Newbie needs cost estimate: woodgas people transporter

Discussion in 'Boat Design' started by Bioboat, Sep 12, 2008.

  1. Bioboat
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    Bioboat Junior Member

    Hi, I'm a newbie in boat design.

    I want to build a long distance ferry for poor people who are in great need of transport via waterway (Congo river and tributaries).

    The prototypical boat would have to carry around 25 people each with a maximum of 100 kilograms of luggage (i.e. around 5,000kg in total, max).

    Boat has to be dirt-cheap but obviously safe. No luxury. Just seats and a basic storage space.

    I want to power the boat with a car/truck engine converted to run on woodgas. (Perhaps dual-mode, or with a diesel backup).

    The fuel will be made of charcoal pellets/briquettes made from sugarcane trash and other agricultural residues. Which should easily beat diesel or gasoline - which have become too expensive.

    Each 50 kilometers or so, the boat will stop to refuel and deposit ash/char, at a dedicated pellet station - these pellet stations are part of the project, based on micro-enterprises which rely on an appropriate technology developed by MIT's D-Lab.

    Not sure how many kilograms of pellets/briquettes are required to power the boat over a given distance. But I have some data for cars, trucks and tractors running on woodgas. Given the low energy density of the fuel, the boat's fuel storage space would have to be rather large.

    Any gross estimates of costs for such a project would be greatly appreciated. As would suggestions on types of boats / materials / engines.

    Sorry if this is too general a description and the question to broad - I will refine as I research the project further.

    Thx in any case for any advice at this stage.

    Picture 1. Floating village. Current mode of transport: takes months and months to get people from one city to another. It drives them crazy.

    Picture 2. MIT D-Lab charcoal from agricultural trash, with natural binder.

    Picture 3. Same as 2.

    Attached Files:

  2. rwatson
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    rwatson Senior Member

    Wow - big project.

    If thats the size boat you are wanting, and since its in the Congo, and you need cheap - steel sounds the go. I would get a reconditioned deisal motor, set it up on a frame and get the wood gas technology sorted before you put it in a boat. (I thought wood gas was only good for 4 stroke motors, but I am open to new concepts)

    If you can find a spare $US200K you have am outside chance.

    But apart from some basic guesstimates, there is no way anyone can cost this stuff - local conditions, unknown technology, available skilled labour etc.

    All the best with the project.
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    FAST FRED Senior Member

    If you are going to have to purchase an engine I would think steam.

    Simply burning the wood , or whatever you can get would be loads easier than needing manufactured fuel.

    What worked 150 years ago would seem repairable in Africa.

  4. Gilbert
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    Gilbert Senior Member

    Your basic paddle wheel riverboat sounds ideal.
  5. rwatson
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    rwatson Senior Member

    The "charcoal pellets/briquettes " are a far more efficent fuel than wood fired steam engines. They are also a lot less maintenance. Also, its easier to find a bush mechanic than a certificated boiler attendant - and a blown piston rod beats a blown boiler anyday.

    Likewise, paddlewheels are romantic, but nowhere near as efficient or usable as propellors, especially if you can pivot the props for a bit of direction control.

    Overall, the idea is based on sound proven technologies - but the economics is the big question mark. Unless a Mr BigPockets is willing to risk it, the trick is to stage the project, and as each stage is proven, then optimism and thus finance grows.

    get a recondtioned engine runniing on wood gas (which recently powered a guys car across sweden - its been used since world war 2) - and generate power. After its been running for a while, build another one further down river. Once the engines and fuel supply are go, stick em in a boat. Go from there.
  6. Bioboat
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    Bioboat Junior Member

    rwatson, thanks, you seem to be someone who understands that I'm not playing silly, and that woodgas is proven technology.

    According to the Food & Agriculture Organisation (FAO), in the context of developing countries (where woodgas is making a comback), river boats make one of the most interesting platforms for gasifiers, because:

    -they are stable (unlike trucks, tractors, cars, which do rough terrain)
    -require a very continuous power output (unlike road vehicles, which have to accelerate and decelerate often)
    -require a relatively low power output
    -have more capacity for fuel storage, relatively speaking

    The charcoal production units, based on the MIT D-Lab technology, require ultra-small upfront investments (in the order of a few thousand bucks per station). So it's not too difficult to organise a few of these stations.

    The boat would operate on a fixed route. So fuel supplies can be organised and planned well.

    Thanks for your very good suggestion to try out things step by step. This is what I will be doing. I will be setting up some woodgas engines to try things out (I might dump them there and hook up to a generator, so the fuel producers get something tangible back: electricity - which they would consider to be magic, something they've been dreaming about for decades.)
    For those of you interested, check: Tasman gasifier running a car engine attached to a generator

    Simple, reliable, robust technology - beating any other off-grid electricity production technique (solar, wind, hydro, - you name it).

    Rwatson is referring to these guys: Around Sweden on woodgas

    Some of their vids:

    Many woodgas car vids on Youtube, so check it out there. (Also search for "holzgas" or "producer gas").

    I will also look at literally building things up by going "upstream". At first, I will have the boat operating on a short-distance, so I can set up a first pellet station, and make some profit, with which I can go further upstream, cover longer distances, and build more fuel supply points.

    But so I wonder: is it done often that people use a used car/light truck engine to power a boat? If so, I would experiment with this. If not, I will have to collaborate with a woodgas expert / marine engine expert on adapting an existing marine engine.

    When it comes to the boat itself, I'm looking at building one from scratch, but there are plenty of old ones in Kinshasa, laying around waiting for a buyer. These boats are rather low-cost. So I might just as well buy one of those and put a gasifier on it.

    Thx for all your suggestions.
  7. rwatson
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    rwatson Senior Member

    Yes - standard auto engines are converted to marine use all the time - its called "marinising". Its essentially changing the cooling system to cool the water with a heat exchanger (water from the river) instead of a radiator. (air)

    Its a bit worrying that you arent aware of this when you are planning a boat venture. I hope you have lots of enthusiasm.

    Buying a cheap boat is a good idea - building takes so long.

    I am surpirsed also you say
    "electricity - which they would consider to be magic, something they've been dreaming about for decades"

    have you ever actually been up the Congo? They are not as backward as they were back in Humphrey Bogarts day.

    What experience have you had in Africa that you can be sure there is a demand, or better yet, a return.

    I would be interested to know how you got inspired for this project.
  8. Bioboat
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    Bioboat Junior Member

    As said, I'm a total newbie when it comes to boats. But (I think) I learn fast. And of course the enthusiasm is there.

    I vaguely had a clue that car engines are used, but I didn't know how often people do this "marinising". I didn't know that it was a standard practise.

    But building one would bring jobs, and my entire project is aimed at creating economic opportunities for local people. Boat building would make for great jobs for a great many people, in Congo.

    In fact, they are far, far more backward than in Humphrey Bogart's day (quite literally so - see below).

    -According to the World Bank, the DRC is now the world's poorest country - by far. The average income is less than $100 per year (most people make $50 per year or less, if anything at all).

    -Around 95% of all people in Congo have no access to electricity. Even in the capital, more than half of all people have no electricity.

    -70% of all Congolese people are malnourished and undernourished - by far the world's highest rate -- 70%, can you imagine? (The second hungriest countries are liberia and Sierra Leone, where "only" 50% are undernourished). Check out the UN's World Food Program; a map showing this disaster:

    -A fascinating study by our local development agency recently came out, showing that in order to achieve the development level of *1960*, when Belgium granted independence, Congo will have to grow at 6% per annum each year until 2060. And only by that time, will it have finally again reached the level of development we saw in Humphrey Bogart's days... :) This is no joke. Congo has gone backward since 1960, to become the world's biggest black hole. And it will take decades to merely get back to where the Belgians left off. Which was not a high development level in itself.

    So you get the idea. Congo is worse than dead poor. Congo is a total disaster. Congo is in total state collapse. Nothing works in Congo. (Except for the UN's armored vehicles and helicopters).

    Oh yes, and, by the way, Congo also suffered under a nasty war. This war was the most lethal conflict since the Second World War. It killed more than 4.5 million people. Worse than any other war since WWII. But we don't hear about this.

    In short, Congo is in total state collapse, the world's poorest country, in need of any help it can get. A boat on woodgas, for example. :)

    I have worked in Congo for many years.

    I now have a social profit fund operating there, which is involved in agriculture. I more or less know the needs. I know that fuel prices are too high, imported food prices are too high, transportation costs are too high.

    If local farmers somehow get a way to bring their products to the big markets (Kinshasa), even if it is only two bags of rice and a bag of manioc, then this would be a great help. If small traders can hop onto the same boat, this too would help. Sick people, big help. Etc... The project focuses on the small people, and a dedicated boat for each dedicated task is something for later. Today, we need something that can carry a bit of everything.

    With very high fuel and food prices, the economics of a woodgas boat aimed at bringing farmers, traders, salesmen and ordinary people with their two bags to market, might work out.

    A clue, which may surprise you: to get goodies from one city to another, over road in the interior, at a distance of 500km, truckers charge $1 per kilogram... And that's not only so for your bag of goodies, but they weigh your very own person, and charge by the kilogram!

    The main motivation is the fact that there is no transport infrastructure in Congo. River transport remains the backbone of the country's economy. But sadly, the only boats operating on the Congo and its tributaries, are dug-out canoes and some UN-boats.

    Of course, you still have these floating villages, which are the only option for the Congolese to travel long distances. But the 1700km trip from Kinshasa to Kisangani takes up to 3 months on average.

    I want to change this, just in my little way.

    A reliable, faster service would bring immense advantages to people there. Today, nobody can sell products, let alone agricultural produce, keeping everyone blocked, stiffling economic progress. A working shipping line would bring immense opportunities and break the catch-22 in which the Congolese living on the river are now trapped.

    Diesel and gasoline are way too expensive. So I thought I might want to look at charcoal pellets, which are easy to make. And feedstocks are very abundant, so that should be no problem. Labor is also obviously very low-cost.

    The goal is to have a people + products transporter. A means which allows a mother to sell her two bags of surplus maize (if she was so lucky to produce it) on a down or upstream market. And return with the pills she needs to treat her sick child. So to speak.

    The lack of mobility on the Congo is really a total disaster.
  9. Kay9
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    Kay9 1600T Master

    Buy a used barge...cost about $20K US to $150K US depending on age and size.

    Put one or 2 of your engines on coupled to jet drives and your away and running.

    I would think you could do this for less then $50K US.

    I would have to see a cost comparision in fuel for diesel and "woodfuel?"
    In my experiance its allmost allways cheaper to use diesel, or gas. But Im openminded.

  10. Bioboat
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    Bioboat Junior Member

    Thanks for the suggestion Kay9.

    Yes, it may seem unlikely that wood would beat diesel. But in Congo the resource is essentially "free" (if you work with pure wood, and not with processed pellets). The only costs you really have are the upfront costs of the gasifier. But these are really low too (about €1200 for a gasifier that can power a car).

    In any case, it's under study, and for the time being chances do look rather ok for wood, though.
  11. Kay9
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    Kay9 1600T Master

    Humm...So there is no cost for cutting the wood down? Nor is there any cost for transporting the wood to the "gasifier"? How many trees to the mile will your average engine get?

    Didnt I just read an article where the UN is trying to get the Congo to stop turning ALL of its forrest into charcoal due to the fact that there is very little of it left?

    Didnt they just find the 3rd largest oil deposit in the world off the coast of the Congo?

    How deep is the congo? Dose it maintain 5' in a 40' wide channel? If it dosnt you can forget just about any craft over 20' wide and 3.5' deep.

    If the fuel source has to be "free" for your project to work, then your doomed to fail. There is no free fuel. All fuel have costs, the trick is knowing what the true costs for your desired fuel is.

    Here is a personal example:
    I have a 30' RV in the US. I do a lot of back woods camping with it where there is no power available. I looked into getting solar panels for this unit thinking it was cheap or "free". The truth was the 4 solar panals would cost $2500.00 us and the 4 AGM Batteries would cost another $800. Add to this the controller for charging the batts and the inverter for turning 12v DC into 125V AC and I had another $1400.00 us. I then discovered that the batts would last about 4 years under normal use. So for a 4 year time frame I would spend $5500 US, with an ongoing of $200 per year.

    Now I can buy a 3.3KW Gas generator for $350.00 us. That leaves $5100 US over 4 years for fuel/parts. At $5.00 a gal that is still 1000 gallons of fuel.

    I illustrated this point for you so that you might seriously look into the TRUE costs of the fuel you are talking about. Only when you do this will you be able to make a good decision on your project.

  12. Squidly-Diddly
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    Squidly-Diddly Senior Member

    Warning! High levels of deadly CO in 'wood gas' exhaust

    I think the problem is several different 'weights' of hydro-carbons get mixed as the wood heats up, causing incomplete combustion of the fairly even 'mix' of gasses.

    You don't just burn wood alcohol, then burn light wood resins, then heavier resins, you burn these all mixed...but the engine is really only suited to one particular 'weight' of fuel.
  13. Bioboat
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    Bioboat Junior Member

    As said, I will not be using wood, but I gave the example to sketch the economic situation in the country. Cutting down a tree would cost very, very, very little.

    The cost for charcoal pellets from agricultural residues would be very low as well, given that the average informal wage is about $15 per month or so, and given that the investment needed to have a team of charcoal producers make the pellets is very low too (you basically need a few empty oil drums, a few matches, the waste biomass from the field - free and abundant -, and a lot of patience.) We would of course pay more than the $15 per month most Congolese don't even make.

    The cost of hauling the wood blocks, which are made from trees growing at the riverbank, is very low, I think. The main cost would be the cost to steer towards the bank, to open the gasifier and to fill her up.

    The same costs would apply for charcoal pellets. Very low.

    For charcoal pellets used in a pick-up truck running on woodgas, you get around 100 kilometers per 15 kilos of charcoal. Say for the boat, you would triple or quadruple that (i.e. 60 kilos per 100 km).

    One hectare of manioc, yielding around 5 tons of charcoal pellets from the woody stems, would yield enough energy to power the boat 8,333 kilometers - say 8,000 km or thereabouts.

    No. See Congo is a very large country (the size of Western Europe). It has around 100 million hectares of forest left. Only in the East is chopping down trees for charcoal a real problem.

    As said, I would only use agricultural residues as a feedstock for the charcoal. See the MIT D-Lab technology. Very simple, but it deals neatly with the problem.

    Obviously, people rely on primitive wood use in Congo, because they don't have the technologies to use more modern biomass energy.

    My project will, hopefully, contribute to helping introduce more modern tools, technologies and knowledge, so that agriculture can become more sustainable. Ultimately, the creation of wealth is the best guarantee to get the population time bomb in Congo under control.

    Making sure river transport - the backbone for any progress - is running smoothly, is a prerequisite for social and economic progress in that country.

    Mmm, no. I think you are confusing the Republic of Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

    I think I've read the river is permanently navigable between Kinshasa and Kisangani (a stretch of 1700km), by rather large ships. But there is a problem with sand banks and with water hyacinth, though.

    In most places, the river is several kilometers wide and meters deep.

    You're right. It won't be free literally, but almost.

    Sure, good advice, K9.

    As said, the statement about the "free" fuel was a mistake, but I wanted to make more of a point that labor is dirt-cheap and resources plenty, and that, on a pure energy basis, biomass would be less costly than diesel.

    Of course, I will have to take into account the cost of the gasifier (around 1200 euros for one that can power an mid-sized car). And the labor to produce the pellets. But that's basically it.

    Will let you know when I have some more refined calculations ready.

    Thx in any case, and please keep the comments coming. They're very useful.
  14. rwatson
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    rwatson Senior Member

    The first thought I had was - sure everything is so cheap, but then how are they going to pay for your services. Even if electricity was a miracle, how would they pay for it ?

    I imagine that is why they have to travel the river in "floating cities". That might be the only thing that makes economic sense.

    You might want to do a basic Profit and Loss study to see if you will even get your money back, let alone cover expenses.

    Sounds like a fun project though, even for the mental exercise.

  15. Jack Daniels Eq
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    Jack Daniels Eq Shockwave

    Congo river boat

    Bravo - sounds like a lot of fun - beats sitting in a bar with a bunch of dummies
    I built a huge barge or raft one day when I was a kid - it lasted forever - we kept adding to it - we were Eagle Scouts - it took on a life of its own and like 10 years on we went a mini Deliverance kick - had tents, WC, water, BBQ, even a Seagull putt putt OB on board, maybe 1 gallon gas. Spent 2 weeks cruising the rivers, stopped everywhere to pick fruit, fished all day. All we did was lash a bunch of 44 gal drums, planks, tree limbs, etc, together. Those galvanized jobs will live for ever & are cheap/easy to replace. As speed is not a major deal, maybe think along the lines of a Thai long tail motor .... especially the electric varietal ... ya have free solar, wind, motion. A lot of the time the tides are a major assist.
    Burn pellets for gas/steam - look into turbine driven alternators also - that way ya not dependent on any fuel all the time. Ya can run 12/24/48/96 VDC - find an efficient motor.
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