e s f home link - e s f college of environmental science and forestry
e s f home link - e s f college of environmental science and forestry

Grad Student’s Truck Runs On Wood

Part of an effort to promote the use of sustainable energy resources

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Imagine running a vehicle on wood chips instead of gasoline. That's the thesis behind Rick Bates' Ph.D project.

It's not that Bates' 1969 GMC pickup truck will ever get good fuel mileage running wood or wood will replace fossil fuel - because it actually does about 30 percent worse. But, the theory behind gasification from biomass is what makes this truck the leading edge of a new technology and the subject of Bates' Ph.D. studies under Dr. Klaus Doelle in SUNY-ESF's Paper and Bioprocess Engineering program.

"We are trying to prove the sustainability of wood material for use powering engines. That could be for vehicles or stationary applications to produce energy, electricity or heat," said Doelle.

Bates said switching over from gasoline to wood gas is relatively simple. "Really, the only adjustment, other than piping the wood gas into the engine, is to have the timing adjustable so you can advance it when you've switched to wood gas," he said. "That's because wood gas acts like a very high-octane fuel when it's burned in the engine. But, lest you think that you're going to get high performance out of it, no it has a lower energy content compared to an equivalent amount of gasoline vapor."

Bates' truck is fueled by wood but any type of biomass would work. The research could lead to use of biomass fuels in farm vehicles or electric generators for cash-strapped communities or developing countries.

Bates and Doelle will generate more data during a test run of the truck on July 19 from Syracuse to the northern New York community of Massena.