North

Jakob North sits proudly on the bed of his truck with wood gasifer attached

Jakob North, a Randolph/Clay County native, strikes again with his environmental creativity.

As previously seen on the front page of The Randolph Leader in May 2018, North made a riding lawn mower and a 70-year-old tractor run on charcoal alone at just the mere ages of 13 and 14. Now, at age 15, he goes beyond what some hope to accomplish in their lifetime. Jakob North sees no limitation to what he is capable of as he recently built a wood gasifier that allows his truck to run on woodchips and other bio matter alone with no fuel necessary.

North set a goal for himself to successfully complete a trip in his 1992 Dodge Dakota pick-up truck using the wood gasifier to Argos, Ind., to attend the Drive-On-Wood conference. His goal consisted of successfully making it home from the trip, and to his excitement, he completed this goal with little to no issues at all.

North, a homeschooled student, began working on the gasifier in October 2018. The task took many hours of strenuous work and dedication. Seven months and nearly 350 hours were spent working on his wood gasifier contraption. Jakob was so determined to meet his goal that he would often wake up at 4:00 in the morning in order to complete his school work before breakfast time, so he could have more time to work on the truck throughout the day.

North knew he was onto something when he successfully fired up his first container of wood on Feb. 22, 2019, just 99 days before the start of the conference in Indiana. For the next 13 weeks, he spent his time mastering the operation of the mechanism, learning how to operate it, working out any concerns, and processing wood for his upcoming journey to Indiana. With beaming pride and a smile from ear to ear, Jakob met his goal as he safely arrived back to sweet home Alabama from Indiana at 4 a.m. on June 4. Not only did he accomplish what he set out to, but he also is able to proudly say that he drilled every hole, welded every weld, connected every cable, and built every valve to make this project work.

Upon speaking with Jakob North, I was able to learn about the ins and out of the wood gasification process (see pictures). I learned how intricate and well thought-through this entire operation is. The large oil drums are where the chips are burned, and the large tubes seen are used to allow the smoke to cool off. As many conversions and actions take place, the wood chips eventually act as fuel.

With terms used such as "hopper" and "firetube," I was relieved when Jakob noted that in order to truly understand the process, one would most likely need to know auto mechanics. North is working to make the process much simpler and create a smaller contraption. However, once the gasifier is mounted to your vehicle, you are good to go with only minor tweaks and fixes as needed, as with any machinery.

Jakob drove his wood-fueled truck across five states from Randolph County, Ala., to Argos, Ind., and back. Those 1,540 miles consumed 1,385 pounds of wood. That's 0.9 pounds/mile hauling two people, luggage, a trailer and as much as 1,200 pounds of wood at a time.

North was accompanied on his trip by mechanical engineer Dr. Larry Winiarsky of Oregon, inventor of the famed Rocket Stove and friend of the family. Also, along for the trip in other vehicles were the modern American inventor of the technology from Springville near Birmingham, Wayne Keith, and his wife Lisa. Others in the country for the convention from Sweden and Slovenia joined the trip. Jan Ola Olson and Kristijan Letinger are both expert wood gas operators in their respective countries.

The trip north was successful in spite of an air leak in the gasifier caused by a large pothole in Chattanooga, Tenn. A repair was made with a discarded beer can and some glue to complete the trip north. The trip and the conference were a huge success. Jakob's truck was among the vehicles showcased at the conference, which wound their way through the streets of Argos for the annual wood-gas parade.

After the four-day conference, the long trip home was just as fun. A rest stop in Kentucky had the family collecting dried grass from the roadside to replace the clogged fuel filter made from straw and hay. A minor problem occurred when Jakob climbed over Monteagle, Tenn., on wood. The gasifier got a little too hot and a small crack slowed the trip for about 100 miles. Simple repairs and an hour's sleep in Gadsden allowed them to finish the trip as planned.

North is able to save up to $500 on gas each month with the use of this gasifier. He was able to create the gasifier for roughly $2,000, and thanks to his knowledge of the trade, he did not have to pay anyone for labor. North states he has never cut a tree just to get woodchips either. There are enough left over from nearby resources, and North always finds himself with plenty to spare.

Unfortunately, the truck that made the trip to Indiana was totaled in an accident the day after returning home. However, Jakob was able to fix the gasifier and attach it to another truck. The gasifier itself has now traveled 14,000 miles. A final attribute of this system is that it allows automobiles to become hybrid. Meaning that a switch can be flipped near the gear changer allowing the vehicle to operate on fuel. Therefore, if you are running low on woodchips but are stuck in traffic, an easy transition can be made to simply use fuel (like most operating vehicles today).

As previously mentioned, attending the trip to Indiana with Jakob, Wayne Keith, an Alabama cattle farmer and inventor of the gasifier system that bears his name, is arguably the United States' foremost authority on the subject. Keith holds the landspeed record for a wood-gas powered vehicle and has recorded more than a quarter of a million miles on wood crossing the U.S. numerous times. As expected, it was an honor for North when he received the statement from Keith revealing, "I think we may have made history on a couple of categories. Until I am proven wrong, I say Jakob North is the first 15-year-old that has built a wood-burning truck and practically driven from the Gulf of Mexico to the Great Lakes and back on wood. We are all very proud of him. He is an exceptional young man."

Upon such a wonderful compliment as that, North was asked what his encouragement would be to other young people. He responded, "Go beyond the status quo. Don't be afraid of your young age. You can do a lot more than what the people around you are telling you is possible, and certainly a lot more than they are modeling to you because most people aren't doing anything worth noticing. Don't be arrogant about it; humbly seek out the help you need to get it done from God and other people who can help you and do it."

His family is proud of his determination, character and skill demonstrated in accomplishing this task. If you're familiar with the organization in our community called ADAPTech, then you are familiar with this family. ADAPTech is short for Advancing Development with Applied Practical Technology and is the technological department for SIFAT. The North 10-acre family homestead is also home for ADAPTech where they work to build technology models aimed at meeting basic human needs. Its located near SIFAT in west-central Randolph County. Their goal is to create technologies that are sustainable and ecologically sound. They are motivated to change the world for the poor and to teach models of providing our daily needs that protect the earth from degradation for future generations. The Norths welcome any group, club or church to come for a tour or for classes on how to incorporate some of these useful, ecological, low-cost technologies into our homes and gardens in Alabama. To visit this dynamic project here in Randolph County, make an appointment by email to adaptechbilly@gmail.com or call 256-252-2133 for more information. You could even check out the wood powered pick-up truck while you're there!

Be on the lookout for North's next move as he is already making plans for what he will accomplish next. North hopes to use this technology in his work with the family ministry (ADAPTech) to aid in their development projects in Africa. He hopes to incorporate the technology into light industrial machinery, such as sawmills and power generators to help the people of the D.R. Congo develop some local industry. The people there have an average wage of about 10 cents a day. He hopes to help change that with his skills. He also has set a goal to build his second wood-burning truck before his 16th birthday. Then, he hopes to work on the development of the process of converting plastic into diesel fuel.

We look forward to seeing all the Norths will accomplish in the future. Keep your eyes peeled as you're traveling the streets of Randolph County - you never know who or what you may pass!

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