What is Gasification?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Gasification is a process which can be used to turn a wide variety of substances into gas, by partially combusting these substances and reacting them with air to make a blend of carbon monoxide and hydrogen which is known as syngas or synfuel. Synfuel can be used to run an assortment of engines from gas turbines which generate electricity to the engines found in cars. Many proponents of clean and sustainable energy have promoted gasification as a process which should be considered, since it can be made carbon neutral and it can utilize a wide range of materials as fuel.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

On the industrial level, gasification is used to extract the maximum amount of energy from coal, especially weak veins of coal. Gasifying engines have also been built for personal use by enthusiasts of the technology, and some companies use gasification to consume waste products and power their facilities at the same time. During times of fuel scarcity, gasification has also been used on a widespread level to power things like military vehicles.

The gasification process starts with exposing materials like wood, coal, biomass, and other carbonaceous materials to high heat in an environment with controlled oxygen. The limited oxygen in the gasifier allows some of the material to combust, creating char and carbon dioxide. The char reacts with the carbon dioxide and steam produced during combustion to make syngas, which can be filtered out of the gasifier and routed to an engine. The char itself can be used in fertilizers, concrete compounds, and other applications.

The process of gasification is more efficient than combustion, allowing people to extract more usable fuel from carbonaceous materials than they would by burning them. It is not an entirely clean process because it does produce carbon dioxide and other gases during combustion, but it utilizes materials like biomass which have removed carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The char also locks in some of this carbon dioxide, and the process can be used to create various fuels with the assistance of filters and other chemical reactions.

Supporters of gasification believe that it could be used as a carbon-neutral fuel. It may also be environmentally friendly, by allowing companies to dispose of a wide range of waste materials from wood chips to plastic in a way which generates fuel. Several experimental vehicles with gasification have been built and can be seen on the roads, demonstrating the potential applications of this technology to curious consumers.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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