What is the difference between coal and charcoal?
Both are carbon. The difference is that coal is a residual product of very ancient trees carbonized in the Earth in high temperatures and pressure and is mined off the ground. Charcoal, on the other hand, is prepared from wood per sé by charring (pyrolysis).
They are not the same thing, albeit both are very much carbon. Charcoal is much purer and much better fuel, while coal is impure and has to be cooked before it can be used. A piece of useless trivia: the Latin word carbo, from which the English word for the element, carbon, means “coal.” So carbon is “coal-stuff”.
Coal is a natural mineral that forms over millions of years, while charcoal is a manufactured product created from wood. While coal in its natural state is never used alone in a barbeque or smoker, it is commonly added to charcoal briquettes to increase the energy density.
What is the difference between coal and charcoal?
- Coal is a naturally resulting fossil fuel, whereas the slow burning of carbon wood produces charcoal.
- Coal is a mineral, and charcoal is not.
- It takes over millions of years to produce coal, whereas charcoal can be produced easily.
- Charcoal produces more heat, and it is cleaner than coal.
Coal is basically a result of fossil fuel that formed over many years, whereas the source of charcoal is slow-burning carbon wood.
It is formed through the collection of plant materials that are degraded slowly. When plant debris is buried under sand or mud, the pressure and the temperature inside convert it into coal over a long period.
Coal is considered as a non-renewable natural resource. Once coal is mined out and used, it cannot easily be regenerated. Blacksmiths have used coal, particularly bituminous or “soft” coal, in forge fires for hundreds of years.
There are different types of coal. Their categories are based on their properties and composition. The coal types are:
Peat is considered the lowest-grade coal among the coal types. It is formed by recently accumulated plant debris and, over time, can be converted into coal. There are some drawbacks to using coal. First of all, it’s not easily available, and even if found, it is expensive to use every day.
Another serious concern is burning coal emits sulfur dioxide (SO2), and if it comes in contact with water (H2O), it creates harmful sulfuric acid (H2SO4). And, if used to cook food, coal will poison your food. A definite drawback!
Charcoal comprises carbonic compounds. When water and other substances are removed from the carbonic compounds, the result is charcoal. Charcoal is in the solid form and looks dark grey.
The main method of producing charcoal is called “Pyrolysis,” where organic materials are decomposed at high temperatures in the absence of oxygen. For example, by heating wood, we can obtain charcoal.
There are a few types of charcoal. Below are a few options:
- Extruded charcoal
- Lump charcoal
- Japanese charcoal
Charcoal has a density of nearly 25 percent of the original wood. The average density of charcoal is .13, or approximately 1/10 that of coal. It usually takes ten times the volume of charcoal to do the heating job as coal.
The maximum temperature that coal fire generates is approximately 3,500°F (1,927°C). Lower temperatures are used for boilers and furnaces, which is also due to increasing focus on reducing nitrogen oxide or NOx emissions.
Charcoal, on the other hand, heats up way more than coal charcoal (coke) or a gas grill. It is because charcoal is more or less pure carbon and generates lots of energy.
A charcoal-fired forge makes the air temperature nearly 45 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than the normal temperature. Particularly, wood charcoal burns a little quicker than coal charcoal.
Charcoal also adds that unique “grill flavor” to food.
Actually, it’s not the charcoal alone that provides that delicious flavor. It comes from the volatile compounds and not from the briquettes themselves.
When the meat heats up, it releases drippings that fall on the burning charcoal and combust. Those drippings have plenty of fats, proteins, oils, and sugars that vaporize and come back up into the meat, giving it that distinct flavor.
More drippings = more flavor. Knowing the difference between coal and charcoal is particularly important for grilling. For everyday cooking use, charcoal is your choice.
Why coal is better than charcoal?
The burn time for coal is about 5-6 hours, while charcoal is about 2-5 hours. It depends on the type of coal and charcoal. For example, anthracite coal burns for much, much longer than lump charcoal. As you can see from the temperature and burn time, coal is a superior fuel compared to charcoal and wood.
What is the difference between coal and activated charcoal?
Activated charcoal is a powder comprised of wood, bamboo, coal, or coconut shells that have been burned at a very high temperature. In contrast, regular charcoal combines coal, peat, wood pulp, petroleum, and coconut shells. As the name tells us, activated charcoal is charcoal that is activated by exposure to high heat.
How can you tell coal from charcoal?
Coal is a rock you dig out of the ground (that much I knew). Charcoal is an artificial product, and it’s made from wood. You make charcoal by heating wood to high temperatures in the absence of oxygen. It can be done with ancient technology: build a fire in a pit, then bury it in mud.
What happens if I grill with coal instead of charcoal?
Do not do it.
Coal is very impure as fuel – it contains a lot of coal tar and sulfur as impurities. They are both toxic and smelly and if you attempt to prepare a barbecue, you will spoil your food.
Coal must be cooked before it is usable. Coke is pyrolyzed coal, with sulfur compounds, impurities, and coal tar extracted. Coke, however, burns very hot and may erode your grill or fireplace, causing the grate and ashpan to rupture.
It could be a better idea. Charcoal is made by partial burning of wood. In the heat, all the volatile compounds in the wood go off, and the wood gets converted into carbon. When we light a charcoal fire, the fire is very clean. It produces almost only carbon dioxide and water and very little tar.
Coal, on the other hand, contains a host of chemicals, most of them volatile. When we burn coal, part of these compounds vaporize. And there is a very good chance that these compounds get absorbed in the food. And none of these compounds are that harmless.
Benzene, sulfur dioxide, polycyclic aromatic compounds, and even mercury are potential carcinogens or poisons. Grilling with coal – very bad.
Have you ever tried to ignite coal in a grill designed for charcoal?
I’ve never attempted to light coal in a grill. Probably using a charcoal chimney starter would be the best, using a wad of vegetable oil-soaked paper in the bottom to start it.
I’d personally recommend against using coal. Even ignoring the contamination problem, there is the extended burn time and the disposal of the ashes. We used to dig them into the soil of the victory garden. However, not everyone has a garden.
When coal is burned, it releases a number of airborne toxins and pollutants. They include mercury, lead, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, particulates, and various other heavy metals.
Health impacts can range from asthma and breathing difficulties to brain damage, heart problems, cancer, neurological disorders, and premature death. Also, having watched a coal furnace as a child, the fumes of burning coal would contaminate the cooking material to make it uneatable and probably deadly. The fumes from burning coal that I experienced as a child are what cause me to write like this today.
Why is charcoal considered a better fuel as compared to wood?
Charcoal is what remains when wood is heated at a high temperature but in the near absence of air so that it does not burn. What remains is the carbon in the wood. It is a similar process to making coke from coal – the coal is heated in the absence of air.
It gives off a lot of its volatile compounds as gases (this was known as town gas, which was used to provide street lighting and cooking/heating gas in many countries before the widespread availability of natural gas).
There are other interesting similarities between charcoal and coke:
- 1. Both are not easy to set on fire. Both require considerable heat before sustainable combustion will occur.
- 2. Both burn at higher temperatures than their respective parents (wood and coal).
- 3. Both burn slower than their parents.
- 4. Both weigh considerably less than their parents.
- 5. Both produce little smoke – but they still produce some toxic gases.
- 6. Both produce little ash once burnt.
It is for these reasons that charcoal may be considered to be a better fuel than wood (and coke a better fuel than coal). Charcoal is better fuel than wood because:
- When the same amount of charcoal and wood are burnt, charcoal produces almost twice the heat produced by wood.
- Charcoal produces much less smoke than wood.
- Charcoal is a compact fuel that is more convenient to handle than wood.
Can charcoal be used instead of coal for coal liquefaction and the manufacture of synthetic fuel?
Coal liquefaction involves the progressive hydrogenation of carbon in the coal. Charcoal has even less hydrogen than coal and is virtually pure carbon, so it would be starting with a feedstock that required even more hydrogenation.
Coal liquefaction is not economical, below about $80 per barrel of oil, so at this point, it is not being pursued. As an aside, I was directly involved in a study of coal liquefaction in the 1980s. The report from this, done by a company called Enviro Control, is in NTIS, with a superb researcher named Jim Evans.
Charcoal could be used in coal power plants. There seem to be plans in India to use torrefied biomass for co-firing in coal power plants. Torrefaction is a low-energy process that produces carbonized biomass (a kind of low-quality charcoal). It has the advantage of making the biomass more durable and more similar in consistence to coal. You can gasify charcoal like every biomass and turn the resulting “syngas” into hydrocarbon (gas, oil) or methanol.
Why is coal a good fuel?
To answer that, one must have a more precise definition of what “good” means. In the context of fuel and energy sources, there really is no “good” vs. “bad” (or evil), but there are outcomes or consequences of the choices we make.
“Easy” might be a more appropriate term. Originally, humans began using coal because it was “a rock that burns” and accessible via surface outcroppings. As such, it was easy to obtain, and due to the fact that the overall number of people using it was very small compared to today, under those circumstances, it might have been a “good” fuel.
It is “good” if one does not consider what happens when the quantities at which humans use it today are considered. Besides creating massive quantities of CO2, coal burning also releases sulfur dioxide, which has caused acid rain hundreds of miles away from the source with dire environmental consequences.
For example, decimated forests and streams in Scandinavia due to blown-over acidified rain from coal burning in the UK, and the same for northeastern Canada from the US “steel belt.”
The use of coal was “good” in the sense that it was the primary fuel through the Industrial Revolution. However, that may have been offset by the rapid growth of cities and associated slums and high urban crime rates, an overall condition that has been termed “anomie.”
At the rate of growth of the human population and its swelling need for energy, coal burning is a non-sustainable option. “We” must move on with our ingenuity to come up with sources of energy that are sustainable.
For example, renewable energy sources combined with Hydrogen and other methods of energy storage, which have a net-zero balance with the environment, will make a good start. Slowing population growth will also become imperative.
Why doesn’t modern industry use charcoal as fuel instead of coal?
Interesting question. The idea is that charcoal is a renewable source of energy while coal is not. The problem is both pollute.
Charcoal is made through pyrolysis, heating the wood in an oxygen-free container. When this happens, volatile gases can be drawn out of the wood. This synthetic gas will burn cleaner than the charcoal, and the charcoal can be buried in farmers’ fields as biochar. It retains moisture and nutrients and sequesters that carbon in the soil.
The big problem is that a lot of industries and countries are claiming to be providing renewable energy. They claim that this is just wood waste from necessary logging operations, but in fact, they are cutting down entire forests to burn them up. The forests are more valuable when left standing. We need to plant a trillion more trees to absorb CO2, and they are valuable for the soil and water and as natural habitats for millions of other species.
Charcoal is a manufactured product; as such, there is a cost involved in its production. It can be produced from sawmill waste such as sawdust. When Ford Motor Company was using wood framing in their car bodies, the components were produced in Royal Oak in the upper peninsula of Michigan. Waste wood was turned into charcoal briquets and sold by the bag.
You can still buy Royal Oak charcoal today.
Coal can be mined and used as it comes from the mine. It goes through a crusher and is ready to use. You are not cutting down forests to produce it, but of course, it has its environmental impact to concern us. Coal is being replaced by natural gas in the US, but a lot of it is consumed overseas.
Cut down a tree, transport it to a kiln, burn the tree in reduced oxygen at high heat, and then compress the charcoal into briquettes for transport. Then, there is less energy per cubic unit than coal. You cannot make steel with charcoal very easily except for small specialized items with lots of human labor.
How is biofuel better than coal, charcoal, peat, and coke?
Charcoal and other fuels you have mentioned release extremely poisonous gases into the air. They are not only poisonous but also contribute to global warming and ozone.
Leading to loss to us Humans’ biofuel is better because it uses waste material(algae, etc.) to produce better fuel, which doesn’t cause the problems mentioned above to humans.
- Power generation
These are the basic uses of biofuel. Now, look at others. They help us in all three of these, but one has one use. But biofuel is the package of all and safe.
A biofuel is a fuel that is produced through contemporary biological processes, such as agriculture and anaerobic digestion, rather than a fuel produced by geological processes, such as those involved in the formation of fossil fuels, such as coal and petroleum, from prehistoric biological matter. But coal, charcoal, and peat are very dangerous for our environment, so we should prefer biofuel instead of these.
What is the difference between coal and charcoal?