Cannel coal or candle coal, is a type of bituminous coal now classified as terrestrial type oil shale. It emits volatile organic matter when heated, and is lower in fixed carbon than typical bituminous coal. It contains a large amount of hydrogen, and burns easily with a bright light, leaving little ash. Cannel coal consists of micrinites, macerals of the exinite group, and certain inorganic materials. Cannel coal usually occurs at the top or bottom of other coals.
In England a member of the Bradshaigh family discovered a plentiful shallow seam of smooth, hard, cannel coal on his estate, near Haigh, Greater Manchester. The shallow depth at which it was found meant it was suitable for the simple surface mining methods available at that time. It could be worked and carved, and was an excellent light fuel which burned with a bright flame, it was easily lit and left virtually no ash.
Although historically the term cannel coal has been used interchangeably with boghead coal, a more recent classification system restricts cannel coal to terrestrial origin, and bogshehad coal to lacustrine environments.
Cannel coal commanded a premium price as a grate fuel for use in home fireplaces. It burned longer than wood, and had a clean, bright flame. It is more compact and duller than ordinary coal, and can be worked in the lathe and polished. In the Durham coalfield and elsewhere carving cannel coal into ornaments was a popular pastime amongst the miners.
The excess of hydrogen in a coal, above the amount necessary to combine with its oxygen to form water, is known as disposable hydrogen, and is a measure of the fitness of the coal for use in the manufacture of coal gas. Such coal, although of very small value as fuel, commands a specially high price for gas-making. Cannel coal was used as a major feedstock for the historical manufactured gas industry, as the gas produced from it was valuable for lighting due to the luminosity of the flame it produced. Cannel gas was widely used for domestic lighting throughout the 19th century before the invention of the incandescent gas mantle by Carl Auer von Welsbach in the 1880s. Following the introduction of the gas mantle, cannel coal lost favour as a manufactured gas feedstock as the gas mantle could produce large quantities of light without regard for the flame luminosity of the gas burnt.
On October 17, 1850, James Young, of Glasgow, Scotland, patented a method for the extraction of paraffin from cannel coal. It was widely used from 1850 to 1860 in the manufacture of coal oil, which today would be called shale oil. The principal consumer product was the illuminating oil kerosene. In 1860, there were 55 companies in the United States making coal oil from cannel coal, most of them near the cannel coal mines, in New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky, and western Virginia (now West Virginia). The discovery of petroleum deposits in the US, starting with the Drake Oil Well in 1859, made petroleum a cheaper raw material for making kerosene and drove the American oil shale industry out of business.
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- Haigh, Greater Manchester