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Coal Gasification Plants - General Information

Coal gasification is the process of converting coal to a gas which was used from the early 1800's to the early 1900's for the purpose of municipal lighting (prior to electric street lights) and heating of homes and industrial buildings. Coal gas was sometimes known as "town gas". When large scale production of natural gas was achieved and electricity became the source of energy for street lights, coal gasification ended in most locations. Many of these sites ended up being contanimated facilities.

Many small towns has a gas plant to provide gas for street lighting by the 1960's. The Michigan Legislature established the Gas Light Act of 1855 which providing for franchising of gas lines and service.

Gas lighting was also used in homes, as well as stoves. As the process was perfected, coke was also used to produce the gas. Other byproducts, such as amonia, were produced and sold.

Coal and/or coke was supplied to these facilities either by ship or railroads, depending upon the location. The process is still used in some industrial operations.

The impact of gas lighting was longer work hours in factories (even 24-hour operations) and lighting of streets. Productivity increased and literacy improved. The first application of coal gas in the U.S. was 1816 in Baltimore.

The gassification process included the carbonization of coal. In one example, 24 square meters of coal produced 300,000 cubic feet of gas which supplied gas lamps equal to 75,000 lamps outputing the light of six candles. Gas lights cost 75% less than oil lamps or candles. [Wiki]

Throughout the 19th century and into the first decades of the 20th, the gas was manufactured. In the later years of the 1800's, natural gas began to replace coal-gas, first in the US, and then in other parts of the world.

In the late 1800's most cities in the United States had gas lighted streets. But around 1880, high voltage arc lamps began replacing gas. These arc lamps operated by direct or alternating current. Detroit is a good example where arc lamps were used. In many turn of the century photographs, large towers with guy wires lit downtown Detroit streets from far above using arc lamps.

The Detroit Exposition - held at the junction of the Detroit and Rouge Rivers (east of Zug Island) around 1890 was lit by electricity and features many vendors promoting lighting and other motorized products such as fans.