We took a radiator out of an old vehicle headed to the scrap yard, mounted it on a frame (after cleaning it up) and attached garden hose fittings (after testing it for leaks).  We put this in the shower toweling off area as it has a drain in the floor.  We hooked the hoses up to the gasification burner water heater outside that we have been using to heat water for the soaking tub.  We put the pump we had previously used in a position to suck hot water from the heater tank and push it through the radiator.  We set it up as an open system where the return water goes to a header tank that then drains back into the water heater.

This really did not work as we could not get circulation.  It appears that there was some sort of airlock problem even though the look was open to atmosphere.  We change the pump input to  the bottom drain.  We sometimes got circulation this way but had trouble with hose collapse.  Some of the garden hose we used was just too soft with hot water to maintain shape without pressure.  Then the bottom drain plugged with calcification deposits from inside the tank. 

For the short periods when we did have good circulation, the air blowing out of the radiator was over 100 degrees (heater tank temperature over 140) and the room air temp did rise by 5 degrees.  This is setup has  terrible thermal efficiency as there are a couple hundred feed of uninsulated hose and the header tank is out in the open uninsulated.  The outdoor temperature  at the time was about 40 degrees.

Will have to solve the circulation reliability before continuing this experiment.  Having the pump suck on the header tank and push into the normal heater tank inlet may be the solution.

Insulation added to the burner

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I got a couple 4 cubic foot bags of vermiculite insulation and added one of them to the space between the 55 gallon drum outer wall and the intermediate wall.  This definitely kept the outside wall at near ambient on the bottom and only warm to the top.  Definitely means a major improvement in efficiency.  I also got some stove insulation cord and put it round he joints between the burner and the water heater.  This did not work so well as there was no specific mechanism to hold the in place and the hole I originally cut in the bottom of the water heater is just a little to large so I need to make another circular adapter that does a better job of fitting between the burner and the water heater bottom.  I still have not found a closure for the pilot light hole on insulated the bottom shell of the water heater so there is still more improvement to be done in this regard.  The test burn was done with some kinda punky old pine split to a maximum dimension of 3 to 4 inches.  Guess less than a sack of pellets equivalent. Got about 150 gallons of 106 degree soaking water in the tub--hundred foot  outdoor hose run from the water heater.  Great looking gas re-burn action looking in the pilot light port (which also wastes considerable heat).  Did not see any smoke out the flue.  Overall burn was down so I suspect I may have closed of too much of the initial burn air holes.

The 4 cf of vermiculite would have been just right if I had not been sloppy and spilled some of it.  Cost was about $4 per cubic foot.  It is much finer size than what I had previously had experience with but should not matter in this case. 

So, yet a few more improvements and then I will get back to taking some more data to objectively document how it is doing.

Getting into hot water...

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I added an intermediate chamber between the burn chamber and the outer 55 gallon drum.  I made it by cutting the dome ends off an air compressor tank then welding flat plate back on one end.  The diameter of it is 16 inches so there is an air gap of around an inch between it and the burn chamber.  I had to shorten the legs at the bottom of the burn chamber to get the height of both these chambers to match when installed.  Note show are 3 inch spacers welded to the air tank section to keep in centered in the 55 gallon drum.  I came up with a set of about 4" ID tubes that fit into each other for the air from the fan.  The larger piece was welded into a hole cut in the air tank section and the smaller was welded to a plate that the fan attached to.  Once the inner chamber is in place and lined up with the outer hole, you just push the tube with the fan on it into the hole and into the inner tube.  The reason for this is that I intend to put high temperature insulation (vermiculite) between the outer and intermediate walls so heat is not wasted out the walls of the burner. The outer wall got really hot initially and was still too hot with just the intermediate wall in place.

An initial test run was done with this configuration last night.  It yielded about 150 gallons of hot soak tub water with a rather modest bit of firewood in the burn chamber.  This time it was plumbed "properly" so that city water pressure was feeding it in the right place and hot water was taken out the top where it should be rather than out the bottom drain.  Top tank temperature was still showing 110 when we were done.  I plugged a number of the burn air holes in the bottom of the burn chamber this time.  We still got got good burn and gasification burn action but the fire was not nearly as vigorous as before.  I don't know how much of this was due to lesser fuel load versus lower initial burn air.  It was dark so I don't know for sure if the over-fuel smoke went away but I think it was a cleaner burner once it got going.

I will make test runs with know amounts of fuel once the efficiency upgrades are in place.

The images below show how the parts go together.  There is actually another ring with a hole in it that goes on top of  the drum lid and under the water heater section (not shown).  Insulation will be added on either side of this top ring for a better seal between the burner and the water heater.  Note that I am doing this as a very low budget project, using materials I have on hand.  The exception will be the high temperature insulation I will have to buy in the next day or two.



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I finally got my self a nice soaking tub.  150 gallon polymer cattle water unit.  just about the right length for sitting in and the water comes up near the neck when full.

I put it in the shower where I could simply fill it from a shower head.  Problem being the standard 30 gallon 35 kBTU propane water heater did not have enough energy in it to heat anywhere near a good hot soak.  On top of that, propane is expensive and has to be hauled in by 100 pound bottle from 80 miles away.  Natural gas is not an option at this location either.  I much prefer using sustainable, renewable energy.

So I took one of the old commercial NG water heaters from the place here at MTA and removed the natural gas burner related stuff and cut the bottom out so I could put a fire under it.  Turns out it is about a 75 gallon unit in a high recovery rate design.  About 360 KBtu gas input and 300 gallons per hour rating at an assumed temperature rise of 70 degrees F.  It had been used for laundry room hot water and showers in a basket ball gymnasium back when NG was almost free.

I have had a wood gasification "fireplace" for some time.  It is about 5 gallon container size based on exterior dimensions but the actual fire chamber is smaller  It is rated at 50 Kbtu per hour. it holds about 14 pounds of wood pellets which is about 100 KBtu and it takes about 2 hours to burn that load.  There is a 12 volt fan that uses a wall wart to push air through the thing.  The fan has a variable speed knob.  It is mostly all Stainless Steel so looks and feels pretty good.  Its made in India. (See image under the title

The commercial gasification outdoor wood stove fireplace rated 50,000 BTU per hour that will hold 2 hours worth of pellets at that burn rate.)

Using the forklift, I set the water heater over this commercial wood gasification fireplace (WGF) once it was running.  It fit very easily in the hole I had cut in the bottom of the water heater outer shell and I got virtually no flue gas back wash.  This particular water heater has 8 sub flues that the initial fire gas goes up to heat the water and comes out the top via a single flue. (see image under the title Water heater flues)

The first test run with the commercial woodgas fireplace burned about 28 pounds of pellets over a 6 hour period (2 fillings of pellets) and got the water to about 150 degrees.  The first filling got the water from about 48 degrees to 98 degrees and the second to 150 degrees.  This all worked out to about 48% efficiency (fuel energy to stored water energy) which is exactly what the rated Natural Gas efficiency calculates to (360 Kbtu per hour for 300 gallons per hour for a 70 degree temperature rise).

The second test was not as clean.  I started out trying to use small freshly split 8 inch long by less than 1 by 1 " sticks of wood from firewood collected last spring?  It did not seem to have dried out very well and was hard to get to burn well.  I actually got wet creosote dripping from the underside of the water heater early on.  Over a 9 or so hour period, I added small quantities (2 to 9# at a time) of dry bits of wood.  The temperature went from 50 to 164 over that period of time.  From 1:30 AM to 11.40 AM the water temperature dropped to 116 degrees.  This means the setup looses about 7 KBtu per hour.

My plan for use beyond heating a soaking tub is to run an efficient wood fire to heat fluid to be used for space heating by pumping it through a liquid to air heat exchanger in the space to be heated.  The first target would be B&L's trailer to replace electric and propane heating.  Something more than 50KBTU per hour and 2 hour fuel supply is desired.  I have taken a stab at making a scaled up version of the woodgas fireplace. (not really to scale but bigger using materials relatively easily at hand and cheap)  It is roughly 5 times bigger.  The firebox is a pair of 9 gallon drums welded end to end inside a 55 gallon drum with a 12 volt fan mounted to the outside bottom of the big drum and appropriate holes drilled in the inner drum.  (avoid getting burned by the outer drum wall. (see the image under the title

Upsized gasification burner)

The initial test fire indicated good burn and gasification happening with air coming from the upper holes.  I did see some reburn happening at the crack where the two drums came together so I later drilled some more holes in the burn chamber below weld level.  One interesting incident was that the original material left coating the inside of the 55 gallon drum heated up and gassified, resulting in a small explosion that apparently sent out a flame front I did not see, but that singed the lower part of my beard and eyebrows.  This blew out the fire in the burn chamber and left fire burning in the area between the outer drum wall and he outer burn chamber wall.  This burned the paint off the outside of the 55 gallon drum about 2/3 of the way around, but not on the upwind side of the drum.  Note for next mod--put in another container so vermiculite insulation can be added to the the space between this and the outer drum to improve efficiency (keep the heat in) and safety (outside drum wall not crazy hot).  ALSO, NEXT TIME I DO ONE OF THESE, BURN OUT THE BARREL FIRST.

The success of the initial test firing was good enough to try heating some water.  I added a set of legs (see the image under the title

New legs on the water heater) to the water heater such that it would come down over the up-sized burner with the top of the burner just touching the bottom of the water heater outer shell (the whole I cut in the bottom of the water heater outer shell was not very precise so there are places where the heating chamber under the actual water tank is open to the air--as well as the side window where you used to light the pilot light is open to the flame above the heating unit.)  These items need to be improved, as well as adding high temperature insulation to the water tank heater walls in the lower part of its enclosure.  This should measurably improve efficiency. (see the image under the title water heater in place over the 55 gallon burn chamber)

I have made one test run with this configuration. In the process, I heated about 150 gallons of water.  From cold start, it took 30 minutes to get from 50 to 135 degrees.  I calculated that this translates to about 250K Btu per hour fuel input.  I pulled some of the hot water (75 gallons?)  and refilled.  The temperature reached about 200 degrees which is right at boiling point for 6500 foot elevation--yes, it looked like steam wafting out the upper tank outlet.  And some of the water was at this temperature after pumping it through about 100 feet of garden hose to the tub. (see the images under the title Temperature readings)

The fire was pretty ferocious. (see images under the title Fire going good)  I ended up turning the fan down to 9 volts (from 14) for much of this burn.  One observation was that, when it was really going good, I was getting black smoke out he top like a diesel engine under load.  I believe this is due to excess initial burn air versus re-burn air.  Some of the big holes in the bottom will be plugged for the next run.  Otherwise, the re-burn action was great and there was no visible smoke.  (see the images under the title reburn hot fresh oxygen rim outlet jets at lower flame) I did not weigh the fuel I put in for this initial run.  I would guess it was equal to less than 2/3 full of pellets or less.  So an estimated 150 gallons of hot water from one partial load of fuel in about 90 minutes.  Running at a steady rate, this unit is supposed to heat 300 gallons per hour by 70 degrees.  More experiments with known amounts of fuel need to be done once efficiency improvements are made.  One of my ongoing concerns is burning out the burn chamber which is relatively light gauge steel rather than thicker stainless steel--but it is really cheap for experimental purposes.

Look for a second run update once I have made the efficiency improvements noted.

Temperature readings

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The old gauge is at the top of the water heater.  I did not get an image at its highest reading but this is close.

The automotive temperature gauge below is reading the middle of the water tank.  This is the highest value I imaged but I did see it hit 200 when water vapor was coming out of the top outlet of the tank.



There was less total fire here and maybe you can see the re-burn jet action a little more distinctly.   With the more fire, there was a relatively loud, very distinct jet or rushing sound.



Fire going good

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As viewed through the pilot lighting window.  Hard to really see much in a still image although you can see where the hot fresh oxygen is jetting in just below the rim on both the right and left.



New legs on the water heater

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Pine cones and needles work pretty good as fire starter.  With this type of gasification burner, the fire is started on the top of the fuel and it burns its way down.  Actual wood density in the burn chamber was pretty light.


Water heater flues

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Lighting was tough for this image but this is the bottom of the water heater that is directly above the burner fire.  there are 8 small 4" diameter flues designed to accept 360,000 BTU per hour of natural gas flame.  They collect at the top into a single 7" flue.