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Title: Coal Derivatives by Destructive Distillation
Day/Time: One class period
KERA Goals: 2.1
This is a "hands-on" activity demonstrating the production of coke, one of the most widely used raw materials derived from coal. This activity may also serve to stimulate student research into the differences in coal types and coal products.
Coal is a fossil fuel formed by the anaerobic (without the presence of oxygen) decay of plants that lived millions of years ago. The energy found in coal is solar energy stored by the plants. It remains in the hydrocarbons left behind during the decay process. We can burn these hydrocarbons and release the stored energy.
During the formation of coal, it goes through several stages which differ in the amount of moisture and nitrogen impurities remaining in the organic material. The first three stages of coal are sedimentary rock formed by layers of silt covering the decaying plants. The moisture and nitrogen impurities are squeezed out of the material by the weight of the silt deposits. Peat and lignite are early stages that are found on or near the surface of the earth. Although these materials will burn, the flame is smoky because of the moisture content. Bituminous, or soft coal, is the third stage and the most abundant type of coal. It has lost most of its moisture and nitrogen impurities and is an efficient heating material. The final stage of coal, anthracite, is a metamorphic rock. It is found only in areas where tremendous pressure and heat from mountain building processes can change the bituminous coal into a hard substance which is mostly carbon. Anthracite is the cleanest of all coal, since it has the least impurities.
Although coal accounts for 20 percent of total US energy use and is the major source of fuel used in the production of electricity, its derivatives serve as raw materials in manufacturing. Many coal derivatives are produced indirectly by the destructive distillation of bituminous coal. This process takes place in the absence of oxygen (within an airtight oven) and prevents the coal from burning. The remaining material, coke, is nearly pure carbon. It is the most widely used coal derivative and is burned by mills to change ore into pure iron that is needed to make steel. Some of the gases produced during the distillation process can be refined to form ammonia, coal tar and light oil. Manufacturers can use these products to make a variety of products.
This lab activity will use bituminous coal to produce three derivative mixtures during a destructive distillation process.
Soft coal sample
Pyrex or Kimax test tube
Gas bottle or flask
Test tube holder
Bent glass tubing
Evaluation and Investigations:
Answers to some of these questions can be found in the discussion section of this activity and other questions involve outside research.
b) How is combustion (burning) different than destructive distillation?
c) Why is the difference important?
b) What regions of the U.S. mine this type of coal?
c) What restrictions are placed on the type of coal used for carbonization (coke-making)?
d) How does this affect the coal mined in this area?
b) Could ammonia be derived from anthracite distillation?
Activity developed by:
Linda N. Dressler
Mt. Vernon Junior High
Mt. Vernon, Indiana
and the American Coal Foundation
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