What Is the Difference Between Charcoal & Coal?

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Since the Clean Air Act was past there have been strict limits on the burning of solid fuel. Many of these have been replaced with smokeless versions which are more commonly used on barbecues than for heating homes. The two most common solid fuels used are coal and charcoal which, despite the names, are two very different products.

Charcoal

  • Wood is chopped down and cooked slowly in kilns to make charcoal. The kilns limit the amount of oxygen which stops the wood from actually burning and leaves a solid fuel.

Coal

  • Coal is a carbon-based fossil fuel created over millions of years from decaying matter. Less than a century ago coal was the fuel of choice for both industry and heating homes. Still, more than half the electricity used in the United States is generated in coal-burning plants.

Properties

  • Coal is available in a range of qualities from low grade coal which will burn at lower temperatures for short periods to high grade coal which burns hotter for longer. Charcoal is basically all the same grade, will reach the same temperature and burn for the same amount of time. The main difference is that charcoal holds its heat for longer than coal.

Applications

  • Coal and charcoal are both used as fuels. Coal is mainly used in industry, but charcoal is used both at home and in factories. In places like Virginia, where there are large coal deposits, it is still used by industry because it is cheap and readily available. Charcoal's main domestic use is as a barbecue fuel. In industry it is used to heat water to power steam turbines. Many mining operations in Brazil use charcoal as a fuel because the country has a large supply of trees. This has been a major cause of the substantial deforestation of the Amazon.

References

  • Photo Credit Thomas Northcut/Photodisc/Getty Images
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