- by Richard Adrian Reese, February 17, 2013, Wild Ancestors
I keep having nightmares about one possible future: biofuel hell. Clearly, they are visions sent by ancestral spirits, and they are meant to be shared. Perhaps they will inspire writers, movie makers, and other creative people to produce healing, mind-altering work. Perhaps they will inspire contemplation and sincere conversations. At this point, I’m just going to dump a bag of jigsaw puzzle pieces on the table. See what you can do with them.
During World War II, when gasoline was rationed, or unavailable to civilians, hundreds of thousands of vehicles in dozens of nations were converted to run on wood gas. Car owners installed equipment that weighed 400 to 500 pounds (180 to 225 kg), plus another 50 to 100 pounds (22 to 45 kg) of fuel — wood chips or charcoal.
In the firebox, fuel was ignited to release the gasses, primarily nitrogen and carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide was the flammable and explosive energy source. It was also extremely poisonous, much to the delight of morticians. Many folks drove with their windows rolled down. The gas contained twice as much non-flammable nitrogen as carbon monoxide, which meant that it was not a high-powered fuel.
In wartime Germany, 500,000 wood gas vehicles were in use, including cars, buses, tractors, motorcycles, ships, and trains. These vehicles were also used in Denmark, Sweden, France, Finland, Switzerland, Russia, Japan, Korea, and Australia.
Charcoal-powered cars were developed in China in 1931, and they remained popular into the 1950s. Before World War II, the French were consuming 50,000 tons of wood for vehicle fuel. This increased to 500,000 tons by 1943.
Readers who want to get a better feel for what life was like in an era of wood-fuelled transport should read Producer Gas & the Australian Motorist by Don Bartlett. It’s a 26 page discussion of what Australian drivers experienced during World War II, when little gasoline was available.
Today, rising gasoline prices are renewing interest in wood-power. Modern technology allows wood-powered cars to cruise at 68 mph (110 km/h), with a driving range of 62 miles (100 km), consuming 66 pounds (30 kg) of wood. There’s just one little drawback with biofuels. “If we were to convert every vehicle, or even just a significant number, to wood gas, all the trees in the world would be gone and we would die of hunger because all agricultural land would be sacrificed for energy crops. Indeed, the woodmobile caused severe deforestation in France during the Second World War.” France was not alone. Remember that there were far, far fewer cars in the world 70 years ago.
Americans are fiercely defensive about their sacred guns, but this passion is trivial in comparison to our God-given right to drive energy-guzzling motorized wheelchairs. Most of us would rather be stoned to death by an angry crowd of Taliban than switch to bikes or buses. Have no doubt that when gas rises above $20 or $30 a gallon, or when filling stations are out of gas for days or weeks at a time, countless hucksters will fall out of the sky, selling wood gas conversion units — and every one of them will be bought.