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British Industrial History

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Fuel Research Station

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1918 This was the first research station established by the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research; this was done at the suggestion of the Fuel Research Board under George Thomas Beilby. The station was located at Greenwich next to the East Greenwich Gas Works of the South Metropolitan Gas Co, the last gas works to be built in London.

The Fuel Research Station was set up to carry out a practical survey of the indigenous supplies of fuel resources (especially coal) of Great Britain, and conduct an experimental investigation of more economical and efficient methods for the preparation of coal and its solid, liquid and gaseous products. In particular, research was done on methods of extracting oil from coal other than just using the by-products of gas and coke manufacturing. Methods of coal and oil consumption were also examined.

A particular interest was in converting coal into oil as a fuel for the Navy. Two approaches were investigated - the Fischer-Tropsch process, which involves turning coal into CO and hydrogen by passing steam through it, and then reacting these gases over catalysts at elevated temperatures and pressures to synthesise hydrocarbons. The second approach was dissolving the coal in an organic liquid, and hydrogenating it directly using suitable catalysts. Several methods of coal gasification were developed at the station.

A national coal survey was instituted with, eventually, 18 area laboratories involved in delineating the national coal resource.

From 1927 the Station also undertook investigations of atmospheric pollution formerly conducted by the Air Ministry.

1947 The work in relation to the coal survey was transferred to the National Coal Board.

c.1948 A calorimeter building was established for domestic heating research

1949 A Scottish branch of the Station was set up at Thorntonhall

1958 the Fuel Research Board was replaced by a steering committee of the Research Council and the research station was closed; its work was either terminated or transferred to the new Warren Spring Laboratory. The Scottish laboratory became a branch of the Warren Spring Laboratory.

c.2000 The Millenium Dome was built on the Greenwich site


See Also

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Sources of Information

  • A history of fuel research by Dr A C Monkhouse, published by HMSO, was reviewed in New Scientist, 15 June 1961
  • National Archives [1]