Coke (fuel)

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Coke (pronounced /ˌkok/) is the solid carbonaceous material derived from destructive distillation of low-ash, low-sulfur bituminous coal. Cokes from coal are grey, hard, and porous.



Volatile constituents of the coal—including water, coal-gas, and coal-tar—are driven off by baking in an airless furnace or oven at temperatures as high as 2,000 degrees Celsius. This fuses together the fixed carbon and residual ash. Most modern facilities have "by-product" coking ovens. Today, the volatile hydrocarbons are mainly used, after purification, in a separate combustion process to generate energy. Non by-product coking furnaces or coke furnaces (ovens) burn the hydrocarbon gases produced by the coke-making process to drive the carbonization process.

Bituminous coal must meet a set of criteria for use as coking coal, determined by particular coal assay techniques. These include moisture content, ash content, sulfur content, volatile content, tar, and plasticity.

The greater the volatile matter in coal, the more by-product can be produced. It is generally considered that levels of 26-29 percent of volatile matter in the coal blend is good for coking purposes. Thus different types of coal are proportionally blended to reach acceptable levels of volatility before the coking process begins.


Coke is used as a fuel and as a reducing agent in smelting iron ore in a blast furnace.

Since smoke-producing constituents are driven off during the coking of coal, coke forms a desirable fuel for stoves and furnaces in which conditions are not suitable for the complete burning of bituminous coal itself. Coke may be burned with little or no smoke under combustion conditions, while bituminous coal would produce much smoke.

Discovered by accident to have superior heat shielding properties when combined with other materials, coke was one of the materials used in the heat shielding on NASA's Apollo program space vehicles. In its final form, this material was called AVCOAT 5026-39. This material has been used most recently as the heat shielding on the Mars Pathfinder vehicle. Although not used for modern day space shuttles, NASA had been planning to utilize coke and other materials for the heat shield for its next generation space craft, named Orion, before that project's cancellation.[citation needed]

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