Cooking with Coal

From energypedia


Coal is among the most important fossil fuels, accounting for 25% of total energy consumption and 40% of worldwide electricity generation.[1] It is not to be confused with charcoal. Coal is a black, solid, carbon-rich mineral, which is mined underground, while charcoal is the ultimate form of burnt wood.

Coal for Cooking

Coal is not so often found as a cooking fuel on its own, it is rather utilized in regions where cooking and space heating are combined. Due to its regional availability, coal is used for cooking e.g. in China and India. The World Health Organization does not recommend the use of unprocessed coal in households due to carcinogenic emissions and toxic elements such as fluorine, arsenic, lead, selenium, and mercury, which are not destroyed by combustion.[2]

Coals are formed in processes of decomposition and chemical conversion of immense masses of organic matter. This process is also known as coalification and means 'the gain in carbon content'. The process begins with peat as a parent material, is supported by increasing temperature and depth of burial, and ends with anthracite.

Coals are classified according to their degrees of coalification: the major ones are lignite (brown coal), bituminous (black coal), and anthracite.[3] The most geological reserves of non-renewable energy forms consist of coal. The United States (31.4%) followed by China (25%), and India (10%) have the highest shares of black coal reserves in the world.[4] Due to the higher energy content of black coal it is often exported, whereas brown coal is a regionally used energy source.



Lignite (Brown Coal) Bituminous (Black coal)




1.) Center for Applied Energy Research University of Kentucky

2.) Chemical Engineering
3.) United States Geological Survey
Carbon content [%] 60 – 75 75 – 91 > 91.5
Energy content in MJ/kg < 28.6 28.6 – 35.2 35.3

Coal used in households for cooking and heating varies in composition, form, and way of application. Coal is used in different forms such as “bee-nest coal briquettes” (also called “bee-hive”), “coal cakes”, “coal balls” and raw coal. Bee-nest coal briquettes, for example, are typically made of anthracite, semi-anthracite, and clay, which can be used as a binding material and burn-rate controller. The concept, which comes from China, assumes that the height and diameter of the stove burning chamber corresponds to the coal briquette. This type of coal briquette is primarily used for heating in China and South-Korea, but also for cooking, e.g. in Vietnam.[6] In some areas, where coal is scarce, coal dust is used in a mixture with dung, formed to cakes and dried in the sun, as shown in the picture.

G Coal like brickett in chechetky 2 christoph wiedemann.JPG

Further Information


This article was originally published by GIZ HERA. It is basically based on experiences, lessons learned and information gathered by GIZ cook stove projects. You can find more information about the authors and experts of the original “Cooking Energy Compendium” in the Imprint - GIZ HERA Cooking Energy Compendium.

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GIZ HERA Cooking Energy Compendium

  1. Smith, K. et al. (2013): Energy and Human Health. Annual Review of Public Health
  2. WHO (2014): Frequently Asked Questions WHO guidelines for indoor air quality: household fuel combustion
  3. Encyclopedia Britannica
  4. BGR (2010): Reserven, Ressourcen und Verfügbarkeit von Energierohstoffen
  5. Brockhaus. DieEnzyklopädie (1996); F. A. Brockhaus Leipzig
  6. UNDP and ESMAP 1996