There was a period of several months last year, just about a year ago now, where I was torn between travel and exploring the possibility of starting a gasifier manufacturing company. I ended up committing to travel and shelving the gasifier idea for later.

Or so I thought.

Not two weeks ago I was talking with the owner of the resort at which I am conducting my current work exchange. He mentioned that his friend here in Goa was conducting an exhibition to showcase his homemade version of the Segway. He builds them locally in Goa. Apparently he is quite a mad scientist with alternative energy and that is saying something because being a mad scientist most places is not an easy thing without a healthy dose of jugaad.

The conversation wandered into alternative energy and I mentioned my interest in gasification. Well it turns out that not only is the owner’s father involved in a gasification company that builds monster gasifiers to handle biomass, waste sludge, and medical debris on a large scale, but the owner himself has been interested in micro-gasification for a few years and until we spoke on the subject did not know how viable the technology is to implement on a small scale.

Angus, the owner of this place, is genuinely interested in the tech. It’s one of those things that he can see might be a big deal for India if it’s implemented properly and understood for what it is. This is something that we have in common, albeit from somewhat different perspectives and with somewhat different ends in mind.

I spent a good chunk of time in the weeks before departing for travel going through my several hard drives across a few computers, loading files onto my travel laptop, an external hard drive, and a couple flash drives. I decided to include my gasification stuff on the external drive. Just in case.

The conversation that Angus and I had was on the morning of Holi, so that was the 17th or March. A few days later Angus and I sat down and went through two hours of ripped YouTube videos, construction plans, and materials lists. It was a productive morning and we decided to spend a day sourcing materials for the main combustion body of the gasifier and see where that got us.

Fast forward to two days ago. We jumped in a Jeep and hit the road early heading toward Mapusa. I had a materials list and a tape measure. Angus had a few bucks and a hell of a negotiation repertoire.

gasifier-part1-1

Gasifier body (paint thinner barrel), cyclone filter (air filter housing), media filter (paint bucket), plumbing (automotive exhaust). Look at that cyclone filter! Inlet port already on the sidewall, so sweet!

First place we stopped was a mixed recycling yard. We found the main gasifier barrel, the media filter and the fire tube. Sweet. Next stop was a steel yard. We found the ignition port pipe, the gasifier top plate and a couple nice chunks of flat stock for various uses.

Next on to Mapusa. A quick fillup on the best lime soda in India (next to the gas station on the south side of the market, half a block up, ask for lime soda sweet and salt) and we hit two hardware stores: welded link chain, threaded eyelets, pipe nipple and plugs (couldn’t get caps), threaded rod, metal cutting circular saw blades, nuts, bolts, metal drilling bits, and some lock washers. Paydirt.

We asked for directions to a nearby car scrap yard at the last hardware store and got a lead. Ten minutes later we were sifting through rusting car parts. We found a couple good chunks of two inch pipe and an air filter housing that looks like it will do the trick for the cyclone filter. Back by 2pm with a stop at a restaurant for pan fried rawa kingfish, rawa mussels and prawns, and yellow prawn curry. Holy freaking moly what a meal.

All in all a very successful day hunting.

Shaker grate drilled out and starting the adjustable height eyelets

Shaker grate drilled out and starting the adjustable height eyelets

That was two days ago. Yesterday I got to work. I pulled out the filter unit in the air filter housing. The in and out ports on the housing are 2 1/2″ so we’re going to have to deal with that since the rest of the plumbing is 2″. I cut three pieces of flat stock 2″ x 3.5″ and drilled holes at their ends to receive the threaded eyelets. I ground down the opposite ends of the drilled stock to a curve that roughly matches the curve of the fire tube to make more contact when the stock is welded to the fire tube. I then snagged the 9″ stainless steel mixing bowl from the kitchen and put roughly 250 1/8″ holes in the bottom and sides, and three 3/8″ holes on the outer lip spaced at 120 degrees to receive the chain. All that took about four and a half hours. If I was working in even a modest shop that time would probably have been cut in half.

Tools at my disposal for working metal:

  • 5″ circular saw with metal cutting blades
  • Small hammer drill/driver with metal drilling bits
  • jigsaw with no table and a bad habit of loose blades
  • three angle grinders and a couple steel brush wheels
  • extension cord
  • tape measure
  • framing square
  • handful of rusty clamps
  • rusted and broken metal frame work table skeleton
  • hand drivers, hammers, chisels, wedges, and other random stuff
Fire tube ready to cut

Fire tube ready to cut

Next up: cut the fire tube to size, find a few washers (didn’t buy enough lock washers :/), see if I can open the top of the gasification barrel with the tools I have, and start on the grate shaker.

The only thing I’m still scratching my head about sourcing at the moment is the blower fan. I haven’t started poking around Goa to see what’s around. I’m sure we’ll come up with something. We have a small generator here that we will purpose to the project but I think it needs to be serviced first.

Angus has the idea to run the gasifier on cashew husks. I did not know until recently that the Portugese brought cashews from Brazil to Goa in the 1600s, nor that cashew husks are an enormous source of biomass in India and there is apparently a great deal of waste bio-waste generated in the harvesting and processing of cashews.

There might be a snag to this approach, however. Apparently cashew husks contain a toxic phenol called anacardic acid. Cashews are always roasted outside so that the smoke is vented properly. There are reports of conflicts regarding the use of cashew husks as a fuel source because it creates air pollution. It’s definitely something to consider, but on the other hand gasification emits very little smoke and a proper filter unit cleans much of the gas before it is combusted. We’ll see how this shakes out. Cashew husks may simply prove unsuitable for a gasifier and that might settle the issue. Won’t know til we try.

I will when possible be documenting the build process with pictures and descriptions.

I want to take this opportunity to thank Josh over at buildagasifier.com and on YouTube at joshuaburks whose series of unmatched videos break down his gasifier build and the awesome things he is doing with it. I would likely not have committed to this project without the clarity of his documentation and his well-considered modifications to the FEMA plans*.

See you rummaging through rusty scrap yards,

~Nathan

*The United States has a thing called the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Some of its functions integrate with the larger workings of the US shadow government, particularly after 9/11, stuff like continuity of government during states of emergency. To FEMA’s distinct credit however the agency published a beefy paper in 1989 when peak oil was gaining traction addressing the feasibility of constructing gasifiers to maintain the energy needs of gasoline-powered engines during a fuel shortage. Peak oil is a ridiculous idea for more than one reason but it at least bore the FEMA gasification document as fruit. This paper made its way onto the internet and it now circulates freely amongst hobbyists, survivalists, and alternative energy types. Josh and others have used the FEMA plans as a baseline for their builds and made modifications along the way, many of which appear to dramatically improve the functionality of the gasifiers they produce.