Over 2 years ago we wrote about the Woody Gasifier, a device that took in wood and then produced gas that was burned in a generator to create electricity. It seems that this device and associated website is no longer supported, but I recently heard about another project that enables individuals to create their own biomass gasifier using open source technology called the Gasifier Experimenters Kit (GEK). I heard about this from the creator of the open source energy monitor.
The GEK people have a pretty informative section on how gasifiers work. They also sell GEK kits on their website. If you want a complete DIY option, you can find gasifier plans on their site as well. Most of the consumers seem to be for university or educationl users, but they have over 250 gasifiers out there, which means there is an established community of users. This results in a nice forum for improving the operation of your gasifier.
If you're interested in living off-grid, then some form of fuel powered generator is a must, unless you oversize your solar, wind, or micro-hydro system and send excess power to batteries. In the FAQ section of the GEK website they have a nice chart showing all the fuels you could use to power a gasifier. Make sure you have access to one of these fuels and that it is harvested sustainably. You don't want to have to chop down an old-growth forest just to power your gasifier.
Are there any homeowners out there who have a system like this in place and who would want to send in some pictures? I'd love to see one of these in operation at a home.