Learn about Life in the 1920s

How to Make a Miniature Gasworks for Coal

The most primitive method of making coal gas on a small scale is to fill a tin--which must have folded, not soldered, joints--with small coal, punch a hole in the bottom, and place it lid downwards in the fire. Gas soon begins to issue, but, owing to the quantity of moisture and impurities present, it will not ignite until some minutes have elapsed. The flame, when it does make its appearance, is very smoky and gives little light, because, in addition to the coal gas of commerce, there are present ammonia gas, sulphuretted hydrogen, carbonic acid, tar vapour, etc., which prevent brightness of flame.

A miniature gasworks, if it is to be worthy of its name, must obviously endeavour to separate the troublesome components from the useful gas.


FIG. 190. - General view of gas-making apparatus.

The doing of this involves several processes, all simple enough in principle, and requiring but simple apparatus for demonstration on a small scale. To take them in order the processes are -
(l) the formation of gas in a retort;
(2) the condensation of the tar;
(3) the condensation of steam;
(4) the removal of the ammonia gas;
(5) the removal of the sulphuretted hydrogen and carbonic acid.

The last two processes are, in a real gasworks, usually separated, but for simplicity's sake we will combine them.

Finally, the storage of the gas has to be provided for.


The Retort. - To get very good results, the retort should be of cast iron, and have a removable air-tight cover; but, to keep down expense, we will use an ordinary 2-pound self-opening coffee tin. A short piece of brass pipe is soldered into the lid near one edge to carry off the gas as it is generated. To get a fairly gas-tight joint, red-leaded asbestos string should be rammed tightly between the lid and the tin. The tin may be laid on an open fire on the slant, the lid end uppermost, and the pipe at the top, where the gas will collect; or, if you wish to make things more realistic, you may easily construct an oven with sides and back of fire-brick, and front of sheet iron, through the hole in which the tin is pushed horizontally, so that only half an inch projects. This is a suitable arrangement for out of doors.

FIG. 191. - Vertical section of condenser.

The Hydraulic Main. - This is represented in Fig. 190 by a double-necked bottle, B, standing in a bowl of cold water. The pipe from the retort passes through the cork in one neck and dips half an inch below the surface of the water inside. The gas, on meeting the water, is cooled, and some of the steam in it is condensed, also most of the tar present, which floats on the top of the water. From the bottle the gas passes on to

the Condensers, where the process of cooling is completed gradually. The condenser (Fig. 191) is so designed as to cause the gas to pass through several pipes in succession. The base consists of a tin box, 6 inches long, 4 wide, and 1-3/4 deep. This is divided longitudinally down the centre by a 1-1/2-inch partition, soldered to the bottom and sides; and the two divisions are again subdivided, as shown in Fig. 192, by shorter cross partitions.


FIG. 192. - Plan of condenser.

For the condensing pipes, "compo" tubing of 1/2-inch outside diameter is convenient. The amount required will, of course, depend on the number of pipes used and the length of the individual pipes. The design shows 6 pipes, each 3 feet long, bent to a semicircular curve (Fig. 191) at the middle to form very long, narrow horse-shoes. The pipes are supported at the curve by the crossbar, S (Fig. 191), of a frame, and their ends enter short pieces of brass tubing soldered into holes in the bottom of the tin box. Rubber bands make the joints air-tight.

The base is stood bottom upwards in a larger tin containing an inch and a half of water. The water acts as a seal, preventing the passage of the gas from one compartment to another through the pipes which it traverses, in the order indicated by the arrows and numbers in Fig. 192, to reach the outlet. On its way the gas is deprived of any water and of any traces of tar. The condensed water and tar fall from the open ends of the pipes into the base.


FIG. 193. - Vertical section of purifier.

The Purifier is made of a large tin with overlapping lid. Near the bottom is soldered on an inlet pipe; just below the lid an outlet pipe. Cut out two discs of perforated zinc or sheet tin to fit inside the tin easily, but not loosely. (If tin is used, make a number of small holes in it.) The lower of the discs (Fig. 193, Bl) has three wire legs, AA, soldered to it, to support the upper disc, B. Three short supports keep it clear of the bottom.

The tin must be charged with a mixture of two parts green sulphate of iron and one part lime. The lime should be slaked a short time before use. The sulphate, lime, and sufficient water to moisten the whole are ground into a pulp and left to dry. The dry mixture, which has a reddish-yellow colour, is broken up fine. Put tray B1 into place and spread half the chemical over it; then lay B on the top and cover it with the remainder. The lid joint is sealed by a broad rubber band.

While passing through the tin, the ammonia, sulphuretted hydrogen and carbonic acid gases all combine with the chemical, and fairly pure gas issues from the outlet.

The Gasholder. - As the gasometer is an important feature of a gasworks, our small plant should contain its counterpart, as it serves to regulate the pressure of the gas, and, therefore, the steadiness of the flame, as well as affording storage room.

As a gasometer, one may use a container made on the principle of the lung-testing apparatus described on p. 361; or the gasholder of a lantern acetylene apparatus, which must, of course, be suitably counterweighted.

Working the Plant. - When starting up the plant, leave the burner open until inflammable gas issues, so that the air present in the various chambers may be displaced.

[Note: Premature lighting of the burner may cause the flame to propagate into the system and explode. I speak from experience.]

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