Development of the gas industry


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Development of the gas industry
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Pt. 1, 12 p. Pt. 2, 18 sls.
Fraga, Robert
College of Architecure, University of Florida
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Gainesville, FL
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UF AFA historic preservation document 55

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Development of the Gas Industry
AE 682 Technology of Preservation

Robert Fraga



The gas Industry

Manufacturing Methods and Processes
Recuperative Principle
Vertical Retorts
Thermal Efficiency
Amonia and Tar
Cost of Manufacture of Gas

First Gas Plant
Growth and Changes in the Industry
Changing Processes and Row Materials
Natural Gas
Liquefied Petroleum Gases
Storage of Gas
The use of Gas



pag. 258-274.


The Gas Industry.

Despite the increasing use of oil, coal remains as the

primary source of heat and energy for industries and homes


In Great Britain alone, there is a coal production of

220,000,000 tons a year of which 40,000,000 tons are processed

annually to produce secondary and derived fuels such as gas

and coke. There are several types of gaseous fuels, some

of which are derived from coal and other which are derived

from coke. Coke, along with coke gas is derived by heating

coal in the absence of air. The process known as carboniza-

tion is still by for the most important way by which to

obtain derived fuels from coal or aoke. Other gases are

produced by a method of gasification which involves the addition

of steam upon red hot coke or coal. (water gas). Producer

gas, another type of derived fuel is obtain by blowing air

usually mixed with some steam, through a deep bed of hot

coke or coal. Coal gas has the highest heating value, of about

500 BTU per cubic foot, water gas averages about 300 BTU and

producer gas is about 120 to 160 BTU per cubic foot.

The familiar gas, or town gas which is supplied to the

public after purefication is cook gas or coal gas mixed with

water gas. Producer gas is used mainly for large scale

industrial furnaces.

Structure and Development of the Gas Industries

Coal was first used as an illuminat. The earliest

demonstration of the use of coal as an illuminat has been

attributed to several inventors; Philippe Lebon, Lord

Dondonald and William Murdock. However, William Murdock is

usually given the credit for being the first one to apply

coal gas on any considerable scale. Murdock set up a small

experimental gas plant in 1795 and a few years later he used

gas to light a factory in Birmingham, England.

In the year 1813 the London and Westmister Gas Company

was founded and it soon become the famous Gas Light and Coke

Company. This company fossexed three manufactory plants

with 15 miles of mains and the Westmister bridge was lit

by its gas. By 1823 gas lighting was introduced to Bristol

and by this time the Gas and Coke Company was producing about

250,000,000 Cu Ft of gas annually to be distributed through

122 miles of street mains. A rapid expansion of the gas

industry followed and by 1860 the gas companies that had

developed in the Metropolis as well as in the rural areas

were recorded as innumerable. Public supply was governed

by many local and general acts of Parliament. With the

development of electric lighting in 1882 the gas industry

encounter serious competition which seemed to threaten

the future of the industry. However, competition created

a stimulus to look for other alternative by which to dispose

of the product and the capacity of gas as a heating medium

was soon recognized. In the year 1930 the Gas Regulation

Act was passed by Parlament, the main provision of which

tesmake it obligatory to charge for gas on the bases of its

declared heating value, furthermore, gas had to be supplied

at a minimum pressure of 2 in water gauge in mains or

services of 2 in of more in diameter. This early regulation

were introduced to protect the interest of the consumers.

At this time, the actual production of Gas in England had

risen to 250,000,000,000 cubic feet and there were

7,000,000 consumers receiving gas through 40,000 miles of


The gas industry passed into national ownership on

May 1 1949, in accordance to the provisions of the gas

act of 1948. Many of the provisions of the Acts which had

nationalized the coal and electric industries were repeated

in teh Gas Act of 1948, but there was one important difference,

there was a longer degree of decentralization and regional

distribution of responsibility which was granted to the Gas

Industry. Twelve area boards were constituted to assume

the ownership of 1,037 undertakings for the nation. These

boards were independent corporate bodies each dharged with the

duties of maintaining and developing an efficient and econo-

mical system for the supply of gas and coke as well as with a

method of recovering gas manufacture by-products.

Parliament decided that a central body was needed to

represent the Gas Industry as a whole and to be responsible

for such matters as capital finance, labor relations and other

various functions, thus, the Gas Council was created and it

consisted of a chairman, a deputy chairman and the twelve

chairmen of the area boards. Thus, the gas industry was

unified under a central body after 140 years of progressive


Research and development was specified to be one of the

responsibility of the Gas Counsil, however, the Gas Counsel

and the local area boards divided the responsibility as to

the degree and nature of the record to be done, with the

Gas Council in charge of the research leading to the improve-

ment of the pilot plants stage and the local boards in

charge with the research dealing with large scale plant

development and improvement of individual appliances. A

permanent committee which included scientist from outside

the gas industry, was formed to advice the Council on methods

of research, and research stations where established in

London and Birmingham.

The statistics for the year of 1953-54 showed that the

Gas Industry in Great Britain had a revenue of 170,138,000

Pound Sterline from selling, 2,451,000,000 therms of gas

(1 therm = 100,000 BTU)

Manufacturing Method and Process.

To understand the manufacturing of gas products, one

must understand the process of carbonization and the principals

involved in this process. At this point, it is necessary to

explain such process.

The term coal is applied to certain rocks in the earth

crust produced by the decay and accumulation of plant

remains, thus, coal is a complex mixture of organic matter

which so far can not be recognized except in very broad

terms. The principal elements that make up coal are, carbon,

hydrogen and oxygen with small particles of nitrogen and sulphur.

When coal is heated in the absence of air a chemical reaction

takes place which results in the decomposition and fusion of

coal. A gaseous volatile product results from this process

as well as a residue known as coke. Coke can be heated

at a higher temperature and it will also yield a gas made

out of hidrogen and carbon dioxide.

The manufacturing process of gas consist of extracting

the volatiel product by heat and leaving a residue of coke

in the retort for subsequent extraction. This volatile

product is known as crude gas and it contains a series of

constituents that most be removed prior to its distribution

to consumer. These constituents are; hydrogen vapours,

some sulphur containing gases and some hydrogen cyonide and

ammonia. Some sort of fusefecation process is needed to

eliminate these inpuritees. When the caude gas enters the

collecting main they are cooled and water is added so that

condensation takes place and this helps to wash away some

of the non-desirable constituents. As a result of the

condensation, the crude gas divides into three forts, a tor

and amonia liquor and the gas itself which after further

purification from a tor fog and residual amonia it is ready

for distribution.


Originally, in Murdock's apparatus for the production

gas iron retorts were used to extract the crude gas from

the cool. However, the volume of gas obtained by working

with iron retorts was limited by the propoerties of this

materials. An important advance was made when fire clay

substituted iron since higher temperature were permissible.

Futher improvement to the method of gas production followed

when in the heating of these retorts a gas recuperating

principal could be employed.

Recuperative Principle.

The recuperative principal for gas production results from

firing and heating the day retorts with a producer gas which

is returned to the system for further usage rather disposing

of it through a chimmey. The producer gas is made by

circulating air through a deep layer of red hot coke. This

gas is forced to meet a stream of hot air directly below the

retorts which ignites the gas around them and carbonizes

the coal therein. The waste gases after heating the retort,

are not disposed of as in the old method of "direct fixing",

but instead, they are turned downward into the recuperator

which reintroduces the waste gas, (after some purefication)

into the system, thus, maximizing efficiency and retaining

a greater heat capacity within the system.

Vertical Retorts.

Although horizontal retorts were very popular for the

production of gas, they have been almost totally replaced

by veritcal retorts which have proved to be more convenient

and efficient. The advantages of a vertical retort system

for the production of gas consist of a reduction in labour

as well as a reduction on the use of ground space for a given

output. Another novel advantage of the system consist of

the ability to have a continuous feed of coal as well as a

continuous retrieval of coke thus accelerating the process.


The ultimate goal of all improvement and legislation

that were introduced into the gas industry were intended

to permit an increase in manufacture and to obtain a better

gasefication of coal, that is, to obtain a longer proportion

of the potential heat of the gas in the manufacturing


One method to achieve this goal is to use highly refrac-

tory materials in the construction of the retorts so as to

be able to obtain a higher temperature within the retort

and thus have a higher yield of gas per ton of coal.

Another method used to increase the yield of gas per

ton of coal is known as steaming, the process of steaming

involves introducing steam into the base of th continuous

vertical gas retorts so as to make an addition to the overall

volume of the gas, (the carbon and the steam generate the

so called water gas). Sutdies have proved that when using

the process of steaming the volume of gas increases considerably

as well as the caloric value of the gas which increases to

approximately 20.8 therms per ton of gas.

Thermal Efficiency.

The previously mentioned improvements on the production

and manufacture of gas has led to a greater thermal

efficiency; in other words, the total number of heat units

obtainable by the combustion of gas, coke and tar has become

more and more a higher proportion of the heat units original

contained in the carbonized coal. Improvements on the re-

fractory quality of the retorts, the recuperative principle

and the process of steaming as well as the ability to carry

through the process of carbonization at a higher temperature

have contributed to the thermal efficiency of the gas producing



As it was previously stated, the crude gas that results

from the process of carbonization of coal contains several

constituents that need to be eliminated before the gas can

be distributed for public use. Many of the constituents that

need to be eliminated from the crude gas can be easily

washed out or condensed. The process of purification takes

place in several stages of the gas manufacturing process.

First, the gas travels from the retort to the ascension pipe

where it is cooled and thus some condensation of tarry

matter occurs, further condensation results when gas from

several of the retorts are collected in a common hydralic

main. The next step in the purification process occurs when

the gas reaches the condensers which consist of a nest of

pipes cooled externally by air or water, thus, the temperature

is lowered resulting in further condensation of both water

and tar which is collected at the base of the pipes.

The next step is the washing and scrubbing of the gas,

this occurs by bringing the gas into contact with a liquid

substance (mainly water) that guarantees further removal

of undesireable constituents from the gas. Next in sequence

are the static and rotary washers, in which the gas is

brought in contact with water at a high pressure. The

amonia is completely removed from the gas at this stage.

Additional scrubbing with oil solvents might be necessary

to remove volatile tar constituents such as benzene and

toluene. The ultimate process of purification involves

passing the gas through iron oxide purifiers so as to eliminate

the hydrogen sulphide found on the gas, then the gas is stored

in gashholders until the time of its usage.

Amonia and Tar.

One of the usable by-products that results from the gas

producing industry is that of amonia and tar. This elements

are found in the residual liquors produced after condenzation

and they need to be distilled from this liquor prior to their

use in industry as constituents of such things as; perfumes,

medicine, desinfectants, solvents, plastic and paints.

Disposing of the residual matter that results from the

process of distillation could be a problem since it is a

very strong effluent and its direct disposal into streams

is prohibited.

Cost of Manufacture of Gas.

The cost of the process of manufacture of gas greatly

depends on the size 'of the production units however, the

overall cost of large size production and manufacture of gas

can be broken down as follows; net cost of coal carbonized

60%, carbonization process 10%, purification process 1.0%,

power and sundry process 8.5%, maintenance and repairs 11.5%

and general charges 9%.

Gas Supply in the United States

First Gas Plant

The gas industry got its start in Baltimore after the

discovery of gas making from coal and the great success

of gas lighting in Europe. Although the is evidence of

previous use of gas by isolated individuals, the use of

gaslighting in the Rembrandt Peal's museum in Baltimore in

1816 mark the first time that gas lighting was used success-

fully in the United States at a longer scale. This initial

attempt prove to be aso successful that the city council

of Baltimore passed an ordinance on June 17 1816 permitting

the manufacture of gas and laying of pipes in the streets

for further use of gas lighting. The first demonstration

of the use of gas in the United States occurred in Philadelphia

in August 1796. The gas was produced by M. Ambraise and Co.

Italion firework and artist. A couple of years later in

1812 David Melville of Newport Rhode Island lit his home

with gas which he manufacture. However, Baltimore was the

first city to use gas commertially and other cities in the

United States followed.

Growth and Changes in the Industry

By the second half of the 20th century the gas industry

had grown into one of the major industires in the United

States, the gas industry has shown a great ability to adapt

to all sort of problems, from severe competition from the

electric industry to dostric economic and labour conditions.

The gas industry, initiated and maintained as a lighting

service, when the market was taken by the invention of the

electric light, the gas service emerged as a heating

producing industry. Again, during World War II when the

production of gas was hamper by severe labour and row material

shortages, the gas industry maintained and expanded the market

by obtaining more natural gas from transcontinental pipelines.

Changing Processes and Raw Materials.

Public utility gas first was manufacture gas made by

heating a highly volatile coal in a metal retort and subjecting

the resulting gas to cooling and purification. The water

gas process was introduced later. The work of Thaddeus Lowe,

a union balloon officer in the Civil War, was of major impor-

tance in the development of the economic manufacture of

water gas in internally fixed machines. This become the

basis for carburetted and blue'water gas processes. Internally

fixed oil gas processes were developed before World War II

but these were used very little in the United States specially

when natural gas become more and more available.

The change from manufacture gas to natural gas was of

major importance to the gas industry of the United States.

Teh exploitation of natural gas resulted from teh discovery

of larbe reserves of natural gas in the midwest and southwest

areas in the United States during the 1920.

In 1925, electrically welded pipelines allowed for the

transportation of oil and gas for long distances economically.

This become an important factor specially after World War II

since this made the production of gas based on solid fuels

generally uneconomical. By the mid 1950s, the interstate

transportation of natural gas had become so great that

except for a few states, there was no major city in the

United States beyond the reach of natural gas supplies. The

long distance transmission of natural gas change the engineering

and economic problems of the gas industry. It involved a

great economic investment in long pipelines and changes in

manufacture and storage of the gas.

A number of oil gas processes have been discovered and

developed to utilize the cheaper grades of heavy oils.

Characteristic of these heavy oil developments has been the

ability to manufacture high heat combustion gases such

that they may be distributed for use in mixture with or

as substitutes for natural gas. Where mixed gases of a

particular thermal content less than natural gas are

distributed, these gases need to be processed in machines of

the water gas or oil gas type so'as to control their volume,

thermal content and combustion characteristic so as to meet

production and mixing needs. The adapting process may involve

partial combustion or a reaction with steam or a combination

of both.

After World War II, a unique method to develop the gas

making process occurred in the discovery of the catalyctic


The feed stock may be propane, natural gas, butane,

refine oil gases or natural gasoline. The reforming catalyst

is carried in chrome nickel alloy tubes, externally heated,

usually with light fuel oil. The tubes are filled with a nickel

oxide catalyst and the reforming gas zone is maintained

at a temperature of 18000F. The type of reform gas depends on

the mixture of air and steam with the proportion of the feed

stock. The reformed gas is then enriched with undecomposed

feed stock. This process of gas production requires minimum

labour and the capital investment is low, purefication

of the gas is not necessary. All these factors make this

type of gas manufacturing very appealing to the gas industry.

Natural Gas

Although natural gas had been noted in the United States

before manufacture gas was introduced, it was not used

commecially until long after manufactured gas had been


In 1821, at Fredonia, New York, the first natural gas

well of the United States was driled to a depth of 27 feet.

In 1854, the first deep gas well was sunk in Erie, Pensel-

vania. (1200 Ft.O In 1859, the petroleum industry started

in Titusville, Penselvania. Natural gas has always been

associated with petroleum in the earth crust, but early oil

ment ignore the potential of natural gas and usually learned

the gas mines by using a pipe that would act as a giant


The first natural gas corporation in the United States

was the Fredonia Gas Light and Water Work Co. of 1854.

Many other corporations followed all over the United States

thereafter. By the mid 50's there were about 70,000 gas

well in the United States; and along with gas producing

oil wells, there was a total production of about

8,500,000,000,000 cubic feet of natural gas. The reserves of

natural gas in the United States are estimated at

500,000,000,000,000 cubic feet.

Lquiefied Petroleum Gases

Liquefied petroleum gases; propane and butane have

been obtained from natural gas condensates at wellheads in

compression operations. Propane has sufficient high vapour

pressure to permit it to be distributed as a gas without the

need of admixture. Butane requires a carrier gas. A

mixture of propane-butane is usually compressed into steel

cylinders and sold as bottled gas.

Storage of Gas

Gas has a great advantage over electricity in that

gas can easily be store for public consumption where as

electricity needs to be consumed as it is generated. This

allows the gas producing company to design their factories

forr average rather than peak conditions of consumer

demand, thus, saving a great deal of capital investment. Gas

is usually stored in very large storage tanks that require

minimum handling.

The Use of Gas

In industry alone, there was estimated that there are

21,000 different uses for gas. These include glassmaking,

metal production, food processing, printing, textile production,

electronic equipment and manufacture of plastic and paints.

In teh mid 1950's, there were 33,000,000 families that

cooked with gas and 18,000,000 used gas to heat water, 15,000,000

heated their homes with gas and 4,000,000 families owned gas



Natural gas is an important raw material for the synthesis

of petrochemicals. These are chemicals that are synthesized

from rock sources, such as natural gas, petroleum or coal.

Important end products are amonia, alcohol, synthetic, fibres

plastic and detergents.



Singe, Houmyard, Hall and Williams

Vol. 4, Industrial Revolution 1750-1850

Oxford Press. @ 1958


D. Van Nostrand Company Inc. @ 1968


Loudon Publishing Co. @ 1944


Helen Brigham

C.E. Tuttle Co. @ 1964


William Benton, Publisher. 1957 edition.



1 Gensamne's early coke oven.

2 Lebon's first gas making plant.

3 Thermolamp.

4 Gas appliance of Z.A. Wingler

5 Murdock's first retort.

6 Detail of hydraulic seal

7 Murdock's horizontal retort

8 Wet Meter

9 3/4 in. iron pipe.

10 Sugg Argand Burner

11 Sharp's Gas Cooking Apparatus

12 Vertical Retort Instalation

13 Modern Gas Manufacture.

14 Blue Water Gas Plant

15 Old type gas Producer

16 Water gas plant.

17 Diagram of a gas producer

18 Deep gas producer