Biomass is currently used to create electricity in many places in the U.S. The process is fairly simple. Chop down some trees (a renewable resource), burn them (with the required air permits), create electricity. While sometimes the trees burn in a boiler to create steam which turns a turbine, it is also possible to break the tree into a gas, and burn the gas directly in a turbine (like a natural gas engine). While this is being done on the MW scale, I was intrigued when I saw this product pop into my inbox:
The Off Gridder is the first multi-fuel gasifier for the home power generation market. Using wood pellets, wood chunks, chips and certain types of agricultural waste, it is able to meet the power needs of an efficient home in as little as 2-4 hours a day. Beneficial bi-products include heat for hot water and biochar for gardening.
I was pretty intrigued by the Off Gridder at this point, so I checked out the website at WoodyGasifier.com. So basically you put in wood, let the thing warm up, and then you get some gas. But the gas alone isn't enough. You'll have to buy a generator to pipe the gas into, then the gas is burned in a combustion chamber, which moves a piston, that turns a turbine, which creates the electricity. So while the Off Gridder will get you half way there, you will still have to invest in a generator. Diesel generators are usually used in times of emergency power. In this case you are just replacing the diesel fuel with wood gas.
While this is not a new idea or technology, an actual biomass gasifier for residential use is a pretty new application. The creator of the Off Gridder (who also created Victory Gas Works - an online community for Gasification. A very niche community...), Ben Peterson, was featured in September's Popular Mechanics as one of 10 Incredibly Cool DIY Projects.
After checking out the Off Gridder website, I think this is actual a pretty cool device for people serious about creating their own energy...with two caveats: 1.) you have to live around a lot of trees that you don't mind chopping down and using for feedstock and 2.) I hope you don't have many neighbors who mind listening to a generator for a few hours each day. So basically, this device is great if you live in the woods. But most people who want to get completely off the grid do live in the middle of the woods, so in that case, this could be the perfect fit.
***Update - 9/28/09 - I contacted Ben at WoodyGasifier.com to ask about any suggested generators people can use with the Off Gridder and here was his response:
Thanks for the awesome write up. I put together a page on engines here:
and force people to go through it on the way to the sales page so that they are educated about the product.
For power and fuel economy I think a 4 cylinder natural gas generator in the 30 kw range is ideal. Derate to about 60% with woodgas, making 17-18kw. I like the older stuff you find on ebay for about $2,000 with only a few hundred hours of run time. Westerbeke makes good gensets, but they are a little more expensive.
Slow speed generators running at 1800 rpm are much quieter than the little 3600 rpm buzz machines. They last longer too.
So I have to say, the more I learn about this product the more intriguing it becomes. Unfortunately it is more of a hands on type project, but if you like to tinker, it could be a pretty neat DIY. Also, Ben got back to me within an hour, so you know they have a good focus on the customer. I also thought it was pretty cool that he puts on a workshop to help people learn about the product: http://woodygasifier.com/workshop/
I wonder if anyone has thought of becoming an Off Gridder installer, much like you currently have Solar installers?