A Coal Fire

The following is a short extract from F.Sherwood Taylor's "World of Science", published in 1936, over seventy years ago.

.....Everyone likes the coal fire the best, thought everything is to be said against it. Though it is not very expensive, it is very wasteful of heat. Only about one-fifth of the heat of a bright coal fire enters the room and the rest goes up the chimney. All the valuable ammonia, motor-spirit and other by-products of the coal are wasted. A horrid smoke ascends to the sky and befouls our lungs and makes London fogs.

Coal, too, is dirty and bulky to store and heavy to carry. But unquestionably we like the coal fire best. It looks beautiful - a thing that matters a great deal in one's house. It sends its heat into the room as radiation, which means that the body is warmed where the heat rays fall on it, while the transparent air stays fairly cool. But there is little doubt that if the coal fire were forbidden and factories which (quite unnecessarily) emit clouds of black smoke were heavily fined, in a few years we should be rejoicing in the change.

London would have the clean bright sunshine of the country. Its buildings would be white where they are now black; its stonework would no longer corrode away.

No factory could afford to burn coal in the uneconomical way that an open grate does. The engineer realises that when he buys a ton of coal he is buying enough energy to heat a hundred tons of water from 60oF to boiling point, and that heat he means to have as far as it is possible. He does not intend to let valuable combustible gases go up the chimney as smoke, and so he supplies enough air to burn the coal completely to carbon dioxide and steam. Even the waste gases - nitrogen, carbon dioxide and steam - which have to escape up the chimney, have every available calorie of heat extracted from them......

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