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Mine Exploration Forum

Author Charcoal as fuel for Cornish engine
plodger

Joined: 21/03/2009
Location: South Devon

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Charcoal as fuel for Cornish engine
Posted: 09/06/2009 21:34:49
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I'm researching into a Victorian copper mine in South Devon, on the edge of Dartmoor. I always assumed that the Cornish Engines used for drainage and haulage were coal powered but a local historian tells me that he thinks that some in this area were charcoal powered, the charcoal often being produced on-site from local woodland. I'm not convinced that charcoal would have the thermal capacity to produce the power needed although I realise that many steam locomotives, especially in North America were powered by wood alone. Can anyone confirm that charcoal was sometimes used to heat the boilers of Cornish Engines?

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Peter Burgess

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Charcoal as fuel for Cornish engine
Posted: 09/06/2009 21:49:45
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I have no idea, but I can't see the point. Why not chuck wood into the boiler in the first place, rather than muck about converting it to charcoal and losing all that lovely combustible volatile gas?

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ICLOK

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Charcoal as fuel for Cornish engine
Posted: 09/06/2009 22:25:51
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I've been told before that it was used in early Newcomen engines but almost straight away superceded by coal, Like you say Peter seems abit of a waste!. Never heard tell of it on Cornish engines...

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derrickman

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Charcoal as fuel for Cornish engine
Posted: 09/06/2009 22:59:34
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charcoal was widely used at one time as a fuel for smelting because of its clean, hot-burning quantities, and relative ease of transport.

it's far inferior to coal as a fuel for steam engines for the simple reason that coal's calorific output for a given unit weight, is so much greater.

hence the trend away from wood-burning locomotives on US railroads; you CAN run a steam locomotive on wood, and that's what you do if you have limited carrying capacity and ample cheap wood on site; but coal is better if it's available
IP: 82.32.67.44 Edited: 09/06/2009 23:03:12 by derrickman
carnkie

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Charcoal as fuel for Cornish engine
Posted: 09/06/2009 23:13:55
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That's very true. It was used when the blowing houses were going full blast. but Cornwall became deforestated so they used to pop off to Dartmoor Forest to find timber suitable for charcoaling. But this was way before steam engines came on the scene.

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ICLOK

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Charcoal as fuel for Cornish engine
Posted: 09/06/2009 23:15:31
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I did find a ref just on the net for charcoal used in early engine boilers but messed up and lost it (b****r)... it seems it was tried briefly but nothing to suggest its use in Devon/Cornwall particularly.
Given the cost of getting coal to the SW mines perhaps they did briefly try it... but again given the low pressures involved in early boilers surely just burn wood? As for a Victorian era engine/mine I can't imagine that coal supplies would not have been regularly available.

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IP: 78.145.231.169 Edited: 09/06/2009 23:18:36 by ICLOK
derrickman

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Charcoal as fuel for Cornish engine
Posted: 10/06/2009 07:56:11
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carnkie wrote:

That's very true. It was used when the blowing houses were going full blast. but Cornwall became deforestated so they used to pop off to Dartmoor Forest to find timber suitable for charcoaling. But this was way before steam engines came on the scene.


this is an important part of the answer; the sheer quantity if timber which using wood-burning as an industrial power source requires. It simply isn't sustainable, especially in a world where transport was expensive and very limited in scope.

you have to consider that in the context also, of the huge quantities of timber employed in the old mines. How many trees were required to make a pump-rod, for example?

many years ago someone described coal to me as 'a forest worth of energy in a wheelbarrow' and I thought that was very much to the point
IP: 149.254.49.88 Edited: 10/06/2009 07:57:28 by derrickman
AR

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Charcoal as fuel for Cornish engine
Posted: 10/06/2009 11:09:38
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derrickman wrote:



this is an important part of the answer; the sheer quantity if timber which using wood-burning as an industrial power source requires. It simply isn't sustainable, especially in a world where transport was expensive and very limited in scope.

you have to consider that in the context also, of the huge quantities of timber employed in the old mines. How many trees were required to make a pump-rod, for example?

many years ago someone described coal to me as 'a forest worth of energy in a wheelbarrow' and I thought that was very much to the point


Very true, especially given that there was already significant demand for charcoal from the iron industry upping the price, and when you start factoring in the pressure of demands for timber for construction and wood for domestic fuel on the available forestry, coal starts looking much more attractive for running engines! Then take into account the greater heat for bulk ratio, plus the fact that most of the early engines were installed on coal mines or near to sources of coal and it makes sense to use coal in an engine, or for anywhere you need a lot of heat but sulphur in the fumes isn't going to be a problem for that matter....

As for other uses of wood in mines, stempling and shoring would certainly consume a great deal of hardwood poles, whilst pump rods most likely would have been made from imported timber. We've been importing large pine trees from the continent and the new world for a long time, and until the FC started growing it on a major scale, we didn't have an abundance of native product.



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ICLOK

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Charcoal as fuel for Cornish engine
Posted: 10/06/2009 20:54:24
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I had a look up re Charcoal today and by all accounts it took approx an acre of timber to smelt 2 tons of iron... Shocked
The level of deforestation due to Iron smelting got so bad by the late 1500s that acts of parliament were even passed restricting the amount timber felling allowed. By 1806 there were still approx seven furnaces left using this fuel even though efficient Coke firing had been in place since the early 1700's.
Makes you wonder what a beautiful country it was with all those trees... Smile

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JR

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Charcoal as fuel for Cornish engine
Posted: 10/06/2009 21:35:20
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ICLOK wrote:


.........Makes you wonder what a beautiful country it was with all those trees... Smile


Dunno, all the perishin' foliage kept gettin' in the way I imagine.

OK I'll go quietly Crying

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ICLOK

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Charcoal as fuel for Cornish engine
Posted: 10/06/2009 21:59:35
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Actually you are probably right... based on a recent forestry walk i'd be permanently lost Laugh

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carnkie

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Charcoal as fuel for Cornish engine
Posted: 10/06/2009 23:08:51
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Cornish Pixie touched on this subject in her book on Lanner. The ancient deciduous forests that covered the area were destroyed.

Re the US. Interesting article in the link I put in the Buena Vista Iron Furnace covers a bit of this.

Also turns up some a few errors in Wiki.
Spot the errors- a lot of iron!
[web link]




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