Guest Column: Run your cars on wood?

Steffen Schmidt

I remember my parents telling me that when conventional fuels were in tight supply during World War II, many Germans — including the German military — converted their cars and trucks to run on … wait for it … wood. They used wood gasifiers. It doesn’t seem possible what with the multimillion dollar excitement about biofuels that’s sweeping the country as we breathlessly await the results from those labs. I saw one of those cars in my mother’s hometown in Germany and have never forgotten my surprise.

There is actually an interesting research project under way at Auburn University, which has helped Wayne Keith, a farmer and tinkerer in Alabama, produce and test several prototypes of “bio-trucks” that run on a variety of fuels including wood.

David Bransby at Auburn University wrote: “The technology essentially involves a down draft gasifier. Synthesis gas is then run through cooling and filtering systems and directly on to the carburetor. Depending on engine size, wood consumption is a little above or below one dry pound per mile, and the range is about 80 miles per gasifier-full of wood.”

What can this set-up run on besides wood? Well, they used garbage, junk mail, pelletized broiler litter, crop residues, corn cobs and switchgrass cubes. All of them worked. Now there is energy independence!

Burning all this stuff sounds like an environmental nightmare, right? Here are the results of a test run by Auburn University: “So we got Wayne to drive his biotruck for 40 miles at exactly 55 mph on a 2-mile test track at Auburn University, first on gasoline, then on wood. The result? When driving with gasoline as the fuel, performance was 20.95 mpg, or 168.6 miles per million Btu, while for wood it was 231.6 miles per million Btu, or equivalent to 28.78 mpg: an improvement of 37 percent! And tailpipe emission tests show that the biotruck meets the emission standards required by California, which are the most stringent in the nation.”

I know you are thinking, “This has to be a slow moving clunker grandpawing down the road like a Sunday driver,” correct? Wrong! In September 2011 Wayne Keith officially broke the world wood gas speed record on the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, rolling at 71 mph.

So when skeptics laugh at using switchgrass as fuel, just remember we’ve been using alternatives to gasoline and diesel for a long, long time.

You can check this out at:

Now go out and build yourself a “bio-truck” and amaze the world!