1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Anthracite

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ANTHRACITE (Gr. ἄνθραξ, coal), a term applied to those varieties of coal which do not give off tarry or other hydrocarbon vapours when heated below their point of ignition; or, in other words, which burn with a smokeless and nearly non-luminous flame. Other terms having the same meaning are, “stone coal” (not to be confounded with the German Steinkohle) or “blind coal” in Scotland, and “Kilkenny coal” in Ireland. The imperfect anthracite of north Devon, which however is only used as a pigment, is known as culm, the same term being used in geological classification to distinguish the strata in which it is found, and similar strata in the Rhenish hill countries which are known as the Culm Measures. In America, culm is used as an equivalent for waste or slack in anthracite mining.

Physically, anthracite differs from ordinary bituminous coal by its greater hardness, higher density, 1·3–1·4, and lustre, the latter being often semi-metallic with a somewhat brownish reflection. It is also free from included soft or fibrous notches and does not soil the fingers when rubbed. Structurally it shows some alteration by the development of secondary divisional planes and fissures so that the original stratification lines are not always easily seen. The thermal conductivity is also higher, a lump of anthracite feeling perceptibly colder when held in the warm hand than a similar lump of bituminous coal at the same temperature. The chemical composition of some typical anthracites is given in the article Coal.

Anthracite may be considered to be a transition stage between ordinary bituminous coal and graphite, produced by the more or less complete elimination of the volatile constituents of the former; and it is found most abundantly in areas that have been subjected to considerable earth-movements, such as the flanks of great mountain ranges. The largest and most important anthracite region, that of the north-eastern portion of the Pennsylvania coal-field, is a good example of this; the highly contorted strata of the Appalachian region produce anthracite exclusively, while in the western portion of the same basin on the Ohio and its tributaries, where the strata are undisturbed, free-burning and coking coals, rich in volatile matter, prevail. In the same way the anthracite region of South Wales is confined to the contorted portion west of Swansea and Llanelly, the central and eastern portions producing steam, coking and house coals.

Anthracites of newer, tertiary or cretaceous age, are found in the Crow’s Nest part of the Rocky Mountains in Canada, and at various points in the Andes in Peru.

The principal use of anthracite is as a smokeless fuel. In the eastern United States, it is largely employed as domestic fuel, usually in close stoves or furnaces, as well as for steam purposes, since, unlike that from South Wales, it does not decrepitate when heated, or at least not to the same extent. For proper use, however, it is necessary that the fuel should be supplied in pieces as nearly uniform in size as possible, a condition that has led to the development of the breaker which is so characteristic a feature in American anthracite mining (see Coal). The large coal as raised from the mine is passed through breakers with toothed rolls to reduce the lumps to smaller pieces, which are separated into different sizes by a system of graduated sieves, placed in descending order. Each size can be perfectly well burnt alone on an appropriate grate, if kept free from larger or smaller admixtures. The common American classification is as follows:—

Lump, steamboat, egg and stove coals, the latter in two or three sizes, all three being above 11/2 in. size on round-hole screens.

Chestnut below 11/2 inch above 7/8 inch.
Pea  ” 7/8  ”  ”  9/16  ”
Buckwheat  ” 9/16  ”  ” 3/8  ”
Rice  ” 3/8  ”  ” 3/16  ”
Barley  ” 3/16  ”  ” 3/32  ”

From the pea size downwards the principal use is for steam purposes. In South Wales a less elaborate classification is adopted; but great care is exercised in hand-picking and cleaning the coal from included particles of pyrites in the higher qualities known as best malting coals, which are used for kiln-drying malt and hops.

Formerly, anthracite was largely used, both in America and South Wales, as blast-furnace fuel for iron smelting, but for this purpose it has been largely superseded by coke in the former country and entirely in the latter. An important application has, however, been developed in the extended use of internal combustion motors driven by the so-called “mixed,” “poor,” “semi-water” or “Dowson gas” produced by the gasification of anthracite with air and a small proportion of steam. This is probably the most economical method of obtaining power known; with an engine as small as 15 horse-power the expenditure of fuel is at the rate of only 1 ℔ per horse-power hour, and with larger engines it is proportionately less. Large quantities of anthracite for power purposes are now exported from South Wales to France, Switzerland and parts of Germany.  (H. B.)