After Coal?

A special section just for steam engines and boilers, as without these you may as well fit a sail.
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After Coal?

Post by Old Steamer » Sat Feb 06, 2021 1:48 pm

The last source of Steaming Coal in the UK is predicted to close in 2022 and thereby affect the whole Heritage Steam community. The alternative is imported coal from Russia or elsewhere which is unlikely to be a match in quality while being expensive by the time transport costs are added.
Given that the majority of UK steam boaters employ coal in their boilers, would any of them indicate how they intend to handle the lack of good steaming coal? If wood-firing is to be an alternative then will users of same - mostly I suspect USA brethren - give us the pros and cons? For instance, is a larger firebox required if wood firing, to compensate for the lower calorific value of the fuel?
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Re: After Coal?

Post by DetroiTug » Sat Feb 06, 2021 3:36 pm

Wood is not quite as hot but it is cleaner and requires more tending. I burn wood, for my uses, it's just a lot easier. We have firewood running out of our ears over here, so no problem getting it. Coal which we have a lot of, is not all that easy to get. There are just not many retail outlets for it, it is mainly used for industrial purposes.

At the rate things are degrading here in the US reacting to a problem that may or may not exist, which we aren't really a substantial cause if it does, I think there will be backlash from the citizenry and severe negative economic implications in the very near future. So I'm only planning for that and none of the kneejerk drastic changes being made. People aren't going to suffer half assed technology while there are mountains of dirt cheap coal and billions of gallons of oil that can be used instead :D

Regardless of what happens here or there, there will always be someone willing to supply small niche markets. Compare it to Calcium Carbide or even steam cylinder oil, there is no significant market for either nowadays and they are both still available from multiple suppliers.

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Re: After Coal?

Post by RNoe » Sat Feb 06, 2021 4:34 pm

My steam launch restoration retained the oil burning boiler setup, with an option to install a grate for wood burning.
I live on 5 acres of forest and have relatively endless supplies of fire wood. So that is a future option.
My steam locomotives are propane burners, which I really enjoy. The boiler fire spaces stay very clean year after year.

I don't envy your coal situation in the UK. You all have some decisions to make to keep steaming.
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Re: After Coal?

Post by Mike Rometer » Sat Feb 06, 2021 5:06 pm

This has been an ongoing topic of discussion in several quarters. There are plans afoot for the Heritage sector (not quite sure who that all includes) to be able to import coal and possibly distribute it to other users, so perhaps we will have to go to the nearest heritage railway and purchase from them. Of course finding the right person to deal with could be a total nightmare when these places are almost entirely run by volunteers. Will they want to be bothered with the odd cwt here and there, I suspect not. It certainly seem unlikely that any coal merchants will survive.
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Re: After Coal?

Post by Old Steamer » Sat Feb 06, 2021 10:43 pm

My understanding is that the Newcastle mine supplying steam coal will close in 2021 followed by the Welsh mine in 2022. Then, that's it.
I know nothing about the quality of Russian imported coal but the feedback from some Heritage Steam locomotive operators who have burned it is not favourable.
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Re: After Coal?

Post by Mike Rometer » Sat Feb 06, 2021 11:26 pm

DEFRA has granted the Heritage sector an exemption from the coal burning ban, but with no indication or apparent interest in where they might gain supplies. All recent applications for new mines except one have been stopped. The coal from that mine, if it ever gets started, will be only suitable for the iron and steel industry.
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Re: After Coal?

Post by barts » Sun Feb 07, 2021 2:46 am

When we rode the steam tug Finland from Rotterdam to Dordt in 2000 (iirc) the crew mentioned the coal came from Poland; the Netherlands shut their last coal mine in 1974. I think they get a bit of help from the government as a 'sailing monument'.

Coal will become something we use for our historic boats & locos. Getting it will be harder; refinery coke may be a good substitute.

Here in the US, coal is still available w/o too much difficulty for blacksmithing, etc. Our Rainbow burns wood - a very practical fuel for us with 10 acres (4 hectares) of woods, with frequent wind fall.

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Re: After Coal?

Post by Old Steamer » Sun Feb 07, 2021 2:09 pm

My experience of firing with Polish coal is that it gives a spectacular plume of smoke at the funnel and spectacularly choked tubes.
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Re: After Coal?

Post by DetroiTug » Sun Feb 07, 2021 3:30 pm

Our Pennsylvania Anthracite coal is comparable to your Welsh Anthracite. It is available from Amazon.

https://www.amazon.com/Naughty-Boys-Coa ... mozilla-20

With our 90 cent and dropping dollar, that should help out with the shipping.

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Re: After Coal?

Post by Mike Rometer » Sun Feb 07, 2021 4:29 pm

I believe the UK Heritage sector burns about 40,000 tons a year, so not enough to keep one mine occupied on its own. This obviously has some ways to run yet before anyone should even consider panicking, but steam life could get interesting for a time before things settle down.
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