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I have just been involved in a very interesting discussion on the Home Shop Machinist forum about wood-fuel biomass gasifiers for ICEs, as well as some modern technology that has shown promise for steam-powered vehicles of all sizes. As for electric cars, such prime movers may be efficient and reliable alternatives to home energy needs otherwise supplied by solar, wind, or grid electric power.

Here is an article about a recent development in small steam engines that has been proven to provide 25-35% efficiency, which is better than the best gasoline and diesel engines, and also produces much less pollution, and is carbon neutral when burning biomass: Engine White Paper.pdf

The author is rather skeptical of battery electric vehicles, but the article was written in 2011 and many of his opinions and observations are based on earlier data, as well as flavored by personal bias. But he has some good points about the unintended consequences of poorly thought out and politically motivated government programs, and some of his conclusions are still somewhat valid today.

The discussion in HSM started with a link on wood-gas vehicles that work by converting wood (cellulose) to flammable gas (hydrogen and CO), which can be used directly in an ordinary ICE by replacing the carburetor with an air/fuel mixer, and adjusting ignition timing. There is a good (although lengthy) video showing how such a system can be built from scrap parts and used to power a small pickup truck using only small chunks of wood:

I found that such a vehicle can travel 1.5 miles on one pound of wood, and at about 2.5 kWh/lb, it comes to about 1800 Wh/mile. That is about 3 to 4 times the energy consumption of a similar EV, but that is still much better than a gas or diesel vehicle or range-extender M-G set. With a 1000 pound load of firewood, which costs about $50, a truck like this could travel 1500 miles, or about $0.03/mile. And the gasification process is actually about 75% efficient, which is probably better than gas or diesel refining, and much better environmentally, and sustainable. Unless you get your electricity from solar or wind, it comes from nuclear or coal, which have serious environmental issues.

Here is a short clip showing a guy who has a wood-gas truck that can do 84 MPH and he states a similar fuel economy of 1.5 miles per pound:

It might be possible to get even better overall fuel economy by making a hybrid with a steam or wood-gas ICE generator, but in the case of steam it may be better using the power directly, as it fits the torque/power curve of a vehicle very closely and may eliminate the transmission, since it can also run in reverse. Plus, any of these heat engines also produce excess heat which can be welcome for winter driving.
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