Why does charcoal burn

Charcoal

A coal pile is set up, covered with earth and then put into a controlled fire.

Charcoal is made of wood, mostly beech. It is made with a charcoal kiln. The kiln consists of stacked logs. It is covered first with fir branches, then with earth. Then the kiln is lit in several places below. One person is supervising the fire. His job is called Köhler. The whole company is a charcoal burner. This technique has been known since the Bronze Age.

Because of the earth's cover, the wood cannot burn, it just charred. The moisture in the wood evaporates and escapes through holes. The job of the charcoal burner is to regulate the fire by enlarging or closing the air holes. The fire must not go out, but neither must a full fire break out. Otherwise the work of the charcoal burner would have been in vain.

Depending on the size of the charcoal pile, it takes several days or weeks for the wood to become charcoal. Because of the evaporation of the water, the wood has lost two thirds of its weight. Finally, the kiln is covered and extinguished with water.

What do you need charcoal for?

Today charcoal is mainly known from grilling. It doesn't burn, it burns up. There is also almost no smoke. The rich people already used this advantage in the Middle Ages: In the rooms without a fireplace, they set up an iron charcoal pool in winter to warm themselves.

The biggest advantage of charcoal is that it provides more heat than wood. Charcoal was therefore needed for the production of bronze and many trees were felled for it. The iron industry made the situation so much worse that in England, for example, there were almost no forests left in the 18th century. People then developed a technique for converting the rock called coal into coke. They used it to heat the blast furnaces for the production of steel. Thus, less charcoal was needed and the forests recovered. The blacksmiths still often work with charcoal to make candlesticks, ornate gates and other works of art.

At the end of the Middle Ages, charcoal powder was used to make black powder along with other materials. It was used as gunpowder in pistols, rifles and cannons. It was also used as an explosive. It was not until the middle of the 19th century that more powerful disintegrants, such as nitroglycerin and dynamite, were developed.

In some countries, so much charcoal is still used today that the forest suffers. In Haiti, charcoal provides more than half of all energy. In Madagascar, too, more and more forests are disappearing because of charcoal burning.