My wife and I recently moved from London to a lovely old cottage in the countryside with electricity, no gas and a wood-burning stove. We are incrementally improving insulation to make the house more efficient but currently heat the house by burning wood that we bought from a local tree surgeon in the stove and using the woefully inefficient (and expensive) electric radiators. There is a coal bin outside where the previous tenants left a fair amount of coal. My question is, what should I do with the coal to be most ecologically sound?

My gut instinct is that to burn it would be bad as I am releasing all that fossilised CO2 from millions of years ago back into today's atmosphere. Should I bury it? Should I burn it because the electricity for the radiators is probably partly coming from coal-fired power stations anyway? Interested to hear what people think. Thanks.

  • Given your knowledge of your local weather, landscape and proximity of your neighbours, if you were to burn it, what do you think the chances are that the neighbours (or yourselves) willl be significantly affected by the pollution? I see this issue as outweighing the other issues. – Highly Irregular Feb 27 at 20:27
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    What is the difference between wood CO2 and coal CO2 ? – blacksmith37 Feb 28 at 2:59
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    @HighlyIrregular Interesting, I hadn't even thought along those lines. We have no neighbours within 100metres so I don't think they would be directly affected in any way. – yetanotherdave Feb 28 at 21:48
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    @blacksmith37 From a chemical composition, no difference between wood and coal CO2 but I tend to think of emissions from wood as being "current" in that it they were fixed from the atmosphere relatively recently so adding it back doesn't add significantly to atmospheric CO2 (so long as trees are being replaced). With coal CO2 I think of it as "ancient", having been fixed from the atmosphere millions of years ago so releasing it adds to the current atmospheric CO2. Maybe this is a naïve and over-simplistic view. – yetanotherdave Feb 28 at 21:52
  • PS Thanks! This is my first foray onto StackExchange and it is great to get others' views! – yetanotherdave Feb 28 at 21:53

Well, if you are really into it and quite handy, you could turn it into activated charcoal, and then add it to your soil!

Grind it into small bits, heat it anaerobically, then introduce high-pressure steam. The result will be charcoal with many fissures and cracks, which is ideal for gardening purposes.

Then, before introducing it to your garden, pee on it for several weeks. Really! Collect your urine and soak the activated charcoal in it. Otherwise, it will soak up nitrogen from your soil, becoming a "negative fertilizer."

Then, when you mix it with your garden soil, it will gently, timed-release the nitrogen you provided it, wile providing homes for lots of soil-friendly bacteria!

So, you get to both sequester carbon, and grow tomatoes!

If that process is a bit too much, I'd think that grinding it into fine powder and soaking it in urine will be fairly effective in prepping it for "terra preta" use.

  • Perhaps you could add a link for a home method of making biochar – Graham Chiu Mar 11 at 19:35

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