What Is the Difference Between Kerosene and Coal Oil?

For many companies, large energy providers assist business owners in keeping the lights on and the facility heated by providing electricity, heating oil or natural gas. Other owners with unique situations may need to look for other types of fuel sources to heat their buildings or provide light when an electric power supply or natural gas are unavailable. For others, simply having a backup source of fuel as part of an emergency preparedness plan may keep the business running during a power outage or other natural disaster.

TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)

The difference between kerosene oil and coal oil is the source from which the fuels are derived. Kerosene is refined and produced from liquid petroleum, while coal oil is extracted from a type of bituminous coal known as cannel coal.

Kerosene Oil and Historic Popularity

Kerosene oil is derived directly from liquid petroleum or crude oil. In its natural form, it is a clear and oily liquid that burns via a wick that is placed in the fuel. Kerosene that is slightly yellow in color is a lower quality and should not be used to avoid problems with equipment. The oil can be used in lamps, stoves and heaters.

During the mid-19th century, kerosene oil was widely used to fill lamps and became very popular in the United States, as it was far cheaper than whale oil. However, as electricity became available for homes and businesses and liquid gas fuels became more widely available, kerosene oil began to fade from popular use. However, kerosene is still used as a cleaner alternative to biomass fuels like wood and coal. It is sometimes confused with lamp or paraffin oil, which burns even cleaner due to a more rigorous refining process.

Coal: Popular in Many Forms

Coal oil is the product of a soft bituminous coal known as cannel coal. Popular in the 1800s, it was sometimes called "candle coal" because it lit easily to provide illumination even as a lump. In large quantities, the coal was refined to extract the oil and was burned in household lamps. With the discovery of new petroleum deposits in the nation and the production of cleaner-burning kerosene oil, coal oil usage quickly declined.

Today, scientists are working to convert coal into other liquid fuels. These fuels can be produced at a much lower cost than gasoline, which could represent significant benefits to the transportation industry. Research and development are ongoing to reduce carbon emissions, a current environmental concern of the process.

Industry Efforts Toward Environmental Concerns

Both of these fuels do present environmental and health & safety concerns when they are burned because carbon dioxide and other particulates are released into the air. Use of these materials, particularly in poorly ventilated rooms, has been linked to health issues, particularly for those with cardiovascular disease or asthma. Manufacturers of portable heaters in which these types of fuels are burned recommend always maintaining at least a 1-inch opening on a window to allow for adequate ventilation.

Portable heaters should also be well maintained to ensure fire safety in your facility. Never move a heater from one spot to another while it is lit. Never refuel the tank while it is operating or still hot, and never leave a heater unattended. Also, be sure to allow at least 3 feet of clearance around the heater in order to protect your business from an unfortunate fire incident.

Compare Cost and Heat Delivery

If you are not sure which alternative fuel source might be best for your business's supplemental heat or lighting needs, you'll need to do a cost comparison as well as consider safety issues. Because fuels are sold in different units, it is best to compare the heat output versus its dollar cost. The cost, calculated in terms of dollars per million BTU, will provide a more accurate number. For instance, even though propane might be less expensive per gallon to purchase, it produces less BTUs when burned, thereby requiring more fuel and greater expense in the long run.

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About the Author

Elisabeth Natter has been writing news and information articles for over 15 years. She has done public relations work for several nonprofit organizations and currently writes content for business clients of her suburban Philadelphia communications company. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism from Temple University.