Coming Clean About Coal – Q&As

Webinar Questions (and Answers)

I truly regret the very long time that it has taken me to facilitate this document, it has been an advanced draft for some time.  Regrettably, other events have contrived to take me away from the task.  Events have also overtaken us requiring the revision of some the answers or for postscripts to be added.

David Smith – Head of Technical Services

Questions raised pre-Webinar

Question 1: Is there a reasonable chance to find an alternative to Dry Welsh Coal? Can this search be pursued and supported by the NTET? – Asked by Stephen Cotton

Steve Oates – ?

Answer: Paul Paddock – …We have access to medium volatile Steaming coal in Russia of circa volatile content of 20% -this is the only alternative to Ffos coal within reasonable shipping & logistics distance*

Question 2: What is the heritage movement, and the NTET in particular, doing to educate the general public about the negligible harmful effects of the exhaust emissions from preserved steam engines? – Asked by Steve Arrowsmith*

Answer: JHB comment: DEFRA is happy that our emissions are not seriously harmful because of where they happen i.e. not in densely populated spaces, which is why we have an exemption to go on burning coal. However, if the general public, led by climate change activists, Greens etc, starts campaigning against us, we must be ready to make our own case i.e. not rely on DEFRA, and we should start now to promote a carbon and pollution-reducing agenda on heritage rail and rally sites so that we are seen to be making an effort.

DSS: Do we have an exemption James or are we relying on DEFRA’s promise not to directly impact heritage burn.  DEFRA did not mention heritage users in their Clean Air paper, so we were excluded from the ban rather than given an exemption.

Question 3: I am secretary of the Ellenroad Steam Museum Society.

We are a heritage site which operates a coal fired boiler to run our historic mill engines.

It is important that this side of the heritage industry is not overlooked and swamped by the larger groups. I don’t think that there is really an organised group which acts on our behalf.

Please make sure that this area is considered in the webinar. – Asked by David Pope

Answer: JHB: I can comment that Robert Excell of ABTEM is an HRA member and actively attending our meetings

Question 4: Can you recommend the best coal for steam traction engines that is readily available today? – Asked by Peter Troman

Answer: Paul Paddock, Ffos-y-Fran low smoke emission Welsh Steam Coal  

DSS: Not all traction engines can use FyF, miniatures and some stationary engines also have difficulties.  However there are a number of so called eco-coals coming onto the market that may be suitable as they are more easily ignited.

Question 5: Hi, I was wondering where the burning coal in non-steam related scenarios stands.  For example; a railway-station/signal-box where you would traditionally find a coal fire. The burning of coal in this scenario has a historical element and helps to bring a real feeling of history, has consideration been made to how this kind of coal use could be safeguarded?

Obviously there are many other examples such as stoves in living vans etc…. but I’m sure you get my gist on this question. – Asked by Daniel Mason

Answer: JHB: We have argued for coal to be allowed to be burnt in all heritage use, including museums and historic houses. That should include signal boxes and vans, though it may be sensible to use smokeless fuel if still available.  But we may need to check the position as DEFRA understands it after the webinar and report back.  

Postscript: During the recent debate on amendment to the Environment Bill in the House of Lords the government chief whip reiterated that the there was no intention impose restrictions on any heritage related burning of coal.

Question 6: I am particularly interested in whether Welsh Dry steam coal will ever be available again as it seems from reports so far that the Welsh authorities are unsympathetic to its continued extraction, despite there being a plentiful supply.

Given that the Ffos-y-Fran supply of dry Welsh steam coal is to be discontinued and overseas alternatives will be sought – has the Welsh assembly been approached about how this local source is the best possible coal for low smoke emission, low overall carbon footprint, and good visitor experience, for the many narrow gauge railways that help sustain its tourism revenue? If so, has it shown any willingness to engage in discussion about small scale opencast mining of this coal for UK supply heritage purposes only, and could such a reduced scale of operation be economically feasible?  …probably not – Asked by Andrew Hawkswell

Answer: Paul Paddock: … If Ffos are successful in their Consultants response to the Coal Policy in Wales, there could be a further six to seven years mining there to 2029 to supply the UK Heritage market.

Postscript: We now know that the Welsh Assembly will not grant licences or extend existing licences related to the mining of coal for

Question 7: Unfortunately, I am unable to attend the Coming Clean About Coal webinar because of another commitment.

Cambridge Museum of Technology has a heritage boiler which historically was operated by burning coke (once a low-cost fuel available as a by-product of the town gas industry). This shares many of the same problems as the heritage use of coal. We would be interested to learn of any other heritage users of coke! Any information on sources of supply and alternative fuels would be of great interest. If appropriate, please add coke supply to the questions to be covered. – Asked by John Connett.

Answer: JHB: Coke, and its eco substitutes, will be available as it is still required for the steel industry, but otherwise a conversion to gas may be the answer, as has happened at Kew Bridge Pumping Station.

Paul Paddock: …coke is not suitable at all for raising steam for Traction Engines/Steam Locos with the volatile content of circa 2% it would be virtually impossible to light.  The coke we have available is ‘blast furnace coke/foundry coke size up to 200mm plus  & blacksmith coke beans 10 x 25mm range …all at least double the price of steaming coal!

Question 8: What would the panel suggest we say to those who choose to challenge us on the road or rally field for our gratuitous use of coal for ‘pleasure’? – Asked by David Ross

Answer: DSS: We should not duck this major issue; we should undertake appropriate research in order to ensure we do understand the impact on the environment of our hobby.  We would hope that we get the answers that show extremely low impact overall but at least we have a scientific basis for our arguments. 

JHB: When I replied to a Department of Transport Carbon Offsetting consultation in 2019, I found that heritage coal users accounted for 0.02% of UK annual carbon emissions of £340m tonnes. Our sector is part of the £1.2bn positive economic impact the UK derives from heritage road and rail transport annually. It is a benefit for the many, not just a pleasure for the few.

Question 9:  Good Evening from Australia,

I will be tuning in to the coal webinar tonight and would like to ask the below question:

“I’m a coal distributor in Australia, who do I contact to discuss potentially supplying coal for UK users?”

For some background I’m heavily involved in steam in Queensland, including rail, road and stationary, which has led to my becoming involved in the coal industry as a supplier to heritage and commercial steam alike in Australia from a number of mines. We have recently suffered from our local mine (my former employer) stopping supply due to government approvals delays. It’s because of this that I’m keen to try to help establish a supply from Australia if at all feasible. Thank you for your time, I look forward to hearing from you. Kind Regards, Patrick Hughes. Business Development Officer – Coal

Answer:  DSS: This proposition has been passed to Steve Oates of the HRA who is currently exploring sources of supply on behalf of the HFA

Question 10: Good evening. If you, the NTET who are lobbying to maintain coal supplies for heritage use then monopolise the holding and distribution of the coal to rallies or heritage events under the NTET umbrella? If yes: how will this affect the private heritage users of burning coal?

We are sure that many people will ask these two simple questions and we look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Regards, Peter and Ann Bowron.

Answer: The NTET has no aspirations whatsoever to become a re-distributer of coal.  It is however working with the HRA towards is securing the services of an existing distributor(s) who will import, grade and distribute to a free heritage market

Live Questions

Question 11: Russell Bulley 07:06 PM

What about bio coal? It needs investigation and money to establish if it will work? See my discussion on traction talk!

Bio coal is available from France. See my listings on Traction Talk. Bio coal is also available to make in the UK.

The bio coal has also been tested on. Railway loco in Holland.

Would it help to pay a bond to Hargreaves to pre-purchase and store coal on our behalf, so say for ten years individual supply.  Rallies could also pre-purchase.

Answer:  DSS: We are aware of trials of eco fuel outside of the UK and that some formal trails are being arranged, predominantly on narrow gauge railways in the UK.  We are seeking to learn more about these arrangements

Postscript: DSS – Trials have been conducted on the Bure Valley railway using CPL’s e50 bi-coal (50% olive husks + 50% fine coal bonded with molasses), the results are reckoned to be encouraging.  CPL e50 has also been used in a road roller and a traction engine more recently, again the results were said to be encouraging but the cost of the fuel used was significantly higher

Phoenix Speciality Oils have successfully moulded the oil impregnated residuals from crushing rape seed into ‘lump’ fuel.  At the time of writing this fuel has been trialled on two narrow gauge railways; Whipsnade and Fairbourne.  On light to medium loads the fuel performed reasonably well but when subjected to high draught it disintegrated.  The developers tell us that they are increasing the lump size and will be making fuel available to the NTET to trial in the spring of 2022.

CPL and others in the UK, are seeking to develop eco-coal and have been very generous in supplying samples to users of a wide range of engines.

Question 12: Russell Bulley 07:22 PM

Would a steam parade past the Houses of Parliament be considered to raise awareness? Regular commercial parades were a regular occurrence in the 1900-1914. I suggest inviting MP’s to be steer persons….

Answer: Richard, Lord Faulkner – To organise a ‘parade’ as suggested could potentially bring this part of London to a standstill which would then serve only to antagonise those who you are seeking support from.

DSS: Inviting prominent members of the public onto the footplate is a good idea.

Question 13: James Hutton 07:37 PM

Is the NTET going to join with the HRA to represent the thousands of coal users in heritage road steam to investigate coal imports and alternative bio fuels.

Answer: DSS – The NTET and the HRA are founding members of the Heritage Fuels Alliance.  Steve Oates of the HRA has been working very hard to secure supplies of suitable coal from overseas sources, the intention being to distribute to all heritage users on a free market basis.

Question 14: Peter Jennings 07:45 PM

The UK Govt clearly won’t move on the environmental front. So, yes, we must move together to source, purchase and then distribute coal. Organising the Distribution will be the key.

Educating our customers and potential customers will need to be a part of our industry.

Answer: DSS – see answer to Questions 10 and 13

Question 15: Paul Alfred Howick 07:45 PM

a) Model traction engines- I take it these will sit in the heritage group?  Please clarify.

b) Private use of engines outside of public events- acceptable?  

Thank you, Alf Howick Chairman West Surrey Model Traction Engine Club

Answer: DSS – (a); the HFA has established through its consultation with DEFRA that where a model is representative of a full scale version it is legitimately included in the heritage community.  (b); there are no restrictions as to where the heritage activity may take place.

Question 16: Brian Wainwright 07:50 PM

How will the NTET ensure that ALL rally organisers (not just affiliated rallies) provide the exhibits with appropriate quality coal.  I am frustrated at some rallies I have been to as an engine owner at the type of coal handed out. I have refused extra coal at the end of rally for the journey on because of the quality in terms of smoke emissions and of breaking up in the firebox under heavy draw from my single cylinder engine.  The amount of brown sulphurous smoke emitted at some events due to the coal provided is ridiculous.

My question is regarding the perception of our events in public. I meant to include that in my question.

Answer: Charlie Cribbes (Head of NTET Rally Section) – although it has no direct jurisdiction over how environmental issues are dealt with at any event, through the Code of Practice issued to Authorised Events the NTET already asks that organisers supply high quality, low emissions coal.  It is clearly in the interest of any organiser with steam exhibits to ensure that they are seen to be holding a ‘clean’ event.

DSS: In future, with some small exception, the only coal available to heritage burners with be either imported, in which case it will have been selected because of its low emissions, or will be eco-coal.

Question 17: Peter Turvey 07:52 PM

Question for Steve Oates – Bio-Coal Trials – any plans to make test samples available to stationary steam engine sites? Peter Turvey, former Chair, Crofton Beam Engines

Answer: Steve Oates – Trials of bio coal for large locomotives conducted in the USA have not been totally successful.  The large blasts and subsequent induced draughts in the firebox has resulted in largescale integration of the fuel which is emitted in unburnt form from the chimney.  Not trials have been conducted specifically for large, fixed site, stationary engines.

Postscript: DSS – See also the answer to Question 11

Question 18: Simon Nuttall 07:52 PM

Listening to David point about sale of coal in 25kg bags being banned from March, will that apply to Ffos-Y Fran coal?

Answer:  DSS – Coal from FYF and other sources will be available to heritage users if purchased either in 50kg open top sacks or 25kg bags when bought in 1 tonne palletised loads

Question 19: Heather Holman 07:53 PM

Is it possible to quantify the environmental impact of burning a ton of coal and how that relates to other industries – e.g.  – how many miles does a Jumbo Jet, or an articulated lorry go for the same level of emissions?

Answer: DSS – we are working to derive this type of data and to represent it in a credible, easy to understand format.

Question 20: Chris Hodrien 07:55 PM

No one has talked about purchasing Carbon Offsets certificates as a solution to continued use of coal, a system which industry has been using (to ‘placate’ eco-campaigners) (e.g. JLR cars a very prominent user) ever since the Kyoto Protocol in c. 1995. This is allowed under the Paris Climate treaty.

Answer: DSS – Here we have another serious dilemma; from what we currently understand about carbon offset the coal burning heritage sector could not afford to join the carbon off-set scheme.

Question 21: Andy Attwell 07:55 PM

Could Heritage please be defined?  Would a new build engine qualify as Heritage? What about models?

Answer: See answer to question 15

Question 22: Duncan Wilkins 07:58 PM

Is there a view on the supply and use of coal in “new build” miniature tractions engines or engines <10 years old? I guess this would apply to full size both traction and railway engines that are new rather than historic?

Answer: See answer to question 15

Question 23: Peter Dalton 07:58 PM

There is a vast industry of a very broad church who support the steam industry burning coal. Should we not engage with them to jamb the government into action to support us? Model maker of all kinds- railways/ boats / traction engines. Visitor to all event to sign partitions with stand working in regards to our argument and requirements. We need to use the media to achieve this with the best PR. All these society could help.

Answer:  This is exactly what the HFA was established to do

Postscript:The NTET is aware that the National Transport Trust is introducing a scheme that will enable participants in the heritage community to demonstrate their green credentials

Question 24:  Chris Hodrien 07:58 PM

There is an established UK supplier of Bio coal pellets, CPL Ltd at Immingham with a large industrial pilot plant- I can provide contacts if someone gets back to me – no need to go all the way to Minnesota! Briquetting technology can simply be purchased by producers like CPL -widely available.

Answer: See answer to question 11

Question 25: Kevin Munn 08:00 PM

With the transportation of fuel over vast distances and many carbon miles accumulated in that transportation does the country exporting the coal get debited with it or the country importing it? And in the worldwide general commitment to reduce carbon emissions could an argument be made that the global situation be taken into account rather than an individual country

Answers:  DSS – As ever the UK government appears to be happy to demonstrate that we are striving to become carbon neutral, but ignores the ‘carbon footprint’ associated with getting the coal from its source to the end user.

Question 26: Jeff Shackell

I have never understood the Foss-y-Fran coal to be classed as bituminous coal.  This evening though it appeared as it was.  Please can you clarify this position?

Answer:  DSS – From the Coal Merchants Federation – Ffos-y-Fran is the only remaining source of Welsh Dry Steam coal which is a naturally occurring semi-smokeless fuel.  It is softer than anthracite but more clean-burning than ‘house coal’.

Usually used to ‘raise steam’ in railway engines, traction engines and steam-powered boats – also available for domestic use and offered in three sizes – Cobble / Large Nuts / Small Nuts under the trade name of ‘Gloda’ – produced at the Ffos-y-Fran Colliery in South Wales.

Best suited for closed appliances and Rayburn-type cookers, not AGA cookers.

Question 27: Andy Attwell 07:55 PM

Could Heritage please be defined. Would a new build engine qualify as Heritage? What about models?

Answer:  See answer to question 15

Question 28:  Karl Dobb 08:06 PM

In support of David Smith could I add to his point of the casual observer. Working within primary education the view of the younger generation does frown of the use of coal, which is no doubt influenced by the media and certain individuals.  When discussing topics such as the Victorians, children quite often see this as a bad time in history because they burnt coal and had smoking chimneys. Due to this, they fail to see what the Victorians achieved and how this developed our country and the way we live today.

Answer:  We are hoping to address the points you make in our publications

Question 29: Christopher Allen 08:07 PM

Just a reminder of the forthcoming STICK conference on burning fossil fuels. Google it. Booking is free. Might help with the pollution for fun issue.

Answer: Noted

Question 30: Karl Dobb 08:16 PM

To add further to David Smith’s point of polluting for fun. Yes, in some ways we are polluting for fun but are we polluting for fun anymore so than an individual taking a transatlantic flight to go on holiday and burning gallons of aviation fuel?

Answer: see answer to question 19

Question 31:  Steve Nutter 07:53 PM

Good evening Gentlemen, not a question but just to say that the Society of Independent Roundabout Proprietors and fully on board with these aims

Response: Thank you

Question 32: Peter Harrison 07:52 PM

What is it that we can do to help?

Answer: If you are not already a member please join the NTET and support its endeavours to ensure that we can continue to celebrate our heritage.  The NTET is preparing articles for publication which are intended to demonstrate to engine owners, event organisers and onlookers the extremely small impact that heritage steam has on the environment and the financial implications of curtailing the activities of the road and agricultural steam fraternity

In any case, if you are an engine owner or crew, please burn only low emissions coal. If you are an event organiser please supply only low emission coal.  If you are an on-looker please take the time to learn about what is at stake for the supporters of the fraternity.

Question 33:  Stuart Makemson 08:31 PM

Where do you see small scale coal users such as miniature road steam operators and model engineering societies obtaining steam coal in the future?

Answer:  See answer to question 13

Question 34: Peter Harrison 08:31 PM

Can you contact the Southern Federation of Model Engineers to ensure the support of the model engineering sector.  The secretary is Peter Squire.

Answer:  Have done as requested

Question 35: Matt Garwood 08:36 PM

Many thanks for holding this tonight. It has been very informative. I agree education is the best way forward. I welcome finding out what the facts are and equating it to something the general public can visualise. Thank you.

Response:  Thank you for you support

Question 36: Hi, just tuned into the webinar. Very interesting and easy to see what a long way off secure supplies of coal are.  As I understand it the tentative plan is to import loads of 5000-10000 tons at a time and distribute that to yards that would either bag it for palletised loads or transport as loose coal as users preferred? The question would be where and by who would the yards be run by – a number of heritage railways for example where they had the space and staff? Or by Hargreaves? It would be interesting to learn how many people joined the webinar. And some excellent comments by the President Andrew Semple. Regards.

Answer: thank you for your support, see answer to questions 10 and 13regarding supply.

David Smith – Head of Technical Services