megafauna (like the giant insects) to grow.

          1. Carbon is one of the most important elements for life on this planet. Plants suck CO2 out of the atmosphere, grow, propagate, and often ingested as food for other carbon based creatures, even humans. Most plants don’t do well in the cold, though some need a cold period to mature. Didn’t we survive the Ice Age, which sort of means we did alright in the warmer climate before.

            Of course, we can only guess at the distant past, since we’ve been burning stuff, about as long as written records, even records.

            All that water, and more when the ice finishes melting… Warmer climate, means more water vapor in the atmosphere, more rainfall. How many square miles of barren desert do we have on this planet? Might be nice to see it green and productive for a change. More food, to support more life forms.

            Humans have been successful, and survive, because we adapt, not just ourselves, but our environment, to better support our needs. We find, or build shelters, we store food and water, use tools to be more productive. Global Warming isn’t going to happen over night, or in a single generation, we’ll deal it it, and survive just fine, and probably better off. There is no stopping something that’s been going on longer than we’ve been messing up the planet. Even the climate scientist agree we can only hope to slow it down a little, if we all follow the herd, immediately, since it’s almost too late. Personally, I think these great minds know we are heading toward a mild spell, and hope to get their agenda in full motion before then, so we all believe, and are more willing to follow their direction.

          2. Climate change _is_ happening in this generation, though.

            Your arguments are (deliberately?) over-simplified, and incorrect, Harvey:

            – Carbon is important in the right levels, much like sodium in your diet
            – Most plants do extremely well in the environment that they have adapted to for tens or hundreds of thousands of years. Cold weather plants die off when their environment gets too warm
            – We haven’t just been burning “stuff”, we’ve been burning plant matter, which, by definition, can never been burned _too much_ enough that plants can’t reclaim it by growing. Oil from under ground is _too much_
            – Now you go onto weird arguments of how humans will survive (yeah, probably), but somehow you’re okay with a large portion of the natural world dying off?

            I dunno. You seem to think this is a “scientist agenda”, while choosing to believe the rich elite that are actively profiting from climate change denial. It’s weird.

          3. @Jarrett: Yes, climate change ist happening. But I absolutely agree with HarveyH54 in that we can not do much about it. Even if we allow us to be driven back into the stone age or at least pre-industrial age, like most environmentalists try to do, we will not have any major influence on it.

          4. @Martin That too is incorrect. The latest IPCC report (consensus of scientists) states that we can still make changes to keep temperature rise constrained to 2 degrees Celcius. It is not too late.

            We caused this problem, why are you so certain we cannot solve it?

        3. “So, since all that fossil fuel, trapped underground, use to be free in the environment as living things. Why is bring it back into the above ground environment, where it once was, such a bad thing?”

          Because not all of the carbon in fossil fuel was in the atmosphere all at once. It took thousands to millions of years for the biomass that makes up fossil fuel to accumulate, it ‘s been sitting untouched for millions of years, and we’re now on track to burn most of it and liberate all that carbon, over a period of a few hundred years.

        4. 1) all the carbon is fossil carbon, technically. It was there before living things.

          2) reaching the CO2 levels of the deep past would be nice for the plants, which use less water when there’s more CO2 in the air and thrive at around 800-1000 ppm. Many greenhouses deliberately pump their CO2 levels up to around these levels by burning propane.

          3) people begin to experience cognitive decline and general malaise at 800 ppm CO2 levels. Reaching 800 ppm average outdoors would mean indoor CO2 levels would rise intolerably high and we’d actually start to suffocate without CO2 scrubbers in our homes.

          We’re currently at 400 ppm average.

          1. Can We Terraform the Sahara to Stop Climate Change?

            TL;DR
            If you plant the entire Sahara and the Australian Outback, where you have a 12 month growth cycle, with the best possible vegetation for CO2 capture, you will only capture in the most optimistic scenario 50% of the current CO2 emissions cause by burning fossil fuels. This is the emission level of the ’70s.

            Unfortunately, you will need 19.600 TWh of energy per year to supply enough water.

            And because the added forrests are changing the reflection of the Earth in a negative way, the actual result will be rising temperatures and some other negative side effects.

      1. Thanks for the feedback,
        I’m on the hunt for a horizontal shaft, 4 stroke engine.Tie that to the numerous alternators I’ve accumulated.,,boooost the field winding’s to output 120VDC, and run an electric chainsaw. Old Man Winter is coming sooner that I wished.

  5. if trees and smoky woodgas generators are considered “carbon neutral” then I guess my turbodiesel pickup running (minimum) 98% recycled biomass is almost carbon neutral as well. where’s my special tax credit and carpool sticker? :P

    1. Climate change _is_ happening in this generation, though.
      *Been happening since the beginning of this planet, the warming part, at least 10,000 years.

      Your arguments are (deliberately?) over-simplified, and incorrect, Harvey:

      – Carbon is important in the right levels, much like sodium in your diet
      *Important to every living thing. Who’s to say if there is such a thing as too much, this is all new stuff for us.

      – Most plants do extremely well in the environment that they have adapted to for tens or hundreds of thousands of years. Cold weather plants die off when their environment gets too warm
      *Never heard of cold weather plants, that die. I can grow most anything in Florida, just that somethings don’t bear fruit. I’m sure that there are some species that don’t do well here at all, just like tropical stuff doesn’t do well up north. Plants have been known to adapt to other environments though.

      – We haven’t just been burning “stuff”, we’ve been burning plant matter, which, by definition, can never been burned _too much_ enough that plants can’t reclaim it by growing. Oil from under ground is _too much_
      *We can only guess at this, never happened before, not much of an argument.

      – Now you go onto weird arguments of how humans will survive (yeah, probably), but somehow you’re okay with a large portion of the natural world dying off?
      *Who, or what, lives forever? I’ve got maybe another 30 years, unless someone decides to speed things up, for the contents of my wallet. My dog only has a few years left, maybe less. I’m alright with that, knew the day would come, when I got him. Just like I know I’ll out live another on or two. The climate change is a slow process, it’ll be many generations, in which many species will adapt through natural selection. Just like they always have.

      I dunno. You seem to think this is a “scientist agenda”, while choosing to believe the rich elite that are actively profiting from climate change denial. It’s weird.
      *It’s the agenda of those who are paying for all the hype, and the research. I don’t deny the climate is changing, getting warmer, that parts true, been true for a very long time. I don’t believe CO2 is the cause, or that there is anything man did, or can do, to change the natural process. Paid research is great, just have to print up stuff, that’s consistent with your peers, and what your employers want to see, they rarely call you out to prove anything, because your writing validates there’s, and makes your employers happy enough to keep giving you more money, to spend as you wish.

      1. The “stuff” we’ve been burning isn’t plant matter, it’s fossil fuels. Next time you’re debunking utterly solid and well-known science, pay attention!

        The fossil fuels contain carbon that was laid down way back when from living things, during which time the atmosphere had way, way more CO2 in it. Burning all that carbon, fairly obviously, is going to put the CO2 back again.

        You say “paid research” like it’s some kook debunking vaccines. It’s basically every expert in the entire world who isn’t in the employ of fossil fuel companies. There’s no “controversy”, you’re just wrong.

    2. You’re (deliberately?) confusing “carbon-neutral” with “non-polluting”. Nobody is saying that it’s just fine to burn plants all day and night, just because it’s carbon-neutral. Indeed, doing so gets us things like photochemical smog and acid rain. So while your biomass-powered diesel pickup may be carbon-neutral, that does not make it clean or non-harmful. Carbon release is just one kind of pollution.

      I’m guessing you already know all of this. “Carbon offset” credits are the worst kind of political “solution” – they allow industries that release a lot of carbon to “trade” with industries that are inherently carbon-neutral (think aluminum smelting near hydro dams), to make their emissions look better “on average”. It’s a little like saying, “it’s okay for me to sprinkle arsenic-soaked asbestos-coated plutonium flakes everywhere I go, because there are hundreds thousands of other people in my city who promise not to”.

      1. Been a bad year for wildfires, many thousands of acres of forest land burned. Wonder what sort of carbon-neutral emissions flooded the atmosphere. Had some length volcanic activity as well, wonder if anyone measured those emissions either, or even cared. To me, there is only one kind of CO2, how it’s produced, or released just doesn’t matter, it’s still CO2. Only man made CO2 is killing the planet, everything else is fine, just pure BS. CO2 isn’t even one of the highest components of the air we breath. The premise that man made CO2 is a supercharged planet killer is absurd to me. The main things involved in Climate Change, that are man-made, is the data used, and computer models created, that attempt to justify a scare, over a natural process, that has been in motion, long before we figured out how to stand on our hind legs.

        Hasn’t anybody learned anything about climate science, maybe most are just too young to remember the last big scare. Back in the mid 70s, we had the Ozone Depletion scare. If we didn’t act quickly, we’d be heading into the next Ice Age in a hundred years or so. Now, something isn’t quite right. Were the climate scientists wrong, or the response too much, since we switched from a freezing death of the planet, to burning up the planet, in just a few years? If depleting the ozone layer causes cooling, and man-made CO2 cause warming, seems like we could find some sort of balance there, if the climate science is sound, and factual. The only actual fact in all this, is that scared, panicked people are more than willing to accept spending as much money as it takes, to fix what ever problem that worries them, without a care about how that money is used, or were it ends up. The truth is that it’s an observation, of a normal, natural process, that will balance out all by itself, over a long period of time. Some have cleverly saw a profit potential, in stirring the pot a little, wild hypothesis, based on their observations, and just the right marketing hype to get people worked up. Made it political, to really get the people worked up, and the money flowing. Billions have been spent, mostly on getting people sitting around talking, playing with numbers on their computers, just see how much virtual data they can fit, onto a hockey-stick graph…

        1. “The truth is that it’s an observation, of a normal, natural process, that will balance out all by itself, over a long period of time. ”

          Yes, isn’t it wonderful that faith can move mountains? Could you pray a bit harder, then, maybe?

          1. Faith, like your unquestioning faith of everything the Climate Scientologist feed their minion? I don’t just feed on what I read, I think, I question, look for answers to the things that don’t add up. Climate Science is faith based, there isn’t a lot of true science involved. You have to accept every piece of data they use on faith, nothing is repeatable, or independently verifiable outside the cult. It works the same as any cult or religion, it’s all faith, if you believe, you’l l be rewarded with a better life, on earth, or hereafter.

            How do you know what is the normal average temperature for this planet? No records from before the Ice Age, we can only guess. Fossil remains would point more toward a warmer climate, and mild winters, considering the size and abundance of living things. Of course, we would have to have a little faith in the dating methods, of the scientists who studied those remains. Least anyone can go out fossil digging, and draw their own conclusions. We have reliable records, of relatively few centuries, where we need to look back many thousands of years. We are all just babies in comparison. Then there are all those future predictions, the gypsy fortune teller… Mostly, it’s all gloom and doom, if we don’t join the herd, and follow unquestioning, for which we are promised a great reward. I like to think, I like to question, I wouldn’t be a good follower, or cult member…

        2. HarveyH54:
          ” The truth is that it’s an observation, of a normal, natural process, that will balance out all by itself, over a long period of time.” I agree. It’s a normal, natural process. So is extinction. The Earth will survive, and It doesn’t care whether we do or not.

          1. BrightBlueJim says:
            ” I agree. It’s a normal, natural process. So is extinction. The Earth will survive, and It doesn’t care whether we do or not.”
            Kind of think this is one of the things, beside the research funding, that has gotten a lot of people on board, that don’t buy the doomsday hype. We really are past do, on cleaning up our mess, and do better about keeping our environment clean. We’ve know for a long time that dumping waste into the environment is bad for everyone, yet we still do it. We manufacture all kinds of things, that are intended for just a single us, then thrown away. We have all kinds of paper products, which a washable, reusable cloth, would do a better job, last much longer. Single serving food products… How many people, who put sweetner in their coffee, only use one packet? Baby diapers? How many changes a day? They should really start filing criminal charges on moms that just throw those used ones everywhere. Air quality use to be a lot worse in some areas, but could be a lot better. We are a bunch of wasteful slobs. Yeah, we should be working toward greener energy sources, reduce waste and pollution, and quick manufacturing landfill products. Unfortunately, people are greedy, selfish, and too self-involved, to care about the world, just not enough time in the day, to keep that FaceBook page up-to-date…

  6. As much as I know about these, isn’t it better to add dry steam? The H2O reacts with the CO from the lean-burning carbonaceous matter, releasing hydrogen. This then mixes with some of the C to produce CH4, and the H2, CH4, and CO all mixed together are your fuel.

    Same sort of thing they used to do in “gas works”, before natural gas, where they’d produce town gas from coal (actually, coke).

    Should be more efficient, and I’m sure the old “producer gas” cars during WW2 used to use steam as well.

    Don’t ask me the actual reactions, but that’s more or less how it’s supposed to go together.

  7. Passing observation, think this one needs more insulation. In a small scale version, the surface area to volume ratio is high so you’re pissing away the heat energy unless you get it very well insulated.

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