Charcoal for the high heat needed in manufacturing after peak oil

Preface. De Decker (2011) writes:

A large share of energy consumed worldwide is by heat. Cooking, space heating and water heating dominate domestic energy consumption. In the UK, these activities account for 85% of domestic energy use, in Europe for 89% and in the USA for 61%. Heat also dominates industrial energy consumption. In the UK, 76% of industrial energy consumption is heat. In Europe, this is 67%. Few things can be manufactured without heat.

Although it is perfectly possible to convert electricity into heat, as in electric heaters or electric cookers, it is very inefficient to do so. It is often assumed that our energy problems are solved when renewables reach ‘grid parity’ – the point at which they can generate electricity for the same price as fossil fuels. But to truly compete with fossil fuels, renewables must also reach ‘thermal parity‘.  It still remains significantly cheaper to produce heat with oil, gas or coal than with a wind turbine or a solar panel.

In today’s solar thermal plants, solar energy is converted into steam (via a steam boiler), which is then converted into electricity (via a steam turbine that drives an electric generator). This process is just as inefficient as converting electricity into heat: two-thirds of energy gets lost when converted from steam to electricity. 

If we were to use solar thermal plants to generate heat instead of converting this heat into electricity, the technology could deliver energy 3 times cheaper than it does today.”

The following industries need heat of up 1800 to 3275 F: Chemicals, Forest products, Iron and Steel, Plastics & Rubber, Fabricated metals, Transport Equipment, Computers, electronics & equipment, Aluminum, Cement, Glass, Machinery, Foundries. For nearly all of these products, there is no alternative electric process

The only industries that can get by without high heat are the food, beverage and textile industries.

The problem with using concentrated solar power is that these power plants cost a billion dollars each, often generate very little power, are dependent on fossil fuels for every step of their life cycle, and it is inconceivable that all manufacturing in the northern latitudes would be relocated next to the most powerful solar collectors in southern deserts.

So that leaves charcoal. According to wiki “Charcoal briquettes can burn up to approximately 1,260 °C (2,300 °F) with a forced air blower forge.”

But oh dear, at what a cost to the planet. In the past, the massive production of charcoal, employing hundreds of thousands of workers was a major cause of deforestation

Alice Friedemann  author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer, Barriers to Making Algal Biofuels, and “Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers”. Podcasts: Derrick Jensen, Practical Prepping, KunstlerCast 253, KunstlerCast278, Peak Prosperity , XX2 report


Muhumuza, R. 2019. Africa’s charcoal trade is decimating region’s fragile forest cover. Associated Press.

The machete-wielding men lodge themselves deep inside forests for weeks at a time, felling trees that will be incinerated into pieces of charcoal. Because they often work at night and target seemingly idle public land, they operate with relative impunity while decimating forests in parts of Africa.

Fires in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest have underscored the challenges of conserving the Earth’s forest cover, a substantial amount of which is found in Africa. After the Amazon, the Congo basin tropical rainforest — covering territory the size of Western Europe — is the world’s second largest, often referred to as the Earth’s second lung.

The world’s poorest continent, home to over 1.2 billion people, has long struggled to protect its forests amid a population explosion that fuels demand for plant-based energy sources seen by many as cheap, especially charcoal.

Some 25% to 35% of climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions come from so-called biomass burning, which also includes seasonal fires intentionally set to clear land for agriculture, according to the European Space Agency. The majority of those fires occur in tropical regions of Africa.

Reliance on charcoal or firewood is highest in Africa and Asia, according to a 2018 report by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, with some African cities almost entirely dependent on charcoal for cooking. In Kinshasa, the capital of Congo, 90% of residents rely mainly on it, the report said.

In Somalia, ravaged by extremist violence, the cutting of trees to sustain an illicit charcoal trade is so widespread that the U.N. has warned that desertification there threatens stability.

The value of the charcoal export trade from the Horn of Africa nation to the Middle East and elsewhere — though banned — is estimated at over $360 million per year. Some 8.2 million trees were felled for charcoal between 2011 and 2017, according to U.N. figures.

In Uganda, an East African nation whose lush vegetation once inspired Winston Churchill to call it “the pearl of Africa,” authorities have long warned about the unsustainable nature of the charcoal trade, which persists despite the extension of the power grid deep into the country. Hydroelectric power remains too expensive for many people even in the capital, Kampala, as middle-class families run charcoal stoves to keep electricity bills down.

Edwin Muhumuza, an environmental protection activist who runs the Kampala-based civic group Youth Go Green, said demand for charcoal has turned it into a precious commodity much like gold or coffee.

“We are really concerned,” he said. “What annoys is they cut down the trees but they don’t replace them.”

Now the National Environment Management Authority, a government agency, is urging authorities to remove consumption taxes on liquid petroleum gas, an alternative source of cooking energy, to save forests from the charcoal business.

Figures show a dire situation. Uganda’s forest cover as a percentage of total land stood at 9% in 2015, down from 24% in 1990, according to government data.

But authorities in northern districts such as Gulu, which provides much of the charcoal entering Kampala, are fighting back in a campaign that has yielded scores of impounded charcoal trucks since 2015.

Gulu chairman Martin Mapenduzi organizes raids in hopes of arresting charcoal burners.

“Illegal logging has gone down but the destruction of forests for charcoal burning is still high,” Mapenduzi said. “It’s something that is giving us a lot of headache, but we are fighting.”

The price of a bag of charcoal, which can sustain a small family for several weeks, has been rising steadily in Kampala, reaching about $28 in August largely because of reduced supply from places such as Gulu. A whole bag is unaffordable for many who instead buy it daily in smaller quantities.

The expense is still far too much for families, said Rose Twine, an entrepreneur who sells her version of an eco-stove while warning against what she calls the unsustainable reliance on charcoal.


De Decker, K. 2011. The bright future of solar thermal powered factories. Low Tech magazine.

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3 Responses to Charcoal for the high heat needed in manufacturing after peak oil

  1. windymiller says:

    Perhaps not much a solution for high energy demands of industry, there are more efficient means of using wind energy for heat.

    • energyskeptic says:

      Anything people can do to survive energy decline is great, but this doesn’t keep civilization up and running unfortunately.

      • EnterpriseSpaceShip says:

        Alhazen (Ḥasan Ibn al-Haytham, c. 1040), was the first to explain that vision occurs when light reflects from an object and then passes to one’s eyes…” (

        This widely thought to be the case, since, even today after all fossil fuels reserves have been almost depleted to scarcity.

        Until now, though, when new hypothesis in Energy and its relation to Time proposes that Light doesn’t travel, at all, as it might be always there, only seen and felt when its intensity increases.

        Civilisation appears not only constrained to when humans find past Energy reserves in abundance, and they burn them all at once, but rather to when they seek truth, even with much less Energy burned.