Biomass Gasification (Small-scale)

From energypedia


It appears to be a fascinating solution: The conversion of wood or other carbon-rich dry biomass into a combustible gas and then into electricity via a generator set – a perfect solution for remote rural areas with a lack of electricity but an abundance of shrubs, straw, rice and peanut husks or other forms of biomass.

The technology has been well known for more than a hundred years. In light of rising prices of fossil fuels in 2008 and the debate about climate change, this technology has again come under consideration as a renewable energy source in rural areas. In fact, it is possible to convert dry wood or rice husks into gas and electricity. However, it is not as easy as some manufacturers would like to make us believe.

Deutsche Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit (GTZ) on behalf of the German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) has been searching for sustainable solutions to provide access to basic energy services in rural areas and has analysed experiences with small-scale applications of the gasification technology over the last decades. This analysis was based on publicly available documents, as well as interviews and email discussions with experts in this field. This text summarises the results, revealing several difficulties and challenges. It refers to small-scale applications of less than 100 kW only and focuses on potentials for providing basic energy services to rural households and small businesses.

The Technology

The terms „gasifier“ or “gasification” are used for a range of technologies that are based on the same physical principle, the pyrolysis, but that have a different scope of application and hence also different shape and complexity.

The gasifier is essentially a chemical reactor that uses wood chips, charcoal, coal or similar carbonaceous materials as fuel and burns them in a process of incomplete combustion due to a limited air supply.

Gasification is a process based on pyrolysis at high temperatures (>800°C) and in general long residence time of the hot vapour in the system. This generates as main component a combustible gas.

The technical units using this principle are the gasifiers:

  • “Gasifier” stoves gasify the fuel (e.g. wood) and burn this gas directly providing heat for cooking or room heating.
  • Wood gas generators gasify the fuel in a similar way as it happens in the stoves. However in this case the gas, denominated “syngas”, “generator gas” “producer gas” or “wood gas”, is extracted and used as fuel or as feedstock for further chemical processes. The latter is actually the focus of discussions and research activities in industrialized countries. In this case the generator gas can be used in complex chemical processes to produce liquid fuels, the so called 2nd generation bio-fuels. The producer gas can also be used to fuel external burners producing heat in ovens, dryers, boilers or kilns. In such applications gasifier systems are called “heat gasifiers”. The requirements on their gas quality are low and hence the gasifier systems are relatively simple and cheap. In “power gasifier” applications the producer gas is used as fuel, in general for internal combustion engines, to produce shaft power for generating electricity, milling, water pumping, sawing of timber etc.

The following text refers only to this latter process where the gas is used for internal combustion engines for the generation of electricity. And it refers only to small scale applications smaller than 100 kW, only in some cases considering lessons from slightly bigger plants.

Biomass gasification is basically the conversion of solid fuels like wood and agricultural residues into a combustible gas mixture. In order to produce electricity the generator gas is used as a fuel in an electric generator set with a combustion motor. The gasifier is essentially a chemical reactor that uses wood chips, charcoal, coal or similar carbonaceous materials as fuel and burns them in a process of incomplete combustion due to a limited air supply.

Products of the gasification process are:

  • solid ashes
  • partially oxidized products like soot (which have to be removed periodically from the gasifier) and
  • generator gas.

The main flammable components of the resulting generator gas are:

  • Carbon monoxide (CO)
  • Hydrogen (H2)
  • Methane (CH4)

Due to its high content of nitrogen (more than 50%) and other incombustible components this producer gas has a low calorific value compared to other fuels. The calorific value of genera-tor gas is only about 5 -6 MJ/kg versus 35-50 MJ/kg for natural gas.

There are many different gasification methods in use or in development, but the downdraft fixed-bed technology is almost exclusively used for small-scale power gasifiers. This is the only economic option on a small-scale that also produces a fairly clean gas. Models with batch or continuous feed are available.

Theoretically, electricity can be produced by various kinds of technical equipment, for exam-ple a combustion unit in combination with a steam turbine, a gas turbine, a Stirling motor, or even a fuel cell. The steam turbine seems to be appropriate only for larger applications ~ above 0.5 MW. The application of fuel cells is still a topic of research and at this moment much too expensive. In practice internal combustion piston engines are almost exclusively used to drive electric generators for the small-scale applications discussed here. Apart from some minor adaptations, this generator set is more or less the same as used with other fuels. Spark ignition “Otto” engines as well as compression ignition “diesel” engines can also be used. While the Otto engines can be operated on generator gas only, diesel engines generally need co-fuelling of conventional diesel fuel. However, all internal combustion engines require a very clean gas as a fuel. Otherwise ex-cessive engine wear and low power output will inevitably occur. Therefore a cleaning system is an essential component of a gasifier plant. Cleaning systems that use water to wash out the undesired components are quite efficient. However, they produce a high quantity of toxic and carcinogenic liquid waste. Hence, dry cleaning systems are the preferred solution in non-industrial systems today.

The gasification technology is principally well suited for small power plants ranging from 10 kW to over 100 kW. Appropriate gasifier systems with internal combustion engines can produce 1 kWh of electricity from 1.1 – 1.5 kg wood, 0.7 – 1.3 kg charcoal, or 1.8 – 3.6 kg rice husks. Assuming the wood originates from renewable production – regardless of whether planned forestation or natural regeneration - it would be a perfect, nearly CO2 neutral, renewable energy source.

Hence, this technology seems to be a very interesting solution for many initiatives and pro-jects in times of the climate change debate. The general features of the technology are in-deed promising: In contrast to a photovoltaic system or a wind generator, electricity can be produced at any desired time given the availability of the required biomass. A generator in the range between 10 and 100 kW provides sufficient energy not only for household lighting, but for televisions, refrigerators and the operation of small machinery as well. In addition, the provision of fuel in the form of wooden sticks or agricultural waste can be a source of income for small farmers and an incentive for reforestation. However, the following documentation of practical experience shows that there are still many obstacles to overcome.

Existing Experience in Different Countries

Gasification of biomass or coal is a relatively old technology. Town gas in Western European cities was produced by the gasification of coal before natural gas became widely available. By 1850, large parts of London had gas lights powered by the gas produced from gasifiers using coal and biomass. With the increasing availability of other energy sources and electrifi-cation the technology lost its importance. In the early years of the 20th century, gasifier systems to power stationary engines and trucks were demonstrated but did not gain general acceptance. The technology reappeared only after petroleum fuels became scarce during World War II. Almost one million gasifier-powered vehicles were in use during that time. However, with increasing availability of diesel and gasoline this rather inconvenient technology was again abandoned. The energy crisis of the 1970s and 1980s again triggered interest in gasification technology. By the 1980s about 15 manufacturers were offering wood and charcoal power gasifiers. Amongst others, DGIS, GTZ, and SIDA began financing and running pilot gasifier power sys-tems in several developing countries. Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand had gasifier programmes based on locally developed technologies. In some cases the technology was promoted by local entrepreneurs. However due to frequent technical problems and decreasing petrol prices the interest in this technology again disappeared rapidly.

Only large-scale industrial applications and plants for heat production have achieved some economic success and become fairly common. Biomass gasification is used quite success-fully in Scandinavia, especially using residues of the wood, pulp and paper industry.[1] However, worldwide the development and construction of new small and medium-size gasifi-cation plants has once more gained momentum during the last decade parallel to the discus-sions on climate change. In particular the guaranteed high feed-in tariffs in Germany have triggered the installation of about 50 gasifier power plants.

The experience with the gasifier power plants constructed in the last 30 years is the back-ground for this appraisal summary, even if it is very hard to obtain reliable detailed data es-pecially concerning long-term operation. Manufacturers promote their gasifiers with perform-ance figures. However, these rarely seem to be based on practical operation. The projects that use the gasifiers publish their use as success stories, but apparently only rarely collect reliable long-term data. Tracking the operational history of a gasification plant is in many cases almost impossible. It is for that reason that the information provided may contain minor contradictions. Nevertheless, there are some important studies available that relate personal observations by experts and allow for a conclusive statement.

A comprehensive World Bank study in 1998 examined gasification plants installed in the 1980s and came to the following disillusioning results: Most gasifier plants had been taken out of operation. After just a few years only 11 of the 24 installed gasifiers in Indonesia were still in use. In the Philippines only 1-5% of the gasifiers installed 3-6 years earlier were still operating. Results from other countries were similar. The detailed analysis of the status of 24 gasifiers in Indonesia revealed: “Almost none of the projects identified became fully commercial, and most proved unsustainable for technical, financial/economic, and institutional reasons”[2]. Only with significant subsidies did some of the examined gasification projects produce some benefits for the users. The reliability of many gasifier systems installed in the 1980s proved to be low compared to conventional options. The study found only very few cases where the gasifier plant operated more or less efficiently, continuously and reliably. But even in those few cases severe technical problems had occurred at the beginning. Only through the steady commitment of the gasifier company or other external experts could the plants be modified and adapted to local conditions in a way that made technically sound operation possible. However, even one of the most promising examples in the study, a gasification plant in Vanuatu, stopped its gasification-based operations eventually. Although permanent technical support had achieved stable operation, it was converted to run exclusively on coconut oil some years later[3].

Even though proper documentation of operational experience is rare it can be stated that recent projects are struggling with similar difficulties, regardless of whether in developing or industrialised countries.


Driven by high prices for fossil fuels, about 50 wood gasifiers have been built and installed in Germany between 2000 and 2010. In 2008 alone, at least 25 gasifier plants with outputs ranging from 10 to 270 kW were installed[4]. The plant operators ex-perienced favourable conditions due to the guaranteed high energy feed-in tariffs of about EUR 0.20/kWh. However, some of these plants never worked according to plan. Many have been taken out of operation after some months of trial. Some plants went up in flames and developers went bankrupt. The few plants that achieved more or less continuous operation were operating under special circumstances: They were part of university research programmes or were operated by the developers themselves. Moreover, in almost all cases about one to two years of adaptation were necessary.

A study by the Dresden University[4] with detailed analyses of five plants that all had more than 4,000 hours of operational experience concluded that theoretical economic operation of the plants seems to be possible if:

  • all the development and maintenance work that today has to be performed by highly qualified engineers and technicians becomes obsolete due to reliable technology, and
  • at least 60-80% of the total energy input can be converted into economical, profitable use.

This positive formulation indicates clearly that:

  • even in Germany the technology is not yet reliable, and
  • in view of the disappointing low electric output efficiency of about 20%, gasifier plants can only be profitable in settings where high demand exists for the produced heat.


At first glance, South Asia seems to provide more positive reports. In countries such as India and Sri Lanka gasification technology is used quite frequently and installation companies have an active communication strategy.

In fact, one of the most encouraging reports comes from India: Saran Renewable Energy Pvt Ltd received the 2009 Ashden Award for replacing diesel generators with biomass gasification systems. According to reports, a gasification plant with a dual fuel generator supplies up to 128 kW of electricity to small businesses, farms and households in Bihar through a local grid spanning about 1.5 km. The plant costs were US$170,000, about 90% of which was spent on the gasifier and gen-erator and about 10% on the distribution line. About 30% of the plant was subsidised by the government. US$0.04/kg is paid to local farmers for supplying biomass, mainly stems of a locally grown tree named ‘dhaincha’, probably a Sesbania plant. In addition, 10-15% diesel fuel is co-fired to ensure proper ignition. Customers are charged about US$0.15/kWh. With this tariff structure the plant is expected to recover the capital costs within 6 years. A crucial factor for the economically successful operation of this plant seems to be the dense cluster of small business customers (grain mills, cold stores, sawmill, welding workshop and farmers). Most of them use diesel generators to drive the machinery of their irrigation pumps and thus replace high costs for electricity. The introduction of the gasifier plant is reported to have resulted in about 40% lower costs[5]. However, it should be noted that no long-term operation data is available yet.

Recently, two biomass gasification initiatives have caught significant attention as both claim to work with viable business models and hardly any major technical faults: and A comparative analysis was conducted by the Centre for Development Finance in 2010.

One of the most important manufacturers is Ankur Scientific Energy Technologies, an Indian Company based in Gujarat. The com-pany confirms having installed hundreds of gasifiers for small power plants of 3 – 500 kW all over the world, e.g. in Austria, Uganda, Madagascar, India, Bangladesh and Australia. The plants are fired with wood and agricultural residues. However independent experts claim that these gasifiers run only with very well selected woody fuel and generally work only with diesel engines by co-firing considerable amounts of diesel. Many of the gasifiers are used in small industries for combustion and heating purposes only. At least two of these Indian gasifier plants were installed in Germany. One 250 kW plant in Neubrandenburg was dedicated to the use of woodchips (Holzhackschnitzel) as biomass fuel. However, difficulties at the company designated as potential user seem to inhibit its operation. In Bavaria a biogas plant provider and operator installed an original gasifier plant from India. The idea was to make use of the woody biomass that is not appropriate as feedstock for this biogas plants. However, the plant did not work well. Most likely the resin contained in conifer wood caused special problems. However, this was not the biggest problem. Support from the Indian manufacturer was apparently insufficient if not non-existent. Furthermore, the plant - installed in a closed hall due to the cold climate - emitted so much CO and other toxic gases that the company had to stop its operation.

On behalf of GTZ gasifiers at six locations in India were visited in 2009. All plants seemed to be constantly in use, providing an electricity output of 60 - 500 kW. Mainly rice husk and wood were used as fuel. Plants with diesel engines needed an additional input of about 20-30% diesel fuel. Plants with specially designed gas Otto engines worked exclusively with producer gas as fuel. However they needed an additional small electric generator for the start-up phase. All of these plants had a sophisticated gas cleaning system. However, the plants did not come close to fulfilling any European safety and pollution standards[6]. Unfortunately no detailed data is available on the efficiency and economics of these plants.

Sri Lanka

A recent, as yet unpublished study from southern Sri Lanka reports on a gasification project that has already been working well for more than one year. The 12 kW plant provides elec-tricity for 27 families, considerably reducing their consumption of kerosene. On average each family saves about EUR 0.80/month. However, the installation of the machinery took a long time and required a great deal of know-how. The operation of the plant is laborious and requires a committed, permanently employed operator. Every day the filters have to be cleaned and once a month the whole plant has to be disassembled and cleaned of tar and soot. The families pay a monthly fee of EUR 1.25 and contribute 60 kg of dry chopped wood as fuel. But this is just enough to cover the running costs. The initial investment costs were cov-ered by the project. Although the power plant’s capacity would allow more families to connect, most families are unwilling or unable to pay the initial connection fee of about EUR 30 requested as compensation for the initial contributions of the pioneering families. All this indicates that commercial operation of such a plant would not be possible in the given environment. Furthermore, compared to other renewable energy technologies gasification proved to be expensive. The per capita investment costs for the gasification power plant were about 30-40% higher than those for a micro-hydro power plant or solar home systems installed in the region. Obviously the running costs are considerably higher as well[7].

Another project in Sri Lanka with a locally produced gasifier supported by a German emer-gency aid organisation had a similar experience. It took more than one year of intense modi-fication and adaptation to get the tar and soot problem under control. Due to the wet gas cleaning system the project had a number of problems in the beginning with high quantities of condensates and liquid waste. A dry gas cleaning system solved this problem and by 2009 the gasifier had been working well for more than one year. However, the local population can hardly pay the running costs and it would be impossible to finance the investment costs by the revenues from electricity sales. As this project was implemented in the context of the Tsunami relief, the most important benefit of this gasifier power plant is seen in its incentive for local reforestation.


While in Asia many gasifier plants are or have been in operation, there seems to be little on the ground in Africa. In the early 1990s, a gasification plant based on rice husk was opera-tional in Molodo, Mali. It was the result of a joint cooperation between Mali, Germany, and China. However, the performance of the plant was rather mixed and a Chinese technician had to supervise it constantly to guarantee smooth performance. This technician was the only person able to fix the very specific technical problems (in particular problems with gas cleaning). Therefore, replicability and long-term sustainability were not achieved.

Since 2011 in Senegal two plants are operational, two others have been gone into operation in Benin. Due to the constant beeing in place of two local engineers, the Senegal plants seems to have a satisfying outcome.

Some research activities show recent African interest in the gasification technology. For example the Ethiopian Rural Energy Development and Promotion Centre (EREDPC) tested a gasifier as an option to convert Prosopis bushes and trees into energy. The study claims that as little as 1- 1.25 kg solid dry wood can produce 1kWh of electric energy. However, apparently the plans for the system have not yet been implemented in practice.


A running gasification plant in Chile was mentioned in the GTZ study „Energiepolitische Rahmenbedingungen für Strommärkte und erneuerbare Energien – 21 Länderanalysen“, published in June 2004. A thorough inquiry by Peter Schragl revealed that this power plant was still in operation in 2007, however, running exclusively on fossil diesel fuel. The difficulties with the preparation of the biomass seemed to be the main reason for abortion of the renewable fuel.

A positive example seems to be a 250 kW biomass gasification based power plant at Kapasia /Gazipur district / Bangladesh that started in October 2007. According to internet reports the plant is using local agricultural residues like rice husk as fuel and has a capacity to deliver power to 200 households and 100 commercial entities. However, the generator gas has to be co-fired with diesel 70:30 (gas/diesel) in a diesel engine. (IDCOL, 2008)

Overall Appraisal of the Potentials and Challenges

In contrast to the information in company brochures of gasifier producers it has to be stated that there is not yet any reliable, affordable standard gasifier technology appropriate for rural small-scale applications readily available off the shelf. There are still several unsolved technical problems.

Even though availability of operation data is limited, the multitude of gasification projects allows for an appraisal of the potentials and challenges:

Technological Appraisal and Challenges

  • Gasification technology is principally well suited for small power plants in the range of 10 kW to over 100 kW.
  • Producer gas can be used as fuel for both Otto (gasoline) engines and diesel engines. In general these engines have to be adapted slightly to this fuel. Otto engines can run exclusively on producer gas while diesel engines need admixing with conventional diesel fuel.
  • Appropriate fuel is dry chopped wood, charcoal and, with appropriate equipment, rice husk.
  • The use of other raw materials for fuel like peanut shells, straw etc. is fraught with problems and requires co-firing of considerable amounts of other (fossil) fuel.
  • Specific fuel consumption of gasifier systems with internal combustion engines de-pends on the type of raw fuel and ranges between 1.1 – 1.5 kg/kWh for wood and be-tween 1.8 and 3.6 kg/kWh for rice husk gasifiers.
  • Wood fuel gasification systems in combination with Otto engines show overall system efficiencies (energy in the fuel/electrical energy produced) from 16 to 19 per cent. Gasification systems fuelled by rice husk show overall efficiencies of 7 to 14 per cent. By integrating gasifiers in combined heat and power systems (CHP) their efficiencies can approach 80%.

Clean operation of downdraft reactors can only be achieved in a small power range. Hence, steady full load operation of the plants with maximum turn down ratios of about 50% of full load is crucial for efficient operation and achieving tar-free gas pro-duction.

The most important issue is to achieve a high purity of the producer gas to avoid the formation and accumulation of tar and soot. The internal combustion engines being used to convert the producer gas to electricity have severe purity requirements regarding the generator gas. In case the gas contains too much particular matter, tar or other residues the lifetime of the combustion engine decreases and/or frequent maintenance is necessary.

  • There remains the main technical challenge of achieving a high purity of the pro-ducer gas to avoid the formation and accumulation of tar and soot. The internal combustion engines have strict purity requirements regarding the generator gas. Too much particular matter, tar or other residues decrease the lifetime of the combustion engine and make frequent maintenance necessary. The main strategy to address this challenge is to equip gasifier systems with a gas filter. This raises the costs, requires frequent cleaning of the filter system, and often produces much carcinogenic waste, especially in the case of wet stripping of the gas. This causes severe environmental and health threats.

Environmental Appraisal and Challenges

Besides electricity, the power gasification systems produce heat, emissions, solid and liquid waste.

The beneficial use of the heat would increase the creditable efficiency of a gasifier system enormously and hence reduce the specific environmental contamination significantly while increasing its profitability. However, apart from a few industrial applications, there seems to be rarely any chance for this in most developing countries.

The gaseous emissions of a well established and well operated gasification plant are low. As most of the gas is used as fuel for the combustion motor, its exhaust gases are similar to those of engines running on fossil fuels. If originated from renewable sources they do contribute to a significantly lesser extent to the GHG burden.

However, one component of the generator gas is CO which can constitute a serious threat in case of leakages or improper management. In the EU such plants can therefore only be operated under certain specified precautions. Ensuring such precaution measures seems to be difficult in many of the developing countries. Cases of CO intoxication seem to be not unheard of (Kaupp, 2009).

The ashes are unproblematic and can be used as fertilizer, e.g. in fuel wood plantations.

The most important environmental challenge is the condensates containing tar, phenol and other remains of the incomplete combustion process. Their amount, composition and state of aggregation depend on the fuel, the reactor type and the gas cleaning system. The World Bank biomass gasifier monitoring programme stated that condensate analyses from the different plants “show a wide range of carcinogenic compounds. Not all of these compounds are biodegradable. None of the [15] plants that were monitored [in the WB study] took “special measures in dealing with condensates,” instead in all cases the pollutants were freely discharged to the environment. And “none of the operators dealing with theses contaminated condensates used protective clothing or gloves.”

Theoretically, a well operating gasifier system produces quite low quantities of these condensates ranging from a few mg to several g per kWh. Wet gas cleaning systems produce very high quantities of condensates while dry gas cleaning systems can achieve acceptable levels. For example the German constructor of gasifier plants “Luntzner Energieerzeugung” claims that the plants operated by himself use a sort of wood-wool as dry filter; this wool full of condensates can be burnt afterwards. However this small constructor never sold a plant commercially and the performance of the filter could therefore not yet be proven.

Economic Appraisal and Challenges

The economic benefits of small-scale power gasifiers depend on the potential savings of switching from high-cost commercial fuel to locally available low-cost biomass. The potential fuel cost savings have to compensate the higher costs for the initial investment, labour, operation and maintenance.

Little reliable operating data on the economy of gasification plants is available. The available experiences indicate:

  • The WB study quotes operational costs between US$0.03/kWh and US$0.25/kWh in the 1990s with no or only marginal profitability.
  • Many projects show that even in cases where capital costs did not have to be covered by the users, the system’s profitable operation is difficult.
  • Recent studies in Germany also do not show more than a “theoretical” profitability due to all the costs for development and maintenance work by highly qualified en-gineers and technicians. Within the German context, gasifier plants only make sense in settings where the produced heat can be used beneficially and increase the creditable efficiency. However, apart from a few industrial applications, there seems to be rarely any chance for this in most developing countries.
  • The investment costs for a gasification plant vary significantly. Data from Sri Lanka to European countries range from EUR 150/kWel to EUR 3,000/kWel. It is likely that the cheap gasifiers from local production require far more maintenance and that these costs are often not documented and calculated correctly.
  • In general, the small-scale power-gasifier technology proved to be unreliable and expensive. Even the few cases where the gasifier plants performed quite well over a prolonged period experienced many technical problems during the first one or two years. Only extraordinarily motivated and committed management and operation were able to
    overcome these obstacles; furthermore, speedy and reliable expert backstopping and supplies of spare parts were available. This applies to developing countries as well as to industrialised countries.


The biomass gasification technology is theoretically an interesting option for rural development.

It promises:

  • Sustainable conversion of locally available biomass into electricity for local supplies;
  • Local value chain with income generation for the suppliers of the biomass as fuel;
  • Incentives for reforestation.

Hence it will remain on the energy development agenda.

However, many severe challenges remain unsolved:

  • There is no reliable technology readily available.
  • High costs for technical development, repair and maintenance make it unprofitable.
  • Dangerous threats exist to the environment and health due to carcinogenic waste.

Therefore, at present the application of the gasifier technology for small-scale electricity pro-duction in developing countries seems to be justifiable only in very few cases. Each new plant would be a unique tailor-made facility.

The main preconditions for a successfully operating gasification plant are:

  • Major obstacles (economic or environmental) for the use of other fuels (fossil or re-newable) or forms of energy;
  • High and constant availability of cheap appropriate biomass fuel;
  • Availability of an experienced manufacturer;
  • Continuous availability of specialised know-how for maintenance and operation that is not to be financed through the operational profit (for example, possible in co-operation with research projects);
  • Low labour costs;
  • Sufficient economic potential of the electricity users to cover at least the operational costs.

Additional conducive conditions would be:

  • Besides electricity use, heat or other by-products of the system can be sold or used in a profitable way.
  • Positive side effects such as providing an incentive for reforestation, reducing GHG emissions etc. justify considerable subsidies
  • Initial capital does not have to be repaid directly by the consumer of the electricity produced; subsidies are in place.

At the current stage, the technology may be a reasonable solution in some industrial settings where continuous qualified technical support can be guaranteed. However, at this moment it does not seem to be an appropriate technology for communal purposes and providing elec-tricity to households and small businesses in remote areas.

Any international donor or implementation agency has to be aware of its responsibility con-cerning the potential environmental damage as a side effect of a gasification plant. Hence strict environmentally sound management of the plant has to be guaranteed. With the current state of development this requires expensive know-how, technology and strict supervision.

Due to the discrepancy between the promises of gasifier manufacturers and the numerous questionable or negative experiences on the ground; the discussion within GTZ resulted in the following conclusion: If any private company (producer or developer) claims to have an appropriate solution for a particular situation (considering availability of fuel and maintenance know-how, as well as energy needs and cost limits) it should be given a chance to implement the plant. However, the private company should not be paid for the installation of the plant and its develop-ment directly, but instead should be remunerated for the electricity supplied based on output per kWh. How to translate this into appropriate contractual terms remains a chal-lenge. Similar to corresponding guaranteed feed-in tariffs on the national level, output-based remuneration in small mini grids could lead to more sustainable applications of the gasification technology for rural electrification purposes.

Further Information

  • Bekele, Ephrem (2007): Design and manufacture of Down-Draft Gasifier Plant for use Prosopis Juliflora as Feedstock: Analysis and Evaluation of Performance.
    Unpublished? research report. During 2005-2006 a down draft gasifier was designed, constructed and tested at Ethiopian Rural Energy Development and Promotion Centre (EREDPC) Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
  • ECOPLAN (2009): Biomassevergasung (“Gasification of biomass”) und Nutzung des Gases in Verbrennungsmotoren - Eindrücke und Rückschlüsse aus der Praxis aus Besichtigungen indischer Anlagen im Juli/August 2009. 27.p. Draft of mission report on behalf of GTZ. 12/2009 unpublished. Available from Dunja Hof-mann, GTZ OE 4413. Describes technical aspects of gasifier plants at 6 locations in India: All gasifiers with a power output from ~30 – ~500 kW work well and have been working more or less constantly for years. however, none of the plants meets European concepts of safety and pollution control. No economical data has been assessed.
  • Laufer, Dino (2009): Holzvergaseranlage für die Dorfgemeinschaft Batgugammana. 2009. 8p. Extract of PHD thesis. Unpublished. Describes management and economics of one 12 kW gasifier plant in a village in southern Sri Lanka.
  • Schragl, Peter (2007): Short Appraisal of Biomass Gasification for Power Generation. GTZ, Internal paper, 27p. 1/2007. Describes technological principles, the status of gasification (most data from industrialized countries). Gives an appraisal on technological, economic problems. Lists contacts of ex-perts in and around GTZ.
  • Schuessler, Braekow, Treppe, Salomo, Zschunke (2009): Schwachstellenenalyse an BHKW-Vergaseranlagen - Schlussbericht. Study of TU Dresden, Institut für Energietechnik. 128p. Detailed operational analysis of five gasification plants in Germany. Detailed description of plants from 12 different producers.
  • Stassen, Hubert E. (1995): Small-Scale Biomass Gasifiers for Heat and Power. A Global Review. = World Bank Technical Paper 296. Washington, D.C. The results of a four-year biomass research effort (1986 – 1990) that monitored 12 power gasifier operations in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Contains detailed operation data on performance, cost effectiveness, scope of applications, potential environmental implications.
  • Steinbrecher, Nils; J. Walter (2001): Marktübersicht dezentrale Holzvergasung: Marktanalyse 2000 für Holzvergasersysteme bis 5 MW. Öko Institut, Darmstadt. Comprehensive overview of gasification projects in Germany and other European countries. Description of technology, market and producers and operation experience regarding reliability, security and readiness for marketing.
  • Westerdijk, Taeke (2007): Assessment of the economical and technical feasibility of energetic use of waste wood and saw dust found at the sites of wood mills in Bolivia. Pre-feasibility study on behalf of GTZ, Oct. 2007, 52p. The study evaluates different technological options, especially gasifying and direct combustion. In this case of bigger plants between 0,35 – 1,46 MW the direct combustion seems to be the most economic solution. Good example for a feasibility study on gasification.
  • Wheldon, Anne and Jeremy Rawlings (2009): Case Study -Saran Renewable Energy Pvt Ltd, (pdf)
  • GIZ (2011): Small-scale Electricity Generation from Biomass Part I: Biomass Gasification.
  • Micro-gasifiers: much more than „just another improved cook stove”. In this new HERA handbook, Christa Roth provides an introduction to the concept and the application of wood-gas burning technologies for cooking. Original Version here.
  • Homepage of Indian
  • A list of Manufacturers working in collaboration with Indian National Mission on Bamboo Applications:
  • The Biomass Energy Resource Center (BERC) in the United States
  • Gasifier Stoves
  • Cooking with Woodgas

Additional sources of information:

  • Homepage of Indian manufacturer Ankur:
  • A list of Manufacturers working in collaboration with Indian National Mission on Bamboo Ap-plications:
  • The Biomass Energy Resource Center (BERC) in the United States
  • Dalili, Simon (2009): Biomass Gasification and Pyrolysis - Opportunities and Barriers for effi-ciency and Sustainability. In: UNDP: Bio-Carbon Opportunities in Eastern & Southern Africa. P: 233 - 266. Good overview of the whole range of different pyrolysis and gasification technologies from charcoal to syngas production as well as of potential processing of syngas to liquid fuels (BTL), the “2nd generation bio-fuels”.
  • Russel, Andy (2008)l: Producer Gas for Power Generation. Practical Answers -Technical Information Online. Dez. 2008. Short, comprehensive overview with focus on small-scale applications in developing coun-tries.
  • Steinbrecher, Nils; J. Walter (2001): Marktübersicht dezentrale Holzvergasung: Marktanalyse 2000 für Holzvergasersysteme bis 5 MW. Öko Institut, Darmstadt. Comprehensive overview of gasification projects in Germany and other European countries. Description of technology, market and producers and operation experience regarding reliabil-ity, security and readiness for marketing.
  • Wiese, Lars (2008): Energetische, exergetische und ökonomische Evaluierung der thermo-chemischen Vergasung zur Stromerzeugung aus Biomasse. Research report of TU Ham-burg-Harburg. 222p Based on measurements at existing European biomass gasification plants simulation models of these plants are set up. Afterwards the plant concepts are optimised and evaluated. It can be shown, that the power production in biomass gasification plants can be an energetic and exergetic interesting alternative to existing biomass steam power plants.


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  2. Stassen, 1995
  3. Schragl, 2007
  4. 4.0 4.1 Schuessler et al., 2009
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  6. Ecoplan,2009
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