When Dan Adastik takes to the highway between the towns of Lowell and Ada, Mich., he knows there will be a traffic jam. His wood-powered car always draws stares and questions from curious motorists.
Dan and his father Al are both inventors who've come up with lots of energy-related equipment to heat and provide electricity for their homes and shops. The wood-powered car, their latest project, is powered by the smoke and gases given off by burning wood, or any combustible material, fed into the car's rear burner.
The car is a 1966 Dodge Charger with a 318 cu. in. engine. Mounted on the rear bumper is a 3-ft. high burning chamber. After wood is loaded into the fire chamber and lit, the burner is sealed shut. A small blower is used to speed up the fire.
The gas comes out of the burner and runs through two water "scrubbers" that remove the tars from the wood gas, and a cooler. A pipe carries the gas into the engine compartment through the front left fender and to the intake manifold. No modification of the engine was needed to run on wood gas.
"The whole system operates on the vacuum of the engine -- no other power source is needed," says Dan. "As the fire gets going and gases are generated, the vacuum from the engine pulls the gases through the filters, up to the engine and into the intake manifold."
Dan starts the car on gasoline and switches over to wood-gas on the go. It takes about 8 min. to get a good fire burning. Levers inside the car control the amount of gas, air and wood gas that are drawn into the engine. On the highway, the Adastiks get about 1 mile per pound of wood.
"It loses a little power when I switch over to wood gas but I can go at 55 mph," says Dan. "I'm planning to mount the next system on a larger car with a bigger motor. The system will work even better on a high-compression engine."
One of the problems with the wood-burning car is that it requires chunks of fist-sized wood in order to burn properly. Wood chips are too small and there's no room for big logs. He's been looking for a machine that will rip logs into the right-size chunks.
Dan made the converted car two years ago to commute to a job 17 miles away. The car can often be a nuisance because everyone wants to take a look at it, making it hard to get anywhere.
He says it's surprising just how well the engine runs on smoke from the wood burner. "We can burn just about anything from cardboard to corn cobs to garbage and keep the car running."
In addition to his experimental car, the Adastiks are also heating a building experimentally with the exhaust off a Ford Pinto engine. The engine, which powers an 8,000 watt generator, can run on wood gas, like the car. They use the electricity in their house and shop and take the heat off the engine by wrapping water coils around the exhaust manifolds and running pipes into their shop to a radiator. Dan says it puts out an "amazing amount of heat. The engine runs on anything from corn cobs to cherry pits to dried manure. Automated controls can be mounted on the engine so that it starts when heat and electricity are needed, running on stored wood-gas or methane. Electricity can be stored in batteries."
Dan and his father also manufacture phase converters that let you run 3-phase motors on single phase power.