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According to good old Wikki, the gasification process was originally developed in the 1800s to produce town gas for lighting and cooking. Electricity and natural gas later replaced town gas for these applications, but the gasification process has been utilized for the production of synthetic chemicals and fuels since the 1920s.
The first wood gasifier was apparently built by Bischof in 1839 and the first vehicle powered by wood gas was built by Thomas Parker in 1901. Although they seem to really come into their own during WWII due to fuel shortages in Europe and the United States of America. It is said that there were over a million vehicles in the USA running on wood at this time.
In the 1946 issue of Power Farming in Australia, as many as 72,000 vehicles were retro fitted with gasifiers during wartime petrol rationing in Australia, and charcoal production to supply them reached an estimated 20,000 tons per month. Ford in Australia worked with others to develop the Powell Gas Producer. There were many other manufacturers of gas producers like Electrolux, Rondalson Tippett, Kent, Wishart and even trailer mounted units.
There are appears to be a great resurgence and interest in wood gasifiers for fuel, heating and generating electricity. This website houses a great deal of information on this fascinating technology which you can download as PDFs. You can see some more pictures submitted by our Members here. don't forget to download the free FEMA Gasifier Plans.
You might also enjoy our other sister site Build-A-Biogas-Plant.com and I trust you enjoy both sites.