Importance of the Coal Problem
The paper which follows consists of abstracts from a lecture delivered before the Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Md., by E. G. Bailey, president of the Bailey Meter Company, Boston, Mass., being one of a series known as the J. E. Alfred lectures on Engineering Practice. Mr. Bailey is exceptionally well qualified to speak to the water works men on this at present most vital subject of the coal problem, and his method of treating the question will be found of great interest.
The biggest and most important question before the American people today is the coal problem. Some may disagree and claim that it is transportation. But sift the present situation to the bottom, and you will find that the coal problem, or rather the abnormally high percentage of ash and impurities in the coal, is like sand in the bearings of transportation, of ocean shipping and of practically all industries, slowing them down at the most critical time in our history.
The less ash and impurities in coal, the less number of tons you need. The greater the demand for coal, the higher the price and, under present conditions, the poorer its quality. The price has been regulated; but the quality has run riot.
Why have we allowed this to happen just at the time when we need heat units in their most concentrated form? Why are the railroads burdened today with hauling millions of tons of utterly worthless dirt? To say that this excess of ash in the coal is worthless, does not describe the situation. The price paid for this dirt is only a small fraction of the damage. The rest of its cost is in the decreased efficiency, the lowered capacity, the increased labor and the excessive repair bills involved in the combustion of this coal—and in the necessity of closing down industries because of the lack of the coal which might have been shipped in place of these so-called “worthless,” but really exceedingly costly impurities.
Coal Shortage or Dirt?
Results show a 10 per cent, decrease in quality of coal delivered to many plants during the past year. Considering that the Navy and other Government requirements receive a greatly increased tonnage of the best coal, a very conservative estimate of 5 per cent, is made as representing the increased demand for coal due solely to the poorer quality of that received. With a total production of about 600,000,000 tons of coal in 1917, this means that 30,000,000 tons of utterly worthless slate and dirt were loaded into railroad cars and delivered to the consumer, where it caused additional trouble in burning the coal with which it was mixed.
Cost of Dirty Coal.
On the basis of the average price of coal delivered to the consumer being $4.00 per ton, this excessive amount of impurities has cost the country $120,000,000 during the past year. Adding to this the various estimates made of the cost of our heatless holidays, ranging from $1,000,000,000 on up, it is obvious that this question of impurities in coal is of such tremendous importance that an effective remedy must be found immediately. Manufacturers would be glad to pay a dollar per ton more for coal if they could get what they need and of standard quality.
Competition normally compels the mine operator to clean his coal, but when the coal shortage began in 1916 manufacturers were so anxious to get coal that they offered and gladly paid prices of $5.00 to $6.00 per ton at the mines and took anything that was black, regardless of the percentage of impurities which it contained. For this reason quality went from bad to worse. A similar condition existed in the bituminous coal industry during the anthracite strike of 1902 and 1903. Prices went sky high and quality dropped off decidedly. The same economic factors which caused this condition then prevail today. Under the present system of paying the operator prices fixed by the Government, no distinction whatever is made between the best and poorest grades of coal. They both command the same price, so why should one operator go to additional expense of shipping clean coal when he receives no more pay than his competitor who loads dirt?
What is the Remedy?
To simply appeal to the miners and operators, even on the grounds of patriotism, is not sufficient. To increase the Government price on the present basis of control to $5.00 per ton at the mines would not reduce the percentage of impurities in the coal one iota. We must apply a remedy that has some economic foundation.
The remedy suggested is to establish standards of quality and pay a premium for clean coal. The price paid to the operator should be based on standards established by the Fuel Administration according to different mining districts, etc., with premiums based almost entirely upon percentage of ash, and especially the free ash as slate and rock which can and should be eliminated at the mines.
Coal sampling stations should be established by the Government at certain central points where large quantities of coal are received direct front mines such as New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Hampton Roads and the lake loading ports. Each station being equipped with machinery for obtaining representative samples from as many individual cars as necessary to determine the average quality of coal shipped from each mine during each month.
Load Cars With the Cleanest Coal.
The operator would not know what cars were to be sampled, for the Fuel Administration could consign or rcconsign any cars in transit to the coal piers or power houses where the sampling stations were located. The mine operator would therefore have a real incentive to load every car with as clean coal as possible.
The car distribution at the mines, which is an important point to the operator, should also be based upon the quality of coal produced so that there would be an added incentive to load clean coal and the market would always be supplied with a greater proportion of the better quality of coal, than if the empty cars were rorated equally among the poorer and etter mines as at present.
Actual knowledge of the quality of coal would also be of great benefit to the Fuel Administration ih classifying various mines into pools so that the consumer and particularly the railroads would receive coal of uniform quality, thereby enabling them to obtain maximum capacity and efficiency in the combustion of this coal.
There is sufficient labor at the mines to clean the coal, and the railroad can haul enough good coal, but they can not get the necessary heat units to the consumer if they must be burdened with hauling 30,000,000 tons of unnecessary dirt. We have our choice of either building thousands of locomotives and a hundred thousand cars and adding to the terminal facilities of our railroads within the next few months or removing the excessive impurities from the coal. The latter can be done quickly and effectively. It is the only feasible remedy for our present coal problem.
Efficiency in Burning Coal.
It is also urged that all power plant engineers of the country put forth every effort to obtain maximum efficiency from the combustion of coal. A few simple points in regard to improving the work of the fireman by observing the appearance of the flame from the boiler furnace, and maintaining boilers and baffles in good condition will lead to worth while results.
Clean Coal or Heatless Holidays Next Winter?
Are we going to have coal enough to see us through the coming winter? The present indications are that unless some radical steps are taken immediately, the coal shortage will be much worse than it has been. To be satisfied with preferential shipments and permit many of our basic industries to close down, is to play the quitter’s game, when, by concentrating our efforts on loading clean coal at the mines, and improving the efficiency of its combustion in furnaces we can have ample coal for all, thereby helping instead of hindering the Thrift Campaign.
We have heard the argument that we should be patriotic and be content with inferior coal, old culm banks and other refuse fuel, the same as we are with wheat substitutes in our bread. But the Food and Fuel problems arc very different. Economy in their use applies equally to both, but the neck of the bottle of the food question is production, while the weakest link of the coal problem is transportation. It is a crime to burden our railroads with hauling dirt when it is within our power to ship clean coal and supply heat units in their most concentrated form.
Rockville Center, N. Y., Water Company plans to decrease the cost of water to its users by allowing a rebate of. 10 per cent, on water bills paid within thirty days from the date of rendering the bills. Persons who fail to pay their bills within the thirty-day period each month will not only lose the privilege of saving the 10 per cent., but in addition will have to pay 5 per cent, penalty.