Email of the Day, 04/21/12 Question about Producer gas.

Name: Justus

 Email: justus@xxxxxxxx 

Subject: Listers and Gasifiers and Lister Prices

 Message: Dear George, I’ve been tinkering around with alternative energy ideas (and some implementation, although most in the thermal

realm) for some time. I am thoroughly in love with gasification and have wanted to add an engine to a system for years, but could never find one that would satisfy my criteria of simplicity and longevity.

That is, until I came across the Lister.

 Here is my question. Do you know anything about running listers on producer gas? AS I understand it can be done in two ways, one by starting the engine on diesel and then once its warm and running, switching to producer gas, or by converting the lister to a spark system and running on 100% producer gas. I would like to know your thoughts, since you keep coming up all over the place as a primary go to guy when it comes to all things Lister.

Secondly, what will a new Listeroid cost me? I always try to have 2 of whatever I depend on so affordability is an issue, although not at the expense of longevity.

Your comments and input would be very much appreciated.


Hi Justus,

I’m sure it makes some of my visitors unhappy when I don’t endorse wood gas as a great thing, and I can only say we need do our home work before we get excited, and certainly before we pick an engine!

Wood gas has a VERY low BTU value, so first you need figure how much of it you can stuff into a cylinder, and how much power you can make. If you’re attempting to stuff without a compressor, you better have a lot of cubic inches, I’ll guess you’ll need about 7 PSI or so to get enough fuel/air in the combstion chamber to be happy with the power output of a Lister 6/1, and I’d be tempted to look at a small four-cylinder to get some work done with wood gas instead.

Wood gas is an interesting study, we’ve had really smart people looking at wood gas since Carnot’s time, and rather significant investments in wood gasification in days prior and after WWII, and interest by DIYers ever since.  Is there even one commercial Wood Gas power plant running at a furniture plant where we are likely to find the most ideal fuel for one.. why is that?

I’ve mentioned several times that I want to post the data results of a wood gas system.. show me a well done study where one is charged, and just how many KW of real power (like KWHs or electrical power) comes out of the thing, without your hands being busy every second with the controls and feeding.

I can buy a LOT of electricity for the same price as a minimum wage employee, and when I add in the cost of a wood gas plant,  it  looks pretty expensive to me.. If wood gas were easy and practical, we’d all have it.. Regardless of what Nuts like Kari Norgaard think, the oil companies can not suppress a good and workable idea.   

Feel free to challenge me, …. do bring me the story of a guy who lights a fire and goes off to play his banjo as the wood gas plant merily makes Kilowatt hours.

The way to sell all the Wood Gasifiers you can make is to install your plant at a furniture factory where they have ideal mill ends dry and fit for fuel, train a mill operator to stoke and operate the plant, and have it operate a prime mover that drives a generator connected to an inexpensive meter that will keep track of Killiwatt hours produced and for how long,  the time required to stoke and service the plant, and other important data.  This should include cleaning filters, and any time spent tending the gasifier. We also need hours on the engine and a study of engine wear. We’ll forget the cost of fuel all together, as this is only diverts our attention aways from the most likely problems with the gasifier.

Higher than anticipated amounts of labor to keep the plant fed, and operating in relationship to the real power produced.

Doesn’t this sound like a great project for University Students? And shouldn’t it lead us to the next question, why haven’t more of their creative Mentors applied for a grant to study same?

Maybe I should mention.. I did get an email from a Professor in Italy. He sent a picture of a masterful assembly they did, it looked as nicely made as an Itialian Sports Car!  .. his last sentence.. ‘if we do another one, it will be far different.  That was six or more  years ago.

All the best,




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5 Responses to Email of the Day, 04/21/12 Question about Producer gas.

  1. AdeV says:

    Hi George,

    Just FYI, a British chap called Ken Boak has been doing a bunch of work over there in the States with wood gasification & the Lister engine. I believe they’re running a “real” Lister rather than a ‘roid.

    Latest update was IIRC a steady 2.75kW from a 5/1 unit, running on wood gas (spark conversion).

    I have 2 problems with producer gas:
    1st, it’s got a lot of carbon monoxide in it – a seriously dangerous gas, and one which requires constant vigilance and ideally a CO detector allowing the user to vacate the premises if it is detected.

    2nd, the gasifier itself requires constant monitoring and attention. Considering the purpose of a Lister(oid) is usually to thump quietly away to itself somewhere, doing something useful; having to babysit a gasifier does not sit well with that.

    I do know that Ken & team are working hard to automate the gasifier so it will largely self-regulate.

    For anyone in a heavily wooded location, I can see the strong attraction to a wood gas powered Lister engine.

    More info here (you may need to join the group to see it):

    • George B. says:

      I do appreciate your post, I think your comments are on the mark, but I’m already curious about the results you share here.

      Ade, let’s look at the reasoning Carnot spawned so many years ago. It frustrates me he was a Frenchman, as the French seem to get more things right than I wish to give them credit for. Do see today’s post, and note they also get credit for one of the ugliest cars ever made, but those of us who descended from the Isles have come close in matching their work.

      The steady 2.75 KW you mention is a power figure, and we know that we need put more energy into the combustion chamber than we produce, as there will be serious losses in between.
      So now we visit our beloved 5/1 which is designed to run on a VERY excellent fuel, (a light fuel oil) so rich in BTUs that the Russians used Kerosene (very similar) to boost their space craft into orbit with it. Don’t we know that energy density is important here. We know the 5/1 was designed to turn 500 RPMs and make 5hp.

      Now we look at the BTU value of the wood gas fuel, and how much air we need bring into the combustion chamber to get a proper fuel air mixture, as you point out, this gas is full of other things, much of it by volume is neither flammable, nor does it contribute to the combustion process, it enters the cylinder only because we have no reasonable way of serving it divorce papers.

      Now we need know the operating RPM, and other basic information, I would expect a 5/1 to fall short of the 2.75 KW if we measure it as (E x I x PF) using any type of alternator I’ve had experience with WHEN we are using an idea fuel. Of course there are other things we need know more about, and it’s totally in line with your concerns, how long do we make this 2.75 KW with our hands off the controls? We need include real costs, the price of the gasifier, installation, labor to run it, but the fuel… It seems to me it is such a variable, and so many stories I’ve read, including ones that seem to contradict what we’d learn in an intro physics class. One such notion is the water actually being broken down into hydrogen and oxygen and being beneficial, and some even say don’t dry the wood! In reality, I think we can sample our wood supply, weight it, dry it in a microwave, compare the weight and know pretty much how much energy we need to expend in the drying process before it burns.
      But, with all the direction we can go, and all the concerns we raise.. maybe it’s best we stick with the question of how we make 2.75 KW of electrical energy at the output of the alternator when using a gas so problematic, and with so few BTUs? It may all be there in the logs, maybe they used a supercharger? And they have crammed large amount of gas and air into the chamber for each stroke? Maybe they are running at twice the rated RPM?
      I’ve waded into past stories a number of times, and I find myself as unimpressed as the hundreds of far better educated people, many of them being professional engineers that have studied both with me, and before me.
      I am a skeptic first, and I do believe there is no force on earth that will keep a good idea out of the market place. A realist understands that patents expire, that there is no way to make one secret, that no one controls the rights to build a successful machine but for a short time, then we all have access to the plans and rights to build it.
      If we apply some basic critical thinking, we need assume that really smart men from about 1880 till present have all overlooked something relatively easy. As for the application of the microprocessor, we’ve had those types of controls for a long time, and before them were analog wonders that allowed us to drop a 14 inch projectile onto a target with high precision in the early 40s. We often fool ourselves when we think we have a better grasp of reality than the hard working, curious, more hungry, and thoughtful generations before us.
      I remain skeptical,,, and I know that there will be a person along soon to tell me of a truck that runs on wood gas.. my response… there should be well more than a million of them on the road today if there were a decent return on investment over any reasonable time period.
      Here’s the truth of the matter, if you have a wood gas truck, put it into service doing what trucks do, and keep a good log of your expenses over time, if the data shows there’s a value, you’ll have customers lined up.
      As for the stationary power plant, I think it’s best we give the wood gasifier the best chance, we move it to a furniture factory where we have ideal fuels, and develop a sizer for the fuel if required for the feeding of the gasifier. The very best lab setting for the wood gasifier is in a real field setting where it can demonstrate real work, and real benefit. Furniture mills should be the first to adopt the gasifiers.. it seems such an ideal situation, similar to having a lot of water falling on you property . We might use the waste heat in the drying kiln, and all those free KWHs of 60hz AC could run the fans to pull of all that moisture from furniture wood, or run a compressor to evacuate and lower the pressure inside a vacuum kiln.
      Such an ideal marriage, a gasifier manufacturer, and a furniture plant working together…

      So…let’s all be optomistic, and praise the first person to set up a continous running unit at a furniture factory where we can get useful and meaningful data.


  2. AdeV says:

    Hi George,

    Thanks for your long & detailed post, I’ve not had time to fully digest it yet, but I will do so & e-mail you – this comments form is too restrictive a format to do your reply justice I feel.

    However, a couple of quick points:

    1) I mis-spoke about their power output; they actually claimed a steady 2.5kW electrical output. This is in keeping with the original Lister 6/1 Start-o-Matic lighting plants.

    2) An original Lister 5/1 ran at 600rpm to give 5hp, or 650rpm to give 6hp. The engines are identical. The 2.5kW lighting plant used a 650rpm 6hp engine.

    3) I have not considered costs – either of the engine, the gasifier, the spark conversion, etc. At the moment, these are very much experiments. Here in the UK, with road diesel running at up to £1.50/litre (that’s about $9.22 per US gal), and agricultural diesel is about $4.30/gal, I think the costs of a gasifier would be very quickly recouped if the wood fuel was available for free.

    I’ll reply by e-mail in more detail later, when I have some more time.


    • George B. says:

      Thanks Ade, you avoid a mis-spoke by saying nothing.. it’s the only way.

      All we need do is figure out how we made the same power as the old start-o-matic did with excellent fuel?

      wood gas is a poor fuel, and full of stuff that does not burn or does not oxidize, just liek you say. Most who experiment in wood gas tell me you need a super charger or more cubic inches to make the same power as on does on disel.

      Look forward to more discussion..

      thank you!


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