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Generators & Electric Motors General Discussion

THE engine for prime off grid power


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  #1  
Old 08-31-2016, 01:09:56 AM
Deveak Deveak is offline
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Default THE engine for prime off grid power

Hey folks, I've lurked the forum for a while, it often comes up in my searches (which has not been fruitful), I need some input on engines. I live pretty far out in the sticks, the kind of place city slicker bob won't dare to go and the teeth get mighty sparse. I like being off grid but I do enjoy luxury or two and by two i mean I want that spoiled rich american lifestyle and i want my cake as well. I have a small solar system I plan on updating but the problem I run into is there is a plateau in solar. Eventually its just not cost effective to go any larger to run large loads like an air conditioner. That magic number is somewhere around 700 watts, for me it is. I see a lot of people with massive RE systems but i just can't justify spending that much money.

So I am looking into generators. I did find some really neatO things on a forum called drive on wood about charcoal gassification and that sounds great since i love cheap/free locally sourced fuel. Its the only long term way i have found to run an engine. I did look into bio diesel and black diesel but bio requires expensive and potentially hard to source chemicals and while black diesel has excellent economy, what happens when you cant get oil or the thinning agent? It comes down to wood gas so i need a gasoline generator. The problem. 99.9% of all gasoline engines and generators I come across are plastic/nylon/aluminum garbage. I have a champion generator, a 5000 watt. I like it and from what i read its likely to last a decent amount of time and I paid rock bottom for it but its not long term. I've seen some people get 5000 hours out of the cheap 1400 watt champions with royal purple oil but that's no guarantee. I need more than this. I need a monstrous cast iron slow pumping beast. The kind you can run for days on end. I can't seem to find anything like that. I have modest mechanical skill, very modest so building or repairing a older antique engine is beyond me. Does anyone make a turnkey engine that's not a pile of garbage? At this point I think i would be better off with a belt driven generator and dropping the rpm to 1800 or use a 4 pole head. I'd rather go slower and go with 1200 rpm. Is there a bottom limit for small engines or is that really dependent on the construction? Would it be worth trying on a crap harbor freight engine just to see how long it would last? Fuel consumption is kind of important. Wood gas makes that meaningless but it does affect run time. Really all I need is about 2000-3000 watts. Wood gas drops power so I would need about 10 HP. Has anyone ever made one?

Thought about using a geo metro engine at slow speeds but no idea what the fuel consumption would be. An inline v6 ford 300 would be bullet proof but a pile of money.
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Old 08-31-2016, 05:05:42 AM
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Elden DuRand Elden DuRand is offline
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Default Re: THE engine for prime off grid power

Deveak:

I'm not an expert in any way in off-grid life but do have some comments about your search for an internal combustion addition to your solar.

First, I think you should study wood gas carefully before you commit to it. Wood gas must be processed before being burned in an engine to rid it of tar, etc. that can clog/damage an engine. That may make it impractical unless you have a lot of time to give to maintenance. Wood may be best used for heating.

If you are in it for the long haul, I think Diesel is the way to go. If you can find one of the Witte Diesel gensets, you will be good to go for a long time if you take care of it. They are slow running "thumpers" and, although expensive, are worth the bucks. In fact, you can still buy a new one but be prepared for major sticker shock.

Small car engines won't run efficiently at low RPM so you will have to be careful to not belt them down too far. I'd guess that around 2,000 RPM would be good for a small displacement engine. Engine life would also be a consideration.

The Ford six would be a gas hog although it would last a long time at lower RPM and power output.

Good maintenance is the key to long life for any genset.

Have I got you confused yet?

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Old 08-31-2016, 07:40:41 AM
Graycenphil Graycenphil is offline
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Default Re: THE engine for prime off grid power

I would also recommend diesel. If you have the oil available to make biodiesel, you could just convert the engine to run on vegetable oil. It's not that hard, and I have run cars on it for a long time.

But unless you have a good source of free oil, you will end up spending a lot on fuel in the long run. It may turn out to be cheaper to increase your solar. Once it's set up, the fuel is free.
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Old 08-31-2016, 07:59:56 AM
armandh armandh is offline
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Default Re: THE engine for prime off grid power

if air conditioning is the big issue and there are no springs with 58 degree water.
then I suggest using heat directly

heat from a wood fire directed to the boiler of an absorption chiller for that chilled water cooling.
just in the idea stage.
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Old 08-31-2016, 08:46:48 AM
Bill Hazzard Bill Hazzard is offline
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Default Re: THE engine for prime off grid power

One of the Arrow gas engines would work on wood gas. They are an updated version of the Fairbanks Morse ZC engines. They are expensive but will run 50,000 hours.
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Old 08-31-2016, 09:27:20 AM
Birken Vogt Birken Vogt is offline
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Default Re: THE engine for prime off grid power

I work in the off grid power arena mainly working on generators.

I have been searching for something similar to what you describe (except the alternate fuels) and it doesn't really exist.

I only have one customer with Witte diesels and they are not in running shape at the moment so I can't comment on that.

Forget the Champion, search elsewhere on this site if you want to learn about that. Forget any air cooled engine for that matter.

I don't understand what you mean about a plateau in solar. I have plenty of customers who have a ton of solar run air conditioners and other such loads. So long as you can see the sky, air conditioning and solar go together well because when you need one you have the other.

The if this is what you are trying to do, I think it will be cheaper accomplished by solar than by generators both in the short and long term.

As for generators, you can get a diesel 4 kw 1800 RPM Perkins unit from Aurora.

If you want propane, there are various options using a 3.0 GM engine which is way too big, but that is all there is at this point, really. It is too electronic to run wood gas.

If you want wood gas, you should look for an older water cooled Onan or Kohler unit. You can adjust the timing easily and feed it whatever and it will continue to attempt to run. But I think it would be a futile exercise in the end, and a lot of hard work.
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Old 08-31-2016, 09:49:02 AM
armandh armandh is offline
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Default Re: THE engine for prime off grid power

I would think it would be far easier to distill the needed fuel from fermented biomass.

more GPH but an even quality

you might cut out most of the electrical waste and go to a belt driven compressor
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Old 08-31-2016, 10:28:27 AM
Deveak Deveak is offline
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Default Re: THE engine for prime off grid power

I don't really want to go the route of diesel. From what I have seen the cheapest diesel gensets are over 2000. Also I pretty much got the wood gas figured out. Gary gilmore made a very simple charcoal gasifier. VERY simple. With charcoal you eliminate pretty much all the issues with gasifiers. You only need to filter it and if you want, cool it for a denser gas. The tar is completely removed when you make charcoal. The lifespan of the engine should improve somewhat, like if it was run on propane, it runs and burns very clean. Charcoal also has longer run times because of higher btu per volume.

I said i was at a plateau in solar because I use a 12 volt system. I've noticed equipment selection drops as you go to a higher voltage but the max limit of a system size rises. Eventually you reach diminishing returns where you are spending 3000-5000 just on a battery big enough to handle the loads. I think a 600 AH 12 volt battery bank and 900 watts of solar sounds like a good compromise if its supplemented with a more on demand power source. I don't have any springs or running water to run hydro with and windmills get super expensive super quick if you want it to play nice with solar and properly charge a battery. Very impractical on anything but a 48 volt system. So that leaves an engine. I have seen people convert a diesel like a lister to wood gas by converting it to a gasoline engine. Lots of life with all that metal and low speed but thats very complicated.

Part of the reason I am set on wood gas is the low upfront cost and running costs. Most of the parts are made of scrap and or cheap materials like metal barrels, black iron pipe and flexible pipe. I can build a charcoal gasifier for under 200, 100 if i scrounge. When i looked into black diesel it was around 600-800 minimum and bio was 1000-1500. I'll look into a onan or kholer. I did see a older onan that worked for 150 on craigslist.
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Old 08-31-2016, 11:00:24 AM
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Default Re: THE engine for prime off grid power

Like with most things it is a balance between money and your time and labor. The more money you spend the less of your time and labor involved. The less money you spend the more of your time and labor is required. If you want to spend your time on care and feeding of your own electrical generation that is fine. You will pay for the electricity. It is just a question of what the currency is. I am not being negative, it is great if it works for you.
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Old 08-31-2016, 11:10:09 AM
DirtbikePilot DirtbikePilot is offline
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Default Re: THE engine for prime off grid power

The engine that best suits your needs would probably be a Fairbanks Morse ZC 346. They weigh 2300 pounds and will last a long, long time if you take care of them. A ZC 208 might work if you ran it at 600 rpm and they are much lighter. The only catch is you are probably going to have to rebuild it when you get it. They are used for running oil field pump jacks and are usually retired when they are completely worn out.
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Old 08-31-2016, 01:07:34 PM
Bill Hazzard Bill Hazzard is offline
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Default Re: THE engine for prime off grid power

If you have to buy charcoal it will be one of the most expensive fuels that you can get. If you can get bituminous coal and gasify it, that would be the cheapest fuel.
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Old 08-31-2016, 03:51:51 PM
Jean DesJardins Jean DesJardins is offline
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Default Re: THE engine for prime off grid power

i do not understand that no body suggesrt lister cs ,some have run 40000 hours,i have a engine with radiator and a big england made scott generator,3000 watts 650 rpm engine about a quart an hour ,it will deliver 2400 watts all day,and a peak of 3000,it has a electronic voltage regulater and some plugs and reset button ,this engine has beeen restored and has about 25 hours run ,if you have any interest,contact me at
jd819@guevremont.net
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Old 08-31-2016, 04:13:35 PM
YellowLister YellowLister is offline
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Default Re: THE engine for prime off grid power

Or a lister st or sl.. if you can find them.. the wood gas-fired is a good idea.. but like said takes alot of wood to keep them going.. and will de rate power a bit.. and requires a lot of tinkering to get them right and constant adjustments.. so I have seen....

If it were me.. I would go diesel.. just a proven way, yes fuel can be a pain to bring in if your out in the sticks.. but finding a old trailer and tank is do able.. but can get costly..start looking on cl.. or post a wanted add in.your local repair shops and such..
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Old 08-31-2016, 06:34:11 PM
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Default Re: THE engine for prime off grid power

If you have wood, then what about steam? Or a hot air engine?
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Old 08-31-2016, 07:11:47 PM
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Default Re: THE engine for prime off grid power

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If you have wood, then what about steam? Or a hot air engine?
Now there's an idea I did not even think of.. that would probably be easy, well.. maybe depending on your skills to make or modify a hit and miss engine or even a good size air compressor..
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Old 08-31-2016, 07:26:52 PM
Deveak Deveak is offline
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Default Re: THE engine for prime off grid power

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If you have to buy charcoal it will be one of the most expensive fuels that you can get. If you can get bituminous coal and gasify it, that would be the cheapest fuel.
Store bought charcoal wont work nor would it be worth it. You would need to make your own. Once you have the right set up the running cost is next to zero. I have a LOT of wood, both tree, downed and small sticks. No shortage of fuel. Thats why i like the idea of it. Its a resource I don't need to cultivate or really work at. bio fuels and black diesel both have running costs and items i just can't come up without leaving the house. I prefer it because of that. A diesel might get more life time use out of it but it might only get 1000 hours before i can't afford or can't get the stuff i need to keep it running. A wood gas engine would never run out of fuel.


Never though about steam but when i did research it, seemed a bit...esoteric and unlikely to be a good solution. I have no idea how long they will last, it would need to make DC since i doubt I could get it running at a stable rpm. Also I don't know about the safety, availability of parts or a lick about them. I saw a few articles where someone used it off grid making dc power with an axial flux alternator and a midnite classic. The best battery charger I have ever seen. The guy was getting 3kw out of it and I am pretty sure it was a low pressure engine. Something like 180 psi. Pretty sure it was a large boiler.
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Old 08-31-2016, 07:57:26 PM
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Default Re: THE engine for prime off grid power

A large stirling cycle hot air engine could work. Just build a fire under the hot end and away it goes. A 10-20 hp one would be a good sized affair.
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Old 08-31-2016, 08:41:27 PM
Deveak Deveak is offline
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Default Re: THE engine for prime off grid power

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A large stirling cycle hot air engine could work. Just build a fire under the hot end and away it goes. A 10-20 hp one would be a good sized affair.
I've seen small ones but I have yet to see a functioning unit beyond at most a half a HP. They are interesting. The most direct way of turning wood into power without much on the wood end. I'll give a stirling and steam power another look but a nice cheap 1800 rpm is kind of calling my name...
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Old 08-31-2016, 10:16:57 PM
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Default Re: THE engine for prime off grid power

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Originally Posted by Deveak View Post
I've seen small ones but I have yet to see a functioning unit beyond at most a half a HP. They are interesting. The most direct way of turning wood into power without much on the wood end. I'll give a stirling and steam power another look but a nice cheap 1800 rpm is kind of calling my name...
Didn't you mention that you are running at 12 volts? If so, one or more automotive alternators would be a good bet. A 100 amp automotive alternator will produce 1200 watts and would probably require 2.5 HP - let's call it three.

So, the benchmark is 3 HP per 1200 watts. Not bad. No precise rpm regulation is needed. If you need 120 VAC for something, run it right off an inverter. The steam / hot air motor can run slow and speed up the output with pulleys.

A hot air engine is not terribly efficient, but so what if you have plenty of free wood. No issues with boilers, etc.

You can still keep your gasoline genset as a backup for emergencies. You could also hook up a $100, 6.5 HP Predator to run an automotive alternator as another backup.
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Old 08-31-2016, 10:42:14 PM
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Default Re: THE engine for prime off grid power

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Didn't you mention that you are running at 12 volts? If so, one or more automotive alternators would be a good bet. A 100 amp automotive alternator will produce 1200 watts and would probably require 2.5 HP - let's call it three.

So, the benchmark is 3 HP per 1200 watts. Not bad. No precise rpm regulation is needed. If you need 120 VAC for something, run it right off an inverter. The steam / hot air motor can run slow and speed up the output with pulleys.

A hot air engine is not terribly efficient, but so what if you have plenty of free wood. No issues with boilers, etc.

You can still keep your gasoline genset as a backup for emergencies. You could also hook up a $100, 6.5 HP Predator to run an automotive alternator as another backup.
yes its 12 volts and alternator chargers are cheap and easy to make because rpm regulation is not needed. The issue i run into is stirling engines and steam engines are in short supply. Currently or at least as far as i see, no one sells a stirling engine. The few companies who do, sell on a large commercial level and cost more than a house. Cheapest steam engine I have seen so far is 4000 dollars and does not include a boiler.
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