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A Wood Powered Vehicle in 1979

Thirty years ago ECON developed a relatively sophisticated wood-gas powered automobile, which was driven from Florida to California to prove that the wood gas system applied to a modern production automobile was a workable alternative to petroleum consumption.  This system, which was called ECAR, involved the coupling of a wood “reactor” with a late model Chevrolet, mid-size station wagon to which only minor modifications were made.  The wood gas generated by this gasifier was of sufficient quality to power the engine with only minor modifications.

The wood gas generator was described as a “reactor” which, through partial combustion, reduced solid wood fuel to a sophisticated gaseous state.  The fuel was introduced into the system from the top and flowed downward through several zones involving drying, pyrolysis, combustion and reaction.  Air was introduced into the reaction zone and the resultant gases flowed downward through a mass of glowing carbon particles.  This hot gas was then cooled and filtered before induction into the “carburetor” above the engine. 

The reactor breaks down solid biomass fuel into a vapor, which is neither gasoline nor alcohol.  The combustible elements in the wood gas were carbon monoxide and hydrogen, as well as some methane.  Wood gas is only about 60 percent as powerful as gasoline.  Wood gas as a fuel is virtually non-polluting since it contains few of the complex molecular structures found in petroleum fuels.

ECAR, which had no gasoline tank or carburetor, began its cross country trek on December 2, 1979, travelling some 2500 miles from Florida to California in seven days.  ECAR consumed the equivalent of less than one cord of scrap wood during the trip.  See other photos and articles for the exciting developments of the 30 years that followed.



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