|The charcoal-fueled Opel Kapitän. Click to enlarge.|
by Jack Rosebro
Visitors to one of the 4,500 exhibits at last week’s Automechanika Frankfurt 2006, which is Europe’s largest and best-known automotive service, repair, and aftermarket accessory trade show, were treated to a biomass “blast from the past” in the form of a 1938 6-cylinder, 3.5-liter Opel Kapitän which ran on wood and charcoal almost seventy years ago.
Charcoal burning conversion kits, which are really wood gas generators, enjoyed a brief civilian and military niche market in England, Germany, Australia, the United States, and other countries up to and during World War II. Wood gas generators were used to power taxis in Korea as late as 1970.
A charcoal burner actually burns the gases produced by heated wood. The burner is a two part system: a closed chamber with chunks of wood in it, and a charcoal burner to heat the closed chamber and make the wood generate gases by a process called pyrolysis.
Flammable gases produced by pyrolysis are then routed to a carburetor of sorts, mixed with air, and burned in the engine’s combustion chambers. Once the wood in the closed chamber has produced gases and turned to charcoal, it is transferred to the charcoal burner to heat the next load of wood. Some charcoal-fueled cars were designed to be started on gasoline, and would then be switched to charcoal once the vehicle was underway.
The vehicle was part of a display entitled “Alternative Kraftstoffe und Hybridantreibe” (Alternative Vehicles and Hybrid Powertrains) by Deutsche Kraftfahrzeuggewerbe, a German organization that was at the show to promote uniform teaching standards related to alternative fuels and hybrid powertrains.
|The sleek CLEVER. Click to enlarge.|
The dark green Opel was nestled among displays of current alternative fuel technologies, including VW’s CNG-fueled version of its Caddy minivan (earlier post), a bioethanol-fueled Ford Focus, a BMW-powered, CNG-fueled CLEVER trike (earlier post), a hydrogen fuel cell-powered Opel minivan, a Honda Civic hybrid powerplant, and an engine equipped with Valeo’s integrated starter-alternator (earlier post).
Fuel economy for the biomass-fueled relic was 100 kilometers for every 38 kilograms of charcoal.
In February, University of Hawai’i researchers announced the successful construction of a working alkaline fuel cell powered by charcoal.