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Coal: Its Value and Power


Coal: Its Value and Power - Rapidly increasing Consumption in Nineteenth Century - How Consumed - Coal used in the Iron Manufacture, &c. - Value of Coal produced in 1861 and 1871 compared with value of Metals produced in those Years - Enormous Waste in Consumption - Fuel-saving Apparatus - Waste in Production of Steam Power - Mr. Hull and Sir W. Armstrong on the Duration of British Coal - Professor Jevons's Work on the Coal Question - Appointment of Royal Commission on Coal - Aggregate Coal Produce 1781-1853, and 1854-1863; also 1781-1861, and 1861-1871 - Professor Jevons's Estimate of Future Consumption of Coal at Rate of Increase up to 1864 - Inference there from - Contents of British Coal-Beds - Estimates by Royal Commissioners of Future Coal Consumption - Their Concluding Remarks on the Coal Question - Area of European and American Coal-Fields.
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" Day by day it becomes more evident," says Professor Jevons, " that the coal we happily possess in excellent quality and abundance is the mainspring of modern material civilisation. As the source of fire, it is the source at once of mechanical motion and of chemical change. Accordingly, it is the chief agent in almost every improvement or discovery in the arts which the present age brings forth. It is to us indispensable for domestic purposes, and it has of late years been found to yield a series of organic substances which puzzle us by their complexity, please us by their beautiful colours, and serve us by their various utility.

"As the source especially of steam and iron, coal is all- powerful. This age has been called the Iron Age, and it is true that iron is the material of most great novelties. By its strength, endurance, and wide range of qualities, this metal is fitted to be the fulcrum and lever of great works, while steam is the motive power. But coal alone can command in sufficient abundance either the iron or the steam; and coal, therefore, commands this age - the Age of Coal.

" Coal, in truth, stands not beside, but entirely above, all other commodities. It is the material energy of the country, the universal aid, the factor in everything we do. With coal, almost any feat is possible; without it, we are thrown back into the laborious poverty of early times."

A rough idea of the inherent powers of coal may be formed by comparing it with the average amount of labour a man performs in the course of his life. Estimating a lifetime of work at twenty years, with 300 working days in each year, we find that the life labour of a man consists, on the average, of 6,000 days. It is estimated that the same amount of power as is put forth by a man in his 6,000 days' work could be obtained from no more than three tons of coal. Every acre of a coal-seam, yielding throughout a yard net of pure coal, is capable of exerting as much power as is equivalent to the life work of 1,667 men, or to the labour of more than thirty- three thousand men working for a whole year. In the year 1871 there were 117,352,028 tons of coal produced in the United Kingdom, or about forty square miles of coal a yard thick. In that single year, therefore, the coal that was raised was capable of performing as much mechanical labour as almost forty millions of men working for twenty years. In other words, it was equivalent to the work of nearly eight hundred millions of able-bodied men working for a whole year; and this is more than twice as many able-bodied men as there are in the entire population of the globe. It is to the possession and use of this vast source of power that the manufacturing supremacy of Britain is due, and to this she owes that unparalleled prosperity which, as has been shown in former chapters, she has enjoyed in the most recent times.

What it is for a people to be without coal is admirably illustrated by the contrast between the material progress of England and Ireland. For practical purposes, Ireland may be said to be without coal. In spite of the large area of the Irish coal-measures, there are only seventy- three collieries, of which barely two-thirds are at work. In 1864 the total produce was 125,000 tons, and was on the decrease; a fact attributable to the inferior quality of the Irish coal, and, in addition, to the great cost of raising it, as compared with English or Scotch coal. It is not so much legislation, but rather the coal and steam-engines of England which have abolished the manufactures of Ireland. To increase her manufactures, Ireland would have to purchase coal, the principal requisite in modern manufacturing industry, from England. Hence she cannot compete with the latter, and remains, therefore, dependent chiefly on agriculture, and condemned to comparative poverty.

As it is in the nineteenth century that the wealth of the United Kingdom has increased more rapidly than at any previous time, so we find that it is in the same period that the coal industry has risen from comparative insignificance to the rank of one of the first industries of the country. And just as it is in the first twenty years of the second half of the century that this increase of wealth has been most rapid, so again it is in the same years that the production of coal, its vital source and cause, has likewise been most abundant.

In 1660 the amount of coal produced in the United Kingdom, according to the best authorities,# was 2,250,000 tons, and in 1700 it had increased by only 364,000 tons. In 1750 the amount had advanced to 4,773,828 tons. In 1800 the quantity raised exceeded eight million tons, after which period the production, owing to the facilities of carriage presented by the development of the canal system, rapidly increased. In 1816 the quantity produced was, according to the most moderate estimate, 16,000,000 tons, or double the amount produced but sixteen years before. It was not, however, till 1854 that adequate provisions existed for ascertaining with some approach to accuracy the actual amount of coal extracted in the United Kingdom. By that year the country was intersected with railways, and the quantity produced in 1854 was, according to official records, not less than 64,661,401 tons. In 1861 the quantity was 83,635,214 tons; in 1859, 107,427,557 tons; and in 1871, 117,352,028 tons. Railways, themselves the offspring of coal, - for coal was their material as well as " final " cause, - have stimulated enormously the production of the mineral. The quantity carried by a single company - the North-Eastern - from the Northumberland and Durham coal-field rose from 2,718,599 tons in 1859 to 8,280,310 tons in 1869 - a threefold increase in the course of the ten years.

To show in detail how the vast mass of British coal is employed would be to show how the principal portion of the mechanical work of all branches of trade and manufactures in the United Kingdom is performed. The Coal Commissioners have, in fact, pursued the inquiry as far as was practicable for the coal raised in the year 1869, and they give the following interesting summary of the result: -

Total Quantity of Coal Produced in 1869 (Tons) 107,427,557
Total Quantity of Coal Exported in 1869 (Tons)9,775,470
Left for Home Consumption 97,652,087
Coal Used in Iron Manufacture 32,446,606
Coal Used in Metallurgies other than Iron 859,231
Coal Used in Mines and Collieries 7,225,423
Coal Used in Gas and Water Works 7,811,980
Coal Used in Steam-ships 3,277,562
Coal Used on Railways 2,027,500
Coal Used in General Manufactures, Steam Power, &c 25,327,213
Domestic Consumption 18,481,527
Miscellaneous 195,045
Total 97,652,087

From this table, it is seen that the amount used for domestic purposes is by no means the most considerable item. On the other hand, the consumption in the iron manufacture forms nearly one-third of the entire quantity produced, and the use of coal for that purpose is a rapidly growing one. In 1855 the quantity employed in the iron manufacture was 19,500,000 tons; it was 23,000,000 in 1860; 28,750,000 in 1865; and 32,250,000 in 1869. The amount applied to all other purposes was not quite 40,000,000 in 1855; 49,500,000 in 1860; 60,000,000 in 1865; and not quite 65,000,000 in 1869. The coal exported, though not a very large proportion of the whole, has, nevertheless, rapidly increased. From 5,000,000 tons in 1855 it rose to 7,250,000 in 1860, upwards of 9,000,000 in 1865, and 10,250,000 in 1869.

In regard to the use of coal in the manufacture of iron, Mr. Leifchild states that in Staffordshire about twenty-four hundredweights of coal are consumed in producing from pig-iron one ton of puddled iron, the rate of consumption being about four pounds per minute, or two hundred and forty pounds per hour. In the case of the finer qualities, however, as much as five tons of coal are requisite to obtain a ton of the metal from the crude pig- iron. In 1869, when it was estimated that not less than 32,207,706 tons of coal were used in the iron manufacture alone, there were 16,337,271 tons consumed in the production of pig-iron from the ore, and 15,859,335 tons in the conversion of pig-iron into the malleable state. Dr. Percy estimates that from thirteen to eighteen tons of coal are consumed in producing a ton of copper from the ore, and in 1869 it was calculated that the total amount of coal used in copper-smelting in Britain was 149,238 tons. In the same year, the lead ore raised was 966,868 tons, which, together with the lead ore imported, consumed 177,577 tons of coal in smelting and desilvering. The coal used in the smelting of zinc ores raised and imported amounted in the same year to 231,176 tons. About two and a half millions of tons were consumed in the cotton manufacture, and one and a quarter in the woollen manufactures. Manufactures and steam navigation together are estimated to have consumed upwards of thirty millions of tons of coal in the production of steam power in the year 1871.

Mr. I. Lowthian Bell, the President of the Iron and Steel Institute, in an address to that body, stated that in 1872 the coal raised in the United Kingdom was, speaking roughly, disposed of as follows: - Of every 1,000 tons of coal produced, six tons were employed in the paper manufacture; eight tons in smelting copper, lead, tin and zinc; fourteen in water works; eighteen in breweries and distilleries; nineteen in chemical manufactures; twenty in railway works; thirty in steam navigation; thirty-one in clay and glass works and lime-kilns; forty-two in textile manufactures, wool cotton, silk, flax, and jute; sixty in gas works; sixty- seven in mining operations; ninety-two in exports to foreign countries; 121 in miscellaneous purposes, chiefly for steam-engines; 172 for domestic purposes; and 300 in the manufacture of iron and steel. Hence it appears that the last-mentioned manufacture continues to consume nearly one-third of the whole of the coal raised. In that, year there were 123,000,000 tons produced in the United Kingdom, and the total number of persons occupied in coal-mining was estimated at 412,634.

The estimated value at the mines of the 83,635,214 tons of coal raised in 1861 was 20,908,803. The 117,352,028 tons produced in 1871 were estimated to be of the value of 35,205,608. The value of the pig-iron produced in 1861 was 9,280,975, and in 1871 it was 16,667,947; so that the coal raised at both periods was of more than double the value of the pig-iron obtained. The total value of coal and all the metals produced in 1861 was 34,602,863, and in 1871, 55,385,378; so that the coal produce was of greater value at each period than all the metals put together, including iron, copper lead, tin, zinc, silver, and gold.

The Quantity and Value op the Coal and Metals Produced in the United Kingdom in 1861 and 1871

18611871
Coal83,635,214 tons20,908,803117,352,028 tons35,205,608
Pig-Iron3,712,390 tons9,280,9756,627,179 tons16,667,947
Copper (Pine)15,331 tons1,572,4806,280 tons475,143
Lead (Metallic)65,634 tons1,445,25569,056 tons1,251,815
Tin7,450 tons910,76210,900 tons1,498,750
Zinc4,415 tons79,1014,966 tons92,743
Silver from Lead569,530 oz.144,161761,490 oz.190,372
Gold and other Metals-250,500-3,300
Total Value-54,602,863-55,385,378

The Quantity and Value of the British Gold Obtained in Recent Years are as Follows

YearQuantityValue
18612,784 oz.10,816
18625,29920,390
18635521,747
18642,8879,991
18651,6645,824
18667432,656
18671,5205,890
18681,0123,522
18691862
1870191750

The waste that takes place under all existing ways of using coal is enormous. If the full power of a pound of coal were obtained from it, it would be capable of lifting 10,800,000 lbs. weight a foot high. But in " practice " the highest result hitherto attained is equivalent to the lifting no more than 1,200,000 lbs. a foot high. And it is reported "that, with arrangements acknowledged to be most economical for burning coal, so that as little heat as is possible shall be wasted, the highest practical result is still below one-tenth of the theoretical duty," or power; but as even this is a very exceptional case, " it becomes certain that not more than one-thirtieth of the whole theoretical value of the coal is at present realised in power." In the manufacture of iron in the blastfurnace, nearly two-thirds of the amount of heat produced by the coal still escapes from the mouth of the furnace without performing any useful work; and this although a saving of 10 per cent, had been made in the course of the last ten years in the operation of smelting. The waste in the production of steam power is very great. Sir W. Armstrong shows that, in the best steam- engines made, not much more than one-tenth of the real power of coal is utilised, while in the common high-pressure engines twenty-nine parts out of the thirty are thrown away. There have been numerous devices introduced for effecting economy, but none of them have yet become general; and Sir W. Fairbairn states that it will be necessary to introduce engines of far higher pressure than those hitherto in use before any large economy will be effected. The ordinary consumption of coal in common engines is from 7 to 11 lbs. per horse-power per hour, while in the most improved engines it is not more than from 2 to 2½ lbs. Sir Daniel Gooch states, that the average consumption per horse-power each hour in the engines of Great Britain is about 8 lbs., while in good railway locomotive engines it is not more than 3 lbs. The ordinary open fireplaces in English houses are exceedingly wasteful, as well as wrong in principle as a means of warming houses. Dr. Arnott's stove, in which the fuel is lighted at the top, and very little smoke is produced, would, if generally adopted, effect a saving of 50 per cent., or one half of the fuel used for domestic purposes. The increased price of coal in the most recent years has caused much attention to be paid to the problem of economising the domestic consumption of fuel, and numerous devices have been proposed for that purpose.

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