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Wood-Fired Steam Engine to Drive Generator?

I thought of a way to have cheap electricity. I have lots of wood that I can burn. So it occurred to me that burning wood to create steam to drive an engine/turbine to drive a generator on a governor system, would be almost ideal.

I have too many trees here for solar power. No wind at ground level for a windmill, and no waterfall nearby. But.. I have lots of available firewood.

Generators are plentiful. But I'm having a bit of trouble locating a suitable steam engine/boiler that could be used to run a 15kW genset.

Has anyone pursued this path and have you any information on manufacturers of suitable steam engines for this purpose?


John Galt
Forward, March
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join:2004-09-30
Happy Camp
kudos:8
Rather than steam, check out wood gasification.

»en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wood_gas

Beezel

join:2008-12-15
Las Vegas, NV
That's what I was going to suggest.


jjoshua
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Scotch Plains, NJ
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1 recommendation

reply to disconnected
That's going to have to be a pretty big steam engine to generate 15Kw of electricity.

Plus the mechanics to regulate a steam engine to spin a generator at a constant speed are going to be complicated.

garys_2k
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Farmington, MI
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reply to John Galt
said by John Galt:

Rather than steam, check out wood gasification.

»en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wood_gas

Here's the DOE's DIY gas generator:
»upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/c···ency.pdf


Jon
Premium
join:2001-01-20
Lisle, IL
reply to John Galt
said by John Galt:

Rather than steam, check out wood gasification.

»en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wood_gas

I saw someone run a generator like this on one of those prepper shows. They didn't explain it though. The gasifier seems pretty simple to make. I wonder what kind of modifications you would need to make to the generator though.

garys_2k
Premium
join:2004-05-07
Farmington, MI
That's pretty much spelled out in the DOE document I linked to, above. They ran a 35 HP gas-engine tractor with a "mobile" unit and explain all the construction and other details.


Jon
Premium
join:2001-01-20
Lisle, IL
I saw that. I was typing my post when you posted it. I type slow I'll check it out later. looks interesting.


Rifleman
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p1a
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tschmidt
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We have a large wood lot so when I through the same though process. As others have posted wood gasification is probably a better option. It was widely use in Europe in WWII.

Personally I have not pursued it. I'm waiting for someone to market a Stirling engine powered generator.

There is a pretty interesting book: "The Pegasus Unit - the lost art of driving without gasoline" by Niels A. Skov and Mark Papworth circa 1974

»www.amazon.com/gp/search/ref=sr_···bmit.y=9

/tom

Mr Matt

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reply to disconnected
Check out this website:

»www.pritchardpower.com/default.aspx

They offer Uniflow stationary steam generators.

Check out uniflow steam engines at Wikipedia here:

»en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uniflow_steam_engine

The other choice is a compound steam engine here:

»en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Compound_steam_engine

This blog lists current manufactures of marine steam engines:

»mrbobs-wonders.net/2012/04/11/cu···engines/

Greatest efficiency will be achieved using waste heat from the condenser for space heating and domestic hot water.


disconnected

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I looked into wood gasification a few years back, but it seemed iffy back then. I like steam because it's quiet, mainly. So the neighbors don't know you have a generator.
When I was up at Kent's Sloan Musuem of steam power, they had numerous steam engines operating in one big room and all you could hear was soft hissing sounds and low mechanical clicks, barely 55 decibels at 3 feet. This is one such engine:

»www.youtube.com/watch?v=yUUNGPKUPek


The tricky part is the boiler and keeping it fed at a rate that doesn't waist wood, yet keeps enough steam pressure to maintain the generator at governor speed. These engines all have governors based on centerfuges, as you can see in the video. And notice how quiet. Neighbors and passers by would never know that you have electricity, as long as you black out the windows at night. But we could go on living normally and inconspicuously this way.

Mr Matt

join:2008-01-29
Eustis, FL
kudos:1
You might want to check with the museum to see if they use compressed air to operate their demonstration steam engines. That is how the steam engines are powered at the Boston Museum of Science.


Snakeoil
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Mentor, OH
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Interesting, though wood takes a while to replace. What about methane from a sewer tank/compost pile?
Though that may not generate enough to last a while either.

I saw such a thing at a landfill I used to go to in GA. They would burn off the methane and use the heat to produce steam to drive a turbine to produce some of the power the landfill used. They also had solar cells and a wind turbine going.
--
Is a person a failure for doing nothing? Or is he a failure for trying, and not succeeding at what he is attempting to do? What did you fail at today?.


Snakeoil
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Mentor, OH
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reply to John Galt
said by John Galt:

Rather than steam, check out wood gasification.

»en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wood_gas

Thank you. That is pretty interesting. Hmm, I wonder if Kudzu with it's woody steam would be good for this, as fuel.
--
Is a person a failure for doing nothing? Or is he a failure for trying, and not succeeding at what he is attempting to do? What did you fail at today?.


Snakeoil
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Mentor, OH
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reply to garys_2k
said by garys_2k:

said by John Galt:

Rather than steam, check out wood gasification.

»en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wood_gas

Here's the DOE's DIY gas generator:
»upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/c···ency.pdf

Dang that is kool.
--
Is a person a failure for doing nothing? Or is he a failure for trying, and not succeeding at what he is attempting to do? What did you fail at today?.


cowboyro
Premium
join:2000-10-11
Shelton, CT

2 edits
reply to disconnected
Don't put your hopes too high. You're not going to be able to make an efficient-enough steam engine, definitely not without getting into levels of pressure and temperature that cannot be controlled in the backyard.
And then you have another issue - inability of controlling the output power in a timely fashion. You will have to be able to increase the output power by a factor of 10 or more in a fraction of a second when a load is being added. Even with a giant flywheel, that's not going to help as it will take maybe a minute to be able to increase the fire intensity to the needed levels.
Edit: I'd be extremely surprised if you got more than 3% efficiency. Generating 15kW of electricity, even disregarding any generation losses, would require about 15*3413/0.03 = 1.7mil BTU/h. That's nearly 1 cord of wood for 10hrs of use...

MaynardKrebs
Heave Steve, for the good of the country
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And he'd use almost all that electricity for his electric chain saw cutting down the next full cord of wood the boiler needs

garys_2k
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Farmington, MI
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reply to disconnected
said by disconnected :

Neighbors and passers by would never know that you have electricity, as long as you black out the windows at night. But we could go on living normally and inconspicuously this way.

Gettin' ready for the zombie Apocalypse?


disconnected

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said by garys_2k:

said by disconnected :

Neighbors and passers by would never know that you have electricity, as long as you black out the windows at night. But we could go on living normally and inconspicuously this way.

Gettin' ready for the zombie Apocalypse?

That's part of it. I read Karl Denninger's Market Ticker Forums, so if their math is correct, things are going to get bad and a lot of people are going to die. One has to be as inconspicuous as possible. That's why I find the idea of steam engines to be attractive.

I find it hard to buy the concept that they are that inefficient. I rode Flagg Coal #75 from Thomaston all the way down to the middle of the state and they did it on one load of coal. That was moving many tons of train cars. I cannot imagine that generating 20HP would burn a cord of wood a day.

The Sloan Museum, if I recall accurately, has a coal burner that provides steam for all their engines throughout the museum building. It's not compressed air.

public

join:2002-01-19
Santa Clara, CA
said by disconnected :

I find it hard to buy the concept that they are that inefficient. I rode Flagg Coal #75 from Thomaston all the way down to the middle of the state and they did it on one load of coal. That was moving many tons of train cars. I cannot imagine that generating 20HP would burn a cord of wood a day.

Very inefficient compared to turbines.
A full size mainline engine could produce about 1500kW with a 300 psi boiler and a superheater, burning high grade coal.


cowboyro
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Shelton, CT
reply to disconnected
said by disconnected :

I find it hard to buy the concept that they are that inefficient. I rode Flagg Coal #75 from Thomaston all the way down to the middle of the state and they did it on one load of coal. That was moving many tons of train cars. I cannot imagine that generating 20HP would burn a cord of wood a day.

Locomotive engines work on very high pressure and temperature. You are looking at 500-1500psi and close to 1000F. The efficiency of the engine increases when the "hot" energy (pressure and temperature) increases. And then coal holds a much higher energy content than wood for the same weight...


disconnected

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Hmmm... so what would YOU do, given a forested location with 2% sunlight reaching the ground, no wind turbine options, no waterfall to harness? Geothermal perhaps? Any other options for generating sustainable electric power when grid power is unavailable?

garys_2k
Premium
join:2004-05-07
Farmington, MI
Wood gas would be the best option, the "no noise" constraint will be very hard to satisfy. I doubt in any case that bad guys wouldn't stop by out of curiosity in any case, engine/generator sound, or not.


cowboyro
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Shelton, CT

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reply to disconnected
said by disconnected :

Hmmm... so what would YOU do, given a forested location with 2% sunlight reaching the ground, no wind turbine options, no waterfall to harness? Geothermal perhaps? Any other options for generating sustainable electric power when grid power is unavailable?

Learn to live without power? Because if shit hits the fan as in your scenario, the lack of TV and cable will be the least of your concerns. Light with candles, heat with wood. Plain and simple. Or run a small RV generator... can't get more inconspicuous than that.

lutful
... of ideas
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Ottawa, ON
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reply to disconnected
said by disconnected :

Hmmm... so what would YOU do, given a forested location with 2% sunlight reaching the ground, no wind turbine options, no waterfall to harness? ... Any other options for generating sustainable electric power

You have to lower your overall energy usage if you want to be truly independent of the grid.
- of course you will cook with wood

- build a non-electric clothes dryer hut on your property
- get a non-electric ammonia refrigerator
- get a non-electric iron
( all of them gets energy directly from burning wood )

- don't use any electric dishwasher or mixer or food processor
- use DC voltage LED lights and DC fans

Now that you have reduced your electrical energy demands by maybe 90% ... consider newer design thermo-electric generators (TEG) which produce electricity directly from heat without any moving parts.

*** have a look at this thread for TEG in general and also a Japanese supplier of high wattage TEGs.
»Candle-Powered Electric Candle


disconnected

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Saw the candle powered light last month. Clever use of infrared to visible conversion efficiency gain.

We have the well pump, which has an LRA of 93 amperes (240vac) which is one of the stumbling blocks.

I was thinking about storing power for peak operations and just have a 40kW sine wave inverter that draws power from forklift batteries, which are charged by multiple sustainable sources. The stumbling block is the low efficiency of the inverter. Average daily load is about 2-3 kW with three computers, a bunch of laptops and monitors. I'm not even sure how I will power my 17kW sound system, but for now I just want to ensure we have running water and heat, and CCTV cameras/DVRs working.

Part of the problem today is that electricity has become too expensive in the past decade. And in the past four years, my income has decreased by half each year, four years running. I'm down to $2500 gross income last year. The food stuff is pretty cheap. Can always find Raman noodles and jars of peanut butter cheap. Bread's getting expensive though. Pasta, too. But, right behind property taxes, electricity is my biggest expense. So I've been devoting a substantial amount of time toward finding off-grid electric power solutions. There will soon come a day when much of humanity won't be able to pay for electricity, even barring EMP attack or societal breakdown. It's fast becoming a luxury.


CylonRed
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join:2000-07-06
Bloom County
quote:
It's fast becoming a luxury.
Then you need to go to a place that it is cheaper. Electricity is still incredibly cheap in many places (in my area- going from coal to NG caused cheaper prices the last few years). Since you gross is $2500 - it looks like electricity prices are sky high. I would find a way to make more money - any way possible.

Most of the ways discusses will cost a fair bit of money - especially geothermal electricity production.
--
Brian

"It drops into your stomach like a Abrams's tank.... driven by Rosanne Barr..." A. Bourdain


tschmidt
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I'm not nearly as pessimistic as you are but have been working over the years to reduce our energy footprint and try to harvest as much as we can directly from our property. We are lucky in that we live in a fairly rural area.

I agree with the principals posted by lutful See Profile to reduce consumption, go after the low hanging fruit.

1) Space heating - wood is ideal. We heat with cordwood harvested on our property. Go through about 2-1/2 cords a year.
2) Water heating - wood is ideal in winter and passive solar in summer
3) Clothes drying - not sure what a "dryer hut" is but an old fashioned clothes line works just fine - stuff gets a little stiff and need to watch for bugs.
4) Reducing electricity consumption is more effective then trying to generate power. CFL, LED lighting, turn off stuff you don't need, etc
5) Hand crank water pump
6) A garden can be an effective way to put food on the table.

As has been pointed out if society falls apart, which I personally doubt, generating electricity will be the least of your worries. A better option is to "live below your means" as my neighbor often said to give you flexibility to cope with uncertainty.

/tom


cowboyro
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Shelton, CT

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reply to disconnected
said by disconnected :

Average daily load is about 2-3 kW with three computers, a bunch of laptops and monitors.

You'd have to re-learn to live with as many computers as people used to only 20-30 years ago - none. Extended outage means you can only access local content anyway.
said by disconnected :

I'm not even sure how I will power my 17kW sound system

Thought it was supposed to be inconspicuous??? 17kW is about the right size for an arena.
said by disconnected :

Part of the problem today is that electricity has become too expensive in the past decade.

So use less. In all honesty, I can't find any justification to run 3 big-ass computers and a bunch of laptops non-stop other than "I really want to and I don't care about costs". Learn to use just one (or 2 if you need a server 24/7 like I do), we are in the days when they can run multiple concurrent tasks. If various OS-es are needed use virtualization solutions, there's no need for the CPUs to run NOPs 3billion times/sec x 8cores...