How Is Charcoal Made?


Quick Answer

Charcoal is made through a multistep process dating back nearly 30,000 years. In the first phase, wood is cooked in a low-oxygen environment producing char, the main ingredient in charcoal. The charring process can take several days and produces a substance consisting of mostly pure carbon.

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Full Answer

During the charring process, volatile compounds like water, hydrogen, methane and tar are burned off leaving behind a lightweight, soft, black, porous material resembling coal. After charring, the resulting material is roughly 25 percent of its initial weight. This coal-like material is then formed into briquettes in preparation for the phase. It is important the wood used in the initial phase is not too brittle, or it crumbles and becomes useless.

After this phase, many commercial manufacturers add small amounts of anthracite coal, mineral charcoal, sodium nitrate, starch, sawdust, borax and limestone to improve ignition and provide for smooth, even burning. The next phase is the drying process. The soft charcoal briquettes are placed in a dryer set at, or near, 300 degrees Fahrenheit. A few hours later, the once-soft briquettes are thoroughly dried and are ready to be packaged or used. Charcoal is often preferable to wood for cooking because it has more potential energy than raw wood, burns steady with less smoke, and produces fewer dangerous vapors.

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