The Fuel Research Institute


During the First World War, the Royal Navy started to move from coal fuel powered battleships. To support this transition, the Government create, the Fuel Research Station in 1915 near to the site of the Millennium dome but now obliterated. The Research Station was set up to study the conversion of coal into fuel oil, for use by the Royal Navy. As the principal element in coal is C,

edge fuel research buildings greenwich
Fuel Research Buildings in Marsh Lane. Built by Woolwich construction co. Edge

whereas fuel oil is roughly CH2 the problem is essentially hydrogenation. There are two practicable approaches. One is known as the Fischer- Tropsch process, and involves the passing of steam through burning coal to make CO and H2 and then reacting these gases over catalysts at elevated temperatures and pressures to synthesise hydrocarbons. The second approach is to dissolve the coal in an organic liquid, and hydrogenate directly using suitable catalysts. Work continued at Greenwich until 1957, when the facility was moved to Stevenage to conduct pilot scale trials of the Fischer-Tropsch process. The laboratories were renamed and became the Warren Spring Laboratory
The Millennium Dome’s combustion connection is not only with the Fuel Research Station; it is built on the site of a large gas works where the pyrolysis of coal was economically viable. But inside the dome the exhibits do not seem to highlight combustion, intentionally at least. One of them does consist of200 tonnes of recycled cardboard, ‘capable of withstanding temperatures up to 400°C’ – but the dimensions of the test specimen were not stated.


The information above partly quotes excerpts from an article in the Combustion Institute Newsletter of December 1999 by Ken Palmer in an article mainly about the Cavendish family.

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