Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 22.djvu/219

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

the most convenient, the cleanest, and the cheapest of heating agents, and when raw coal will be seen only at the colliery or the gas-works. In all cases where the town to be supplied is within say thirty miles of the colliery, the gas-works may with advantage be planted at the mouth, or still better at the bottom of the pit, whereby all haulage of fuel would be avoided, and the gas, in its ascent from the bottom of the colliery, would acquire an onward pressure sufficient probably to impel it to its destination. The possibility of transporting combustible gas through pipes for such a distance has been proved at Pittsburg, where natural gas from the oil district is used in large quantities.

The quasi monopoly so long enjoyed by gas companies has had the inevitable effect of checking progress. The gas being supplied by meter, it has been seemingly to the advantage of the companies to give merely the prescribed illuminating power, and to discourage the invention of economical burners, in order that the consumption might reach a maximum. The application of gas for heating purposes has not been encouraged, and is still made difficult, in consequence of the objectionable practice of reducing the pressure in the mains during day-time to the lowest possible point consistent with prevention of atmospheric indraught. The introduction of the electric light has convinced gas managers and directors that such a policy is no longer tenable, but must give way to one of technical progress; new processes for cheapening the production and increasing the purity and illuminating power of gas are being fully discussed before the Gas Institute; and improved burners, rivaling the electric light in brilliancy, greet our eyes as we pass along our principal thoroughfares.

Regarding the importance of the gas-supply as it exists at present, we find from a government return that the capital invested in gasworks in England, other than those of local authorities, amounts to £30,000,000; in these, 4,281,048 tons of coal are converted annually, producing 43,000,000,000 cubic feet of gas, and about 2,800,000 tons of coke; whereas the total amount of coal annually converted in the United Kingdom may be estimated at 9,000,000 tons, and the byproducts therefrom at 500,000 tons of tar, 1,000,000 tons of ammonia liquor, and 4,000,000 tons of coke, according to the returns kindly furnished me by the managers of many of the gas-works and corporations. To these may be added say 120,000 tons of sulphur, which up to the present time is a waste product.

Previous to the year 1856—that is to say, before Mr. W. II. Perkin had invented his practical process, based chiefly upon the theoretical investigations of Hoffman, regarding the coal-tar bases and the chemical constitution of indigo—the value of coal-tar in London was scarcely a halfpenny a gallon, and in country places gas-makers were glad to give it away. Up to that time the coal-tar industry had consisted