Charcoal is produced by partially burning wood. However, as the wood is burned, some of its energy is lost. Why is it that charcoal is still preferred as a fuel instead of wood in many cases?

Doesn't charcoal contain less energy than wood? Is the main reason that wood contains a lot of water which would form unwanted vapor?

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Energy density is important $\endgroup$
    – Mithoron
    May 4 '16 at 20:27
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ True, some of the energy is lost. But some of the mass is lost too. $\endgroup$ May 4 '16 at 20:31

As I understand it, charcoal --mostly carbon, plus some amount of inorganic ash-- burns cleaner - and hotter - than wood, and has more energy content per unit of weight than wood. The process of making charcoal involves heating the wood in the absence of air or with limited contact with air - driving off water and low molecular weight oils and odor components that produce a lot of the smoke from burning wood, and converting cellulose (a major component of wood) into carbon plus water.

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ It is kind of like the difference between coke and coal - by getting the water and high-vapor pressure stuff out, you are left with a more repeatable product. $\endgroup$
    – Jon Custer
    May 4 '16 at 21:03

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