Friday, December 23, 2011

Salsa Six Ways

Tomorrow is my birthday. Every year I make a bunch of different salsa recipes --  to go with an industrial size  box of corn tortilla chips. Yummy.

This year I made six different kinds, plus guacamole. Most of them are spicy. Here are some recipes:

Roja Sala:

produce bag full of Roma tomatoes
2 onions
10 serrano peppers (adjust to desired heat level)
8-10 cloves garlic
1-2 Tbsp salt (to taste)
1 bunch of cilantro (or to taste)
lemon juice (optional)

Halve the tomatoes, quarter the onions. Roast in the oven at 375 until peppers look charred, onions look translucent and tomatoes are soft. Blend with salt and cilantro. Makes 2 qts.

Fire Salsa:

1 onion, sliced
olive oil
32oz diced tomatoes
4 cloves roasted garlic (much less if raw)
½ cup cilantro
4 chipoltes in adobo
¼ cup red wine vinegar
1 TBL salt

Saute onion in skillet until tender. Add ingredients to blender, puree. Makes about 1 qt.

(Fire Salsa original post)

Chuy's Salsa:

2 quarts water
½ lb tomatillos
5 oz serranos, whole
1 lb green chiles (or 3 cans)
⅓ cup cilantro
3 medium cloves garlic
1 onion, chopped
2 tbl salt

All ingredients except salt in large pot, boil 30 min. Strain, saving juice. Now add the salt. Blend solid ingredients, and add back ½ the strained out liquid. Makes nearly 2 qts. Hot!

Chipolte Tomatillo:

3 lbs tomatillos
3 cloves garlic
1 tbps salt
6 chipoltes en adobo
1 bunch of cilantro (or to taste)
7oz can of green chiles
lemon juice (optional)

Broil the tomatillos and the garlic until blackened. Drain most of the water. Place in blender with cilantro, salt, green chiles. Blend till smooth. Makes 1 qt.

Tomatillo Avocado:

1 lb tomatillos
1 avocado
1 serrano pepper
3/4 cup fresh cilantro
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 tsp salt

All into blender, puree. Makes less than a qt.  Not spicy like the others, good for the kids.

Regular Salsa:

1/4 onion
large serrano pepper, sliced
dash garlic powder
good squirt of lemon juice
handful of cilantro
32oz of diced tomatoes (2 cans)

All in blender, puree. This one is intentionally vague. Keep changing amounts until you get a feel for it. Slice the pepper, avoids large chunks. We make this one once or twice a week, and eat it on everything.

All the salsas in a row - left to right: Tomatillo Avocado, Fire, Regular, Chipolte, Roja, Chuys.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Gasifier Redesign

After seeing Wayne's system, I have a lot of ideas for improvements in my truck. It hasn't been running very well, and now I think I know why. There are a number of issues with the old design. Here is a picture:

This is an inverted V hearth, which has ash for insulation around much of the hottest parts. It uses inert ash to form the upper cone surface. But as you can see, the intake air is cold, not preheated; the hot gas also flows out through a single 2" pipe. This is a major source of restriction in the system. 

Here's version 2.0:

The air enters at the bottom in blue, warms up as it flows through the heat exchanger, and warms further flowing past the warm gasifier itself. This preheated air adds substantial energy to the combustion, increasing the efficiency. Also notice the dual pipes exiting the gasifier; these are 3" pipes. They go into the settling chamber, expanding and slowing down. This causes them to release some of their energy to the heat exchanger, and some of the dust settles out. Gas exits near the top of this chamber, again in two 3" pipes, right into the cooling rack.

Another area of improvement is in the lid. I have the whole thing slanted to aid in draining condensate to a collection tank, and a new tight fitting lid is in the works. The lid I made used fiberglass stove rope gasket, which didn't fit particularly well, leaked air to the fire, and caused the gasifier to puff back a lot.

Time to get the old one off the truck. I emptied the gasifier, starting with the ash bin - which I have never emptied before. It was siliconed shut because of a severe air leak. That too is on the list.

The bin is an old ammo can:

Dump! Notice the wood block keeping the can from collapsing under vacuum:

The ash:

A little too ash-y for my tastes. I would've rather seen more slipped char. It means my grate is not effective. I will be moving to a suspended grate with a grate shaker. The current grate from below:

Once I got it empty and disassembled, into the Metro it went, and up to the house. It comes apart easily into two halves:

I will be making lots of tweaks to the unit in the coming weeks, as well as building the new heat exchanger. Stay tuned!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Trip to Wayne Keith's

I decided to take a trip to Alabama. Wayne Keith is the acknowledged master of building and driving wood gas vehicles in the U.S. He has built nearly ten trucks, and driven nearly 200,000 miles solely on wood power. This is the mark of a refined system, one which is capable of running long distances without failing or needing major service. Since he lives only 300 miles away, I decided to take the trip down there and see his setup for myself.

When I got there, Wayne was running his bandsaw mill, an interesting contraption that he built out of old car parts. Sawing lumber provides a significant chunk of his income, and the scraps provide the wood supply for his trucks. We went for a ride in his latest truck, a Dodge Ram V10 with 4WD, which Wayne is using for a farm truck. At 8 liters, it's easily the largest engine converted to woodgas in the States. Firing up consisted of lighting a propane torch and sticking it in the hopper for a few seconds, running some blowers, removing the torch and filling with wood, and shut the lid. Within two minutes he said it was ready to fire. We loaded up a bale of hay, and took it several miles down the road to feed some cattle. The truck fired up on gasoline, and within a few seconds he switched over to woodgas. The truck ran smooth and had plenty of power. When we got to the cows, Wayne demonstrated the drains. He has three places he regularly drains condensate from, with plenty more places which can be opened when washing the system out. He only has to drain the system every 500 miles or so. He also has to clean out the ash bin every so often, which contains a mixture of charcoal bits and black char-ash powder.

I studied his trucks carefully and tried to determine the differences in his and mine. There were plenty. His system is built to last, and has the mark of a builder with a lot of experience. My system pales in comparison, since I don't know what I'm doing and I am relying on information found on the internet and elsewhere. But! Now that I've seen all that, I have a lot of things to implement on my own truck. I will be taking the long hard road, instead of trying to fix up what I have to where it will putt-putt around. I want a reliable daily driver like Wayne has. I think I have the info now.

In the next months I will be undoing a lot of the gasifier, to be re-done in a better way later. I will probably put the gasoline system back for now, so I can get some work done with the truck.  Minor overhaul has escalated into major rebuild. But it will end up much better in the long run. Stay tuned for Part 2 of the gasifier saga.

Some pictures of the trip:

More photos can be found here:

I took some video as well.

Ride with Wayne in the Dodge Dakota:

And a walkaround of the V10, with a bonus clip of me driving the V10.

Did I mention I got to drive the V10?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Gasifier Update

I've been absent from the blog for a while. A few new things have come my way, and I haven't done very much lately that was blog-worthy. Among my jobs are learning Drupal (a website platform) and updating a database. Plus all the usual boring stuff... So I did get some time to spend on the truck, yesterday and today. Last I mentioned it was running, barely. One time it ran good enough to drive a mile down the road..... and it quit. I drug it a mile back home. The problem then was that a PVC joint had separated and air was sucked in instead of woodgas. Air is not a suitable fuel, so the engine died. By the time I figured out what had happened, I was out of battery power, and too far from home to just leave it. We hooked a chain to the bumper, and pulled it home very slowly. It bent up the bumper a little, but we made it.

Now the truck has a new battery, the leaks have been fixed and still won't run. Confirmed good gas is present at the engine, battery is fully charged. It will start, and then die. Like it's getting too much air. I am continually tracking down the remaining leaks, but it hasn't gotten much better. Maybe there is one "big leak" that if I fix it then everything will be hunky-dory. It's possible, but I can't find it.

I took some photos of the current configuration. The Arduino is running the mixer servo manually right now:

The blower gets a switch:

Control wire to the servo goes into the dash:

 The final filter has been painted, and turned 90 degrees:

I built a decent check valve, as usual with leftover scrap. Consists of 2 bolts, 2" pipe, cutout from a hole saw, and an old brass bathtub drain. Cost: $0.00. It works great. Air can go in, not out. It's not sealed perfectly, but it's good enough.

Installed. The old port is now just for lighting the gasifier.

Random shot. Can you tell? The lip is full of condensate. The truck is parked the wrong way for it to drain out. At least one of my welds is watertight.

Truck in the daytime. Note the blower pipe is missing. It's removable.

Here's the blower exhaust pipe, with a rain cover made from PVC pipe.

And finally, a video. You can hear the truck run and die. It does this consistently, given good gas. It's gonna be sweet to hear it run right. A lesson in patience.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Rocket Mass Heater

It's that time of year again... Hope you have plenty of wood split for the winter, I know I do. At least some of you must burn wood for heat in the winter. If so, good for you! Heating with wood is a lot of work and mess, but it's much cheaper than your other options, namely gas, oil, or electric heat.

It does seem to take a tremendous amount of wood. Unfortunately a lot of that wood goes right up the chimney, as heat and smoke. Extra wood to burn means more cost, extra splitting, extra storage, and possibly running out. What if there were a small cheap stove that got better "mileage" and was DIY friendly?

Let me introduce you to a true econobox, the Geo Metro of the stove world: the Rocket Mass Heater. It's dirt-cheap and super efficient.

A Rocket Mass Heater (RMH) uses 80% less wood than a standard stove - AND - you only need to fire it once or twice a day. The large heatsink stores the heat from an small intense fire in the morning, and radiates this heat all day. The exhaust is only about 100 deg F. No smoke, just steam and CO2.

Here's what you're seeing in the picture: The wood and air go in through that little "bucket" in the foreground. The heat radiates from the 55 gallon drum, enough to heat a kettle of water on the top. And the large masonry bench is warmed by the exhaust, capturing all the energy before it goes outside. Comfy bench, hot barrel, wood in a hole. Got it.

The wood actually sticks out of the hole, but only the inserted end is burning. Flames from the end are sucked sideways into the heat riser. The heat riser is an insulated pipe where all the smoke burns at high temperature - this is the "rocket" part. The extreme heat creates a powerful draft which drives the system. This flows into a barrel which surrounds the heat riser, and back down into the base. The barrel serves to radiate some of the heat, and cools the gases, improving the draft. The exhaust gas enters a large thermal mass which stores all the heat remaining in the gas, and slowly releases it to the room.

Video tour of several installations:

One being built at a workshop:

The RMH is by far the cheapest stove you can build. You will need a 55 gallon drum, stovepipe, perlite, some firebrick and plenty of "cob" (clay + sand + straw). This is a triumph of DIY design over mass-production. Anyone can build one of these, operate it and get "extreme MPGs", so to speak. Read more about these at, get the book at, or just watch the videos on Youtube.

I plan to build one, it looks fun and very easy. Stay tuned...

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The moment of truth

At long last I have gotten all the pieces of the gasifier in place. I haven't gone through the leakproofing yet, but everything is hooked up. Here's the plumbing under the hood:

The air cleaner still fits just fine:

The final filter for the woodgas, and the bilge blower:

The plumbing from under the truck:

Here you see the same pipe, going back to the hay filter. Further under there you can see the pipe from the condensate tank coming forward to the hay filter.

The pipe from the condensate tank, ready to go into the hay filter.

Again my oven-heating PVC trick, made a nice flange for this pipe. Metal window screen, this needs filling with hay.

Some hay for the filter. Used about a quarter of this.

All hooked up.

And I added a jar to catch soot and condensate from the cyclone.

So I decided to flare some gas, and see what happened... It flared beautifully, although I could tell there was air getting past the leaks. Still, I went ahead and flared it under the hood - perfect flame, pointed right at the wires on the firewall...OK, enough of that! So the next step....I tried starting it: And it started. It ran a few seconds, and quit. I have to get the air leaks fixed, and advance the timing. But it ran, I heard it! It lives!!

You can hear it too - I have a video.  It's a little dark, shot in the evening, but you can hear it run (starts at 3:35). Enjoy!