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7.3 Developing countries

In developing countries, as indicated in Table 7.1, the obstacles to wide use of wood gasifiers are quite different. As shown by several examples in this publication, the present economy of using wood gasifiers seems very promising in countries with low labour costs, in particular at locations with high oil prices.

Availability of biomass fuel may be a critical obstacle in some countries. For many of these the technical potential for making biomass fuels available for new uses exists through conservation (e.g. improved cooking stoves) or increased production (energy plantations). What is lacking in these countries is mainly political opportunity or will to improve the availability of biomass fuels.

Other obstacles to utilization of wood gas as engine fuel in developing countries are lack of know-how and lack of commercially available equipment. It can only be hoped that this publication and other information dissemination activities of FAO as well as of organizations such as-the "Producer Gas Round Table" and the "Biomass Users Network" will contribute to the transfer of know-how to such an extent that this obstacle can be eliminated. The reasons why there is no commercial production of wood gasifier systems in the countries where this technology could be economic, and where, because of lower wages, there appear to be possibilities to build cheap equipment, must be sought in the lack of know-how discussed above, lack of capital for starting such enterprises but perhaps more important a lack of a real market for the products.

Table 7.1 Assessment of present and possible future prerequisities for extensive use of wood gas as engine fuel

Questions which must be answered with 'yes' if wood gas is to be used regularly as engine fuel


Industrialized countries

Developing countries

Present situation

Possible changes in the future

Present situation

Possible changes in future

1. Is there sufficient economic incentive?


Government policy aims at promoting domestic fuels. Probably no impact on gasifier economy during this century.


Increasing wages as a result of economic development would make gasifiers less profitable.

2. Is there suitable biomass fuel available commercially, and can use of biomass fuel for gasifiers be sustained?


The situation will probably be improved as a result of present energy policy and ongoing research and development

In some countries, Yes

Present excessive use of biomass fuels can be reduced and methods adopted for use of biomass for new purposes

3. Is the necessary know-how of design, production and operation of biomass gasifiers available?


The practical knowledge is at present found with a small number of persons. The knowledge must be kept alive or it may vanish.

Generally, No

Information dissemination and training courses arranged by international development assistance organizations may improve the situation.

4. Is the necessary equipment commercially available?

Yes, but not in mass production.

Yes, but manufactured at high cost in Europe or USA.

Production technology is comparatively simple. If know-how and necessary capital were available and if a reasonably large market existed, production could be started in many countries.

5. Can the economy be assessed by the users on basis of experience from locally operated plants?


No (with a few exceptions)

The situation can be improved by installation of demonstration plants.

6. Is the necessary capital for investment in equipment available to the users?


Probably not (with some exception s)

Depends on the possibilities to borrow money for this purpose. Government programme is probably necessary to improve the situation in a short time


No role for wood gasifiers, except as emergency option.

Increasing oil prices may change the situation

Several obstacles to extensive use

All obstacles can be removed. Changes in the near future will require government action. and international assistance.

It may perhaps appear strange that there is no real market. It is true, as has been shown earlier in this publication, that Use of wood gas as engine fuel can be very economic in developing countries. It must be realized, however, that lack of capital for the investment required in equipment, in combination with lack of easily accessible and reliable data which can be used to assess economic feasibility, can be a major obstacle.

If it is assumed that the relative size of an investment can be assessed by calculation of the ratio between the investment and the wages, it is an interesting observation that the marginal investment for a gasifier system in Europe might be equivalent to about 15 working hours/kW installed capacity 1/, whereas in a developing country, as can be inferred from estimates in chapters 4 and 5, the marginal investment could be equivalent to 80 - 200 working hours/kW, or even more for equipment built as single units in Europe, used in a developing country with low wages. It is therefore understandable that investments in gasifier equipment will depend to a large extent on borrowed money. The availability of loans for such purposes may be a limiting factor and in any case it will be necessary to convince the lending institutions that the investment will be profitable.

1/ During the Second World War the marginal investment amounted to about twenty working hours/kW.

This might be difficult if there is no favourable local experience of the technology.

It appears that these obstacles can only be eliminated in a reasonably short time if there is a strong government programme for the introduction of producer gas technology, including installation and operation of demonstration plants, cheap loans to pioneer users and organization of the fuel supply.

This was how producer gas was introduced in Sweden during the Second World War, see Chapter 3 or (1) for more details. This was how it was done in Germany during the same period, see Graf (16), and this is how it is now done in the Philippines, see Baja (4). The programme in the Philippines has been focussed on charcoal gasification but the same introduction problems will affect wood gasifiers.

The conclusion is that the future of wood gasification technology in developing countries depends mainly on whether or not there will be government initiatives to promote this technology to substitute imported petroleum fuels with biomass. It will probably also be necessary that such programmes receive financial support from international development assistance organizations. At present such support is provided to demonstration projects in a large number of countries, and it can perhaps be expected that this will develop into support for programmes with a broader scope.

The World Bank, for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), initiated in July 1983 a programme to monitor and compile uniform data on the actual field performance, reliability, economics, safety and public acceptability of biomass gasifiers currently operating in developing countries (29).

The results of the monitoring programme will be used to:

(i) determine if gasifiers are meeting the technical, economic and operational expectations of those currently utilizing the technology;

(ii) identify the gasifier technologies, fuel resources and operating conditions most likely to ensure successful projects;

(iii) identify aspects of the technology in need of additional research and development;

(iv) establish standards to evaluate the acceptability of proposed gasifier projects; and

(v) define the scope for the application of biomass gasifiers in developing countries.

The project will ideally encompass a three-year period. During the first phase of the programme, the gasified installations listed in Table 7.2 will be monitored (29), and the groundwork for the effective monitoring of six UNDP/EEC power gasifier projects in the South Pacific will be laid. The second year will continue the first mentioned activities, initiate full-scale monitoring of installed South Pacific gasifiers and possibly add to the programme existing installations in Latin America and Africa. In addition, country case studies that define the role of gasifier technology in meeting national energy needs will be prepared for Brazil and the Philippines. Finally, monitoring of the newly emerging heat gasifier technology will be substituted in the third year.

Table 7.2 Characteristics of Gasifiers Monitored in Phase 1 of the UNDP/World Bank Programme (29)







End Use


1) Prudente de Morais


100 HP



SI Engine/Water Pumping

2) Itamarandiba


40 KVA



SI Engine Electricity Generation

3) Santa Luzia


12 GJ/hr



Clean gas for burners in a ceramic tunnel KILN

4) Espera Feliz


2 GJ/hr



Burners for kaolin Drying


1) Bago Loctugan, Roxas City


38 HP



Diesel/Irrigation Pumping

2) Bolo Kaisa, Roxas city


52 HP




3) Antique Kaisa Culasi


75 KVA



SI Engine Electricity Generation

4) Maricban Island


60 KVA



SI Engine/Electricity Generation



? - China

200 KVA


Rich Hulls





25 kW



SI Engine/Water Pumping




45 KVA



Diesel/Electricity Generation

* DD = Down Draughts; UD - Up-Draught

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