Gasification/Coal to Gas 200 Years of Commercial Gas Production

Editor: Dominik Stephan

200 years ago, the first commercial operation to produce and supply gas from coal began in London. No, over two centuries later, gasification still is an important part of the global energy supply. Reason enough to look back on the first 200 years of gasification.

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Gasometer – 2014, Chemical engineers mark 200 years of commercial gas production
Gasometer – 2014, Chemical engineers mark 200 years of commercial gas production
(Picture: wobigrafie /

On New Year's Eve 1813, the Gas Light and Coke Company began supplying London with gas manufactured from coal for street lighting. Their operation marked the start of the first commercial gas production and supply operation in the world. Up to eight million people in London alone would eventually rely upon the technology to light and heat their homes for well over a century.

“The possibility of extracting a flammable gas from coal by ‘distillation’ – or pyrolysis as we would call it today – was known from ancient times”, explained Chris Higman of Higman Consulting, who specialises in gasification. “However, towards the end of the eighteenth century the work of pioneers like Minckelers, Murdoch, Lebon and Lampadius resulted in viable and safe commercial gas production from coal.”

Coal to Gas is Still Important for Global Energy Supply

Once developed, the technology soon spread across the world with gasworks established in Baltimore, USA (1816), Manchester, UK (1817), Hannover, Germany (1825) and Rotterdam, The Netherlands (1827). Today, over two hundred years later, gasification continues to be an important part of the world’s energy supply. It has endured despite the emergence of alternative sources of energy, lighting and heating and evolved to support industry including fertilizer production.

“Today, gasification provides around a quarter of the world’s supply of synthetic ammonia and about one third of the world’s methanol. With an estimated 750 gasifiers planned or under construction across the world the technology is set toplay a major part for at least another century”, Higman added.

Celebrating 200 Years of Gasification at Rotterdam Conference

Reason enough to take a closer look it this old, yet valueable technology at 12th European Gasification Conference in The Netherlands, organised by the Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE) and supported by DECHEMA. Here, experts like Higman will be presenting ‘200 Years of Commercial Gas Production’.

IChemE’s Matt Stalker, conference organiser, said: “There continues to be huge level of interest in the potential of gasification. The 12th European Gasification Conference brings all the latest development together under one roof. From governments, to policy-makers, to energy suppliers, it is an opportunity not to be missed.”