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

    I think the reasons for the fact that you see only three types of boats on the Congo River (1. UN-peacekeeping boats. 2. dugout canoes. 3. floating cities) is because:

    1. nobody has the capital to restore the large passenger boats that once used to operate
    2. the limited capital that is available is used by big companies who spend it on barges which operate exclusively for their own purposes
    3. because nobody in Congo knows about alternative energy technologies, like gasification

    On the latter point: gasification as a way to transport vehicles is only gradually being rediscovered. In Germany and Scandinavia there are more and more cars working on woodgas. But it remains a hobby.

    Few people take the technology to other vehicles, such as boats, because there's no experience with this. (There's some experience with tractors and trucks, though).

    Take also in mind that I'm not in this project to make a profit. If I can break even, I'd be very happy. This is a social project, aimed at helping the very poor people who live alongside the river.
     
  2. rwatson
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    rwatson Senior Member

    Yes, thats why I asked "can you even get your money back"

    If you just want to research the project for the experience, thats fine. But the main business functionality is a key part of this project.

    Whether you have to give away a lot of money to develop a service that will
    a) eventually die from lack of funds
    b) continue for a long time because it is self funding

    - should be understood from very early on.

    A few hours with a spreadsheet are required to asess what type of project this is going to be.
     
    Last edited: Sep 17, 2008
  3. Bioboat
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    Bioboat Junior Member

    I'm doing exactly that. :) Will get back to you tomorrow!
     
  4. Kay9
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    Kay9 1600T Master

    Why not just use steam? Its an old proven and reliable form of propulsion. It would remove one step of your woodgas process, that I would imagine would reduce your costs. You can get 120 HP marine steam engines and boilers from this source http://www.pioneer.net/~carlich/RSE/RSEhome.html

    Im thinking that if wood and labor is truely as cheap and plentifull as you say this would make a lot more sense. Have people cut and stack wood every 100+ miles up the river and you might have a workable project.

    K9
     
  5. TeddyDiver
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    TeddyDiver Gollywobbler

    Just a though.. what would a brand new steam engine cost? I don't know any secondhand source for them anyway;)

    On the other hand old gasoline engines are lying around in some places just waiting someone to get some use of them..
    In other, more developed places in Africa, they have roads, and some 20years old cars driving them. Nothing hybrid, electric injections, just plain simple mechanics, maintainable without microprocessor analyzer and a degree..
     
  6. rwatson
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    rwatson Senior Member

    steam is neither reliable or cheap. Its takes specialist knowledge and skills to use and maintain it. even low pressure boilers can cause danger in unskilled hands. new steam engines cost more than deisel engines, without the boiler - which is very cumbersome and expensive

    If you dont know how to maintain a steam engine, it wears out very quickly, and parts have to be specially machined. You have to be specially trained and licensed to use a steam engine
     
  7. Kay9
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    Kay9 1600T Master

    I beg to differ rwatson. Steam with modern popoff valves and construction can be very reliable, and safe. Now as for the licenses, your right in the developed world you need training and licenses, but in the Congo I doubt that would be a requirement.

    I know diesel and gas engines are more efficent then steam, but since the fuel of choice was wood compressed into pellits to make wood gas I was offering an alternative that would remove the euipment and expense of turning this fuel (wood) into a form that these engines can use. You can throw 4' loong chunks of raw wood of any type into a firebox to make steam that will propell said craft.

    K9
     
  8. Kay9
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    Kay9 1600T Master

  9. sharpii2
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    sharpii2 Senior Member

    Hi, Bioboat.

    It's interesting to see how technology, engineering, and politics all seem to go together.

    I really admire what you are after. It seems that you are after self sufficiency for the congolese people.

    The problem here is that there is next to nothing that can be done in an enviornment of such chaos.

    It seems to me that there must be an explanation why this is happening, why things are so bad there.

    Until this is done and REAL solutions put in place, next to nothing is possible.

    This is because anything of value is sure to be seized by one thug or the other then destroyed by an opposing thug.

    I hate to sound cynical, but that's the way it seems.

    But starting from conditions as the are, as opposed to how one would like them to be, here are a few suggestions:

    As for a boat, I would suggest a scow type with perhaps 'dragon tail' drive arrangement to keep the draft as shallow as possible and to protect the valuable propeller as well.

    This also eliminates the need for leaky, troublesome, underwater, stuffing boxes and allows the boat to be easily beached and possibly hidden from rival thugs.

    As far as displacement goes, you will probably need at least triple your payload in all up displacement, as the charcoal pellets are sure to be far less energy dense than good old gasoline, which is the real rival fuel here. As far as I know, diesel engines require much different combustion properties and so an engine that will work on charcoal pellets will probably not work in diesel as well. Ethanol and methanol might also be good alternative fuels that could later be put on line, when, if, conditions over there ever stabilize.

    (they will never get the oil, as the 1st and 2nd world nations will be sure to take it by bribing the top thug and building him a glorious palace, as well as a robust secret police force to protect his hard earned wealth, and actually pay pennies per dollar for it. Sadly, such is the way of the world.)

    The amount of horsepower needed is going to be in the neighborhood 3 to 5 hp per ton to successfully buck local currents, when met, but then could be reduced to a more stately 2hp per ton, when not.

    Bunkering this fuel may be a major headache, as so much may need to be stowed that it will either have to be stowed in the ends or the middle of the boat, as there will be no room to stow it beneath the passengers. My vote would be for stowing in the middle, as the gassification chamber can be mounted above for easy access.

    My guess is that the boat will be from 12m to around 13fm long (not including the 'dragon's tail'), have a beam of roughly 4m or less, a draft around 0.60m or so, and displace roughly 15mt fully loaded. It would require around 60 kw to push it against strong winds and currents and would travel at about 6 to 8 kts

    I wish you the best of luck on your very noble project.
     
    Last edited: Sep 22, 2008
  10. rwatson
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    rwatson Senior Member

    Yes, I agree, they CAN be safe, but not without the right training and experience. Sure, in the Congo you could *get away* with no license, but this would cost the owner of the steam engine a lot in repairs. They are like wise reliable *if* proper maintenance is given, but in the hands of untrained operators, they are expensive and troublesome. The fact they are largely water lubricated, means that many parts are reliant on good management by experienced users. Even so, the service cycles of many components are quite short.

    Well - No! You cannot put any wood in a firebox of a commercial steam engine. You cannot use high pitch woods that clog up the boiler pipes with tars and gum. Likewise, you cannot put in light woods, as they do not produce sufficient heat. You must use well dried woods as well. Remember, thermal efficiency is ~25% at the rail typical for diesel-electric; 7% at the rail typical for "modern" steam. Unless you have good quality seasoned wood, or a good quality coal - the output from steam is quite miserable. Poor quality fuel is one of the biggest killers of boilers, and subsequently the drive gear.

    The compressed wood is a fuel quality stage that ensures reliable and efficient operation. It will be far more efficient to use it in a non steam engine.
    If a cheap steam turbine could be used, then that might be worth a think - but the word cheap and turbine rarely go together.

    My view of steam engines comes from involvment with restoring engines and locomotives, and I know that unless you have a dedicated and experienced team, and some good engineering facilities, commercial steam propulsion cannot be reliable, let alone financially competitive with diesel.
     
  11. Kay9
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    Kay9 1600T Master

    I will then bow to your experiance rwatson. My experiance with steam is the Virgina V in Seattle as a deckhand, and what I have read at the reliable steam engine company.

    K9
     
  12. Bioboat
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    Bioboat Junior Member

    Hi Sharpii, thanks for your wise words and warnings.

    Please keep in mind that is a low-budget, high-impact (hopefully) project.

    One of the key problems in Congo is the dilapidated state of infrastructures as a result of decades of mismanagement, corruption and war. This prevents farmers to sell their products to markets and small traders to trade across the country.

    This in turn forces cities to rely on imported food, which destroys the chances of farmers to make serious investments in their own agricultural potential.

    The result is misery in the country-side and dependence on handouts in the cities. This is a viscious circle.


    Of course, the real reasons for Congo's misery are very complex and have deep historic roots, but this project only aims to tackle some very urgent current problems.

    Providing cheap boats and transport can break open the deadlock faced by farmers and cities in Congo.

    Chances are that one or more of the planned boats get confiscated or that the transport service gets its blood sucked out of it by corrupt small men who can be found at each single point across the chain. (Each little man with some authority wants his share of the pie). But if that happens, so be it. It's not a huge loss. The risk of trying is definitely worth it, because the rewards can be great.


    -Because you have to consider the exceptional window of opportunity: food prices in big cities are at all-time highs (a result of international price increases). The opportunity for local farmers to profit has never been this great.

    Now is the time to encourage them and help them acquire market access. And that's what this project is about.


    Interesting set of ideas. Beaching the boat would be very handy, as the woodgas scheme (and the fuel producers involved) would require the boat to make frequent stops to refuel.

    I've been looking at large pirogues, which are sturdy and dirt-cheap; but they're probably not very stable.

    I opened a separate thread about this. Would like to hear your input:

    http://www.boatdesign.net/forums/showthread.php?t=24285

    Yes, the engines would be gasoline, because they're most straightforward to work with when using woodgas. However, it's not impossible to get a diesel engine to work on woodgas.

    Biodiesel and ethanol have good potential in Congo, but require too big of an investment, for the time being. So you're right, it's too soon for that option.

    There's one dude in Congo who wants to build tiny biodiesel plants along the river, but his business is going nowhere, because he can't find the cash to invest. Nobody would take the risk today. Later, for sure.


    Seems in sync with some of the other experts' view shared on this forum. Thx for confirming.

    I would be analysing the tradeoffs of multiple fuel stations (basically micro-enterprises) along the route, which would require the boat to come ashore frequently. There may be good social and economic benefits for local people who make the fuel. So there will be a tradeoff between bunkering as much fuel on the boat, and stopping more to refuel at the fuel stations, which would have good social benefits.

    (Hope you understand what I'm trying to say - my command of the English language isn't that great, so plz forgive me if I'm unclear).

    Thx Sharpii, your views are very welcome and helpful. Please visit back as I add concrete data about which way this project might follow.
     
  13. Bioboat
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    Bioboat Junior Member

    Kay9, thanks for your suggestions. All options should be looked into. But please remember that this project can only succeed if there isn't that much technical expertise required.

    A woodgas plant is easy to build and operate, and can be plugged into an existing gasoline engine with ease.

    A steam engine, no matter how modern, would require expertise (not available amongst the Congolese) and doesn't come with spare parts. A woodgas powered gasoline engine can be replaced or repaired easily. That's a key advantage, I think.

    Cost is obviously also very important, and I'm not sure whether steam engines have an advantage here over gasoline engines.
     
  14. FAST FRED
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    FAST FRED Senior Member

    "new steam engines cost more than deisel engines,"

    But for this application an old gas car engine can be converted to run on steam.

    Efficiency SUCKS , but the cost is right , and replacement engines are cheap too.

    FF
     

  15. rwatson
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    rwatson Senior Member

    I have never ever heard of a gas engine being converted to steam.

    Steam pistons realy on water lubrication, because oil disappears quickly in superheated h2o environments.

    Gas engines are 4 stroke - that is, 1 power stroke for every 4 strokes. Steam engines are one stroke is you like - every stroke is a power stroke - push and pull. The gearing and layout of a gas block just doesnt have any resemblance to steam engines.

    Piston size - steam and gasoline are totally different in their hydraulic needs.

    I could go on and on, but they are two totally different technologies.

    You also cannot ignore the other big component of the steam engine - the boiler. Its not just a gas tank - its a feat of engineering in itself. It requires a lot of care and maintenance.

    Converting petrol engines just isnt a viable proposition.
     
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