THE COAL-GAS SITUATION.
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A Few Facts and Figures Concerning the Prospects for Motor Transport.
THE MOTOR USER is living in bewildering times. Driven by force of circumstances to adopt coal-gas as-an alternative to, or substitute for, petrol, he now finds his interests again threatened. From his point of view the situation is aggravated by the absence of any straightforward official declaration. Rumour .and innuendo are being permitted to carry out their fell work of creating uncertainty and hesitancy.
Facts ' and Figures Necessary.
On the one hand we are enjoined by the Ministry of Munitions to use gas for power, and motor transport being a distinct application of power, the utilization of the _coal product in this field is considered by the user to be legitimate. At the same time he prides himself in the knowledge that by consuming coal-gas in this manner he is playing his part in assisting to win the war inasmuch as he is enabling more high explosive constituents to be won, is buying a homeproduced fuel, and at the same time is participating in the distribution of necessities for the community.
But it would seem as if what the authorities bestow with the right hand they wish to take away with the left. A section of the Press-is ringing with the redhot intelligence that a Coal-gas .Controller is-to be • appointed,' and that. the utilization of coal-ga,s for Motor vehicles is te be stopped. Is it surprising, therefore, that the Motor-user is beginning to IC wonder where.'e are? "Is the wish expressed by certain newspapers the father to the thought? . The writer has made inquiries in authoritative quarters with a view to gleaning reliable facts and figures concerning the precise character of the situation and the immediate outlook. But even such a quest is not se simple as it May appear at first sight. There is considerable divergence of opinion in affected circles as, to what is going to take place. • Yet, at the same time, one line of thought obtains, and that is that the gas situation of to-day does certainly demand a Controller. Indeed,. in certain quarters, the appointment of such • in official is earnestly desired with a view to bringing about a re-adjustment of the supply of. coal for gas-making purposes, aswell as clearing up one or two other issues.
The publication in a recent issue of the list of towns where a, demand for gas for motor propulsion purposes would be welcomed and where in would be regarded as an embarrassment, has served to clear the air to a 'certain degree. But how long such a condition of affairs will be permitted to continue it is impossible to relate.
Problems to be Faced.
The gas situation in this country is somewhat acute. Arid this acuteness varies according to the area in which it is generated. Thus, in those districts where the making of munitions constitutes t,he one absorbing line of production, the demand for gas for power purposes is taxing maximum producing facilities to the ' utmost degree. But, in those areas where munition making is not pursued, .there is, for the moot part, a surplus of gas, for which the only available market is the motor vehicle. Unfortunately, as ill-luck will have it, the heaviest demand for motor transport, and where the free use of gas would be appreciated for fuel purposes, arises in those very munition manufac turing territories. • .
The issue is complicated from the circumstance that the gas situation is dependent upon two other Government departments, each of which is faced by tremendous difficulties. Coal is essential to make. gas. But the Min* from the depletion of labour,
find it difficult to rise to the occasion, and accordingly the available stocks of coal have to be parcelled out. Much of the coal which is being raised and allotted to the gas companies is far from being suitable tothe manufacture of gas, and complaints are being raised on every hand. Then, the coal. has to be transported from the pit mouths to the centres of production, and the railways are hard pressed to provide the requisite rolling stock and locomotive power. An appreciable quantity of such coal is borne by' water, but the activity of the U-boats around our coasts is affecting this supplementary -carrier. Every collier sent to the bottom represents the complete deprivation of a carrying unit.:The loss, of the cargo, representing as it may 500 to 2000 tons or more, is deplorable, but it is as nought compared *ith the elimination of the
• vessel from the carrying fleet of the country, inasmuch as to-day it is difficult to replace.
Probably few people realize the enormous quantity of coal which is devoted . annually to the manufacture of coal-gas. To-day it has risen to an abnormal level, owing to.the demands of war. Current figures are not available, but those for the year preceding the outbreak of hostilities will serve as a fnifficient index. During 1913 the gas-works of .Britain produced about 220,000,000,000 ,(two hundred and twenty thousand million) cubic feet, of coal-gas. Assessing the average yield per ton of coal at 11,000 cubic ft. this gives a. total of 20,000,000 (twenty million)tons of coal utilized in gas making.
The Call for Coal:
In pre-war days, the gas-making companies were able to exercise a free selection of the coal for their particular purposes, and accordingly they purchased the grades which were best suited for their industry— those giving the highest yields of gas. Moreover, the coal so used was washed at the pit mouth, so that a high-grade and relatively pure" article reached the retorts.
Contrast this state of affairs with that prevailing to-day. No-w the gas-works have to take what is
allotted to them,in reduced quantities. • The difficulties which he coal allotment scheme is precipitating was strikingly revealed -recently,at Milford Haven. The gas engineer stated that the coal he Ileceived under the allotment scheme was very much inferior to what had been previously utilized,. both in regard to the quality of the resultant gas and of the coke. He pointed out that with this coal' alone it would be impossible to manufacture sufficient gas to Meet the requirements of the town without bringing into use the third bed of retorts which would involve the employment of an additional stoker, if not three stokers. Moreover, they 'were only receiving about 50 per cent. of the quantity of coal which was necessary. But the case of Milford Haven is by no means isolated. It is common throughout the country. In another instance, which has been brought before the writer's ,notice, the gas-making facilities of a, certain area are being pushed to the very last ounce at a time when a certain easiness should have ruled, and that, under the circumstances, the outlook for the winter was extremely serious. How the demand was going to be met was utterly beyond the ken of the engineer. It is the winter which, in these times, is regarded with trepidation. In the past, the' gas cootpanics have. welcomed a dark foggy dayWith unmitigated delight, inasmuch as it sent up 'the -consumpe tion of their commodity with a bound. To-day a similar prospect is anticipated with dismay. Another adverse. factor must be recounted. Owing to the abolition of the practice of washing the coal at the pit's month, due to pressure of demand, the gas.
works are being served with coal carrying a heavy proportion of useless foreign matter—dirt, rock, and so on. In some instances this waste and useless material is running as high as 20 per cents of the consignment. Carriage of this refuse is not only occupying valuable carrying space in truck, barge, and coasting vessel, but it is sending up the cost of manufacturing the gas to an abnormal degree. The retort-charging machinery is called upon to thrust the refuse into the retorts setting up useless wear and tear of ma-chinery, as well as consuming valuable energy to no useful purpose. The retorts are called upon to bear the strain of heating the waste, which again is contributing to wear and tear. The yield pf gas per ton of crude mineral handled is forced down though the producing charges are sent up. The gas is of lasses quality, and the coke likewise is decidedly, inferior. We hear of the price of gas being increased throughout the country : this constitutes one of the contributory causes.
Calorific Value Down.
The obvious solution to the existing shortage is to increase the coal-distilling plants. But such action demands steel, brickwork, and labour—all of which are scarce and costly. Owing to the steel supply difficulty, it is impossible to bestow the requisite attention upon maintenance : the retorts cannot be overhauled as they should be. Consequently, useless or inert gases are forcing their way into the retorts, mingling with the gas, and deprepiating its quality very significantly.
In some instances, be it noted, the percentage of inert gases has risen to as high as 30. This means that out of every hundred cubic feet which a motor user purchases to propel his vehicle•30 cubic feet are absolutely useless: ordinary atmospheric air mightjust as well be employed. The belief is generally entertained that it is the withdrawal of the benzole and toluol constituents from the gas which is responsible for the impoverished calorific value of this fuel. But this is only partially true. It is more extensively due to the high proportion of useless gases which are combined with the coal-gas, and which have absolutely no fuel value whatever.
The influence exercised by the inert gases may be demonstrated in another way. Theagas standard has been changed from flame—candle power—to calorific value, which is as it should be, and 500 British thermal units have been accepted as the standard. But there are many gas-works to-day producipg a gas of 450 B.T.U.s giving far better fuel results than one of the accepted standard 50 points higher, a result entirely due to the absence of, or low proportion of, inert gases.
It is as well to regard the coal-gas issue, as it stands to-day, fairly and squarely. The troubles are increasing, not diminishing, and it behoves the motor user, running on coal-gas, to exercise just as much care in the consumption of his fuel as he would were he condemned to rely upon -petrol at its current price. Wastage must be cut down to an absolute minimum. There is the tendency—quite natural—owing to .coal-gas giving results equal to petrol, but at half to one-third of the cost, to be carelegs and. wasteful. It is an abhorrent practice and is likely to force the authorities to drastic action far more quickly than the mere increase in the number of vehicles embracing this fuel.
Solutions of the Problem.
Is it possible to look for any alleviation of the situation ? Certainly. Coal-gas is being used to-clay for a thouaarid and one industrial purposes for which producer gas would do equally well. The use of gas as an illuminant should be discouraged. Elettricity is cheaper and is an agent which has not materially increased in price as a• result of the war, at least not to such a significant degree. Electricity differs from its rival : its cost diminishes in proportion to the rite in consumption up to the maximum capacity of the,plant laid down for its generation. The leading municipalities maintain destructors for the incineration of their, refuse. This requires to be destroyed upon more scientific lines in order to ensure the resultant combustible gases, being turned to the utmost economical value. If the use of gas-as an illuminant were seriously discouraged in favour of its rival, an enormous volume of the former could be released for power purposes. Tlia more extensive utilization of, electric lighting could be brought about were the rules and regulations concerning its utilization, which have been proved by war conditions to be unnecessary, revised and simplified, , to facilitate and cheapen installation.
Towns situate closely to the mines and coking ovens should be encouraged and assisted to take away the gas after benzoic reclamation has been carried out. For two years past the go-ahead city of Leeds has been drawing 1,000,000 cubic feet of gas a day from the Middleton Estate and Colliery Co. 2* miles away, and is now seeking powers to draw a. further quantity from the coke ovens of the Yorkshire Coking and Chemical Co., at Glasehoughton, Castleford. This will involve laying a main nearly 20 miles in length. As this gas is suitable for a. multitude of factory purposes it should ease the local coal-gas situation very. materially.
Keep "Carrying On."
We are only just beginning to learn the incalculable value of waste. Instead Of harassing commerce in all directions, as is the tendency to-day, especially in matters pertaining to motor transport which is playing an invaluable part in keeping the country going, by threatening, or even considering proposals to circumvent "carrying on," it would be more profitable to devise ways and, means of turning other contributory sources of gas to useful account, in to discourage the utilization of the commodity n all instances, such AA lighting, when an equally inexpensive rival is available. Certainly it would conduce very materially to the harmony of the people, and serve as a powerful traticlote to the "fed up" feeling which is striving to get the upper hand.