September 26, 2008


Tully engineer runs truck on wood

Cooper Tools employee drives the truck to work on its ‘maiden voyage’

Wood Burning Truck

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer   
Rick Bates uses the partially combusted gasses in wood smoke to fuel his 1969 GMC pickup Thursday in the parking lot of Cooper Tools in Cortland. Bates bought the truck at a junkyard and converted it to run on fumes from burning wood.

Staff reporter

Rick Bates didn’t use a drop of gasoline during his drive Thursday morning from Tully to Cooper Tools in Cortland where he works as a mechanical engineer.
“This was her maiden voyage,” Bates said, referring to a truck with an engine modified to run on either gasoline or combustible gasses produced from burning wood chunks in an old hot water heater tank sitting in the truck bed.
As a mechanical engineer, Bates enjoys tinkering with farm equipment and rebuilding vehicles from spare parts in his free time.
“I just looked at it as another project,” Bates said.
On the morning of his commute, Bates started the vehicle’s gasoline engine and waited for the wood to get hot enough to produce combustible gasses. After about 10 minutes, he pulled a lever that he installed beside the steering wheel to turn off the gasoline injection and switch to the wood-burning power. After the change over, the truck used no gasoline for the drive to Cortland.
In the truck bed, a vacuum captured the fire’s smoke and ran the gas through a filter to strain out the moisture. Then, the combustible fumes are fed to the engine through ducts.
Burning wood does not produce as much power as gasoline, but Bates said the truck rode smoothly and traveled about 50 mph on flat stretches of highway.
Bates drove the truck several times before testing it on the 15-mile commute. Coming through Homer, the truck stalled because of a plugged air filter, but Bates said he was able to fix the problem and hit the road again in less than an hour.
“I think it’s great,” said Ken Miley, an operations coordinator at Cooper Tools. “But I am glad that he didn’t burn anything down.”
Miley asked if someone could cook food on the wood burner while driving down the road, and Bates replied that he was too busy driving to try to balance a pan on the metal tank. “However, it does get hot enough to cook food,” he added.
As a child, Bates’ interest in alternative fuels was sparked by an old war movie where the hero fled from the Japanese in a school bus powered by coconut shells. During World War II, severe oil rationing forced Europeans to power vehicles using carbon, wood and other biofuels. has dozens of videos from similar projects that range from wood-burning Yugo hatchbacks in Serbia to a car fueled by coffee grounds and walnut shells. In Philadelphia, the company Beaver Energy is researching how to use biofuels to provide power for hot tubs, water heaters and other household appliances.
Cooper Tools associate engineer Rayfel Felix said he was glad to see Bates trying something innovative to reduce his usage of fossil fuel. “I’d rather that Rick drove this than something that guzzled a lot of diesel or gasoline,” Felix said. “This is really amazing.”
Bates purchased the 1968 pickup at a junkyard and spent a year modifying the engine. The conversion project cost him about $100.
In the future, Bates said he is not sure how often he would use the vehicle or if he would build another one. But he definitely plans to use it again for his commute to work.


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