Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Understanding charcoal

  1. May 21, 2013 #1
    Ello all. I have a odd question but i am curious to how it relates to chemistry or better yet understand the chemistry of it.

    Is there a chemical equation that demonstrates the reaction a piece of wood goes threw when it is turned to carbonized wood aka charcoal. such as what elements or compounds are lost during carbonization. How much of the original properties of the wood are left?

    The reason being, i am curious to find out if 85% of the wood is carbon and the rest is just its natural properties?

    tahnks
     
  2. jcsd
  3. May 21, 2013 #2

    Borek

    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    What do you mean by "properties"? Are you sure you don't mean "components"?
     
  4. May 21, 2013 #3
    properties, components. which ever. Im just wanting to know how much of the original wood is left once it has been carbonized into charcoal. not density or volume but voltile properties of the wood, such as water, flavonoids of the smoke and so forth. This may seem odd but im wanting to know because i am a professional BBQ cooker and i use lump charcoal which is where they take oak, mesquite, fruit woods and so forth, put them in a kiln with little oxygen, and heat it up. This burns off an amount ( want to know) of tars, hydrogen, water and etc. These properties of the wood in its natural form produce what we cookers call thin blue smoke. this is where the wood is at a clean burning stage with no ignition. The smoke is almost clear. This is what flavors the food, but when wood is turned to charcoal, those properties that give the smoke its flavor, are burned off and i want to know how much is burned off and how much of the natural wood and other properties that cause smoke are left?

    hard to explain but thats the best i can come up with right now. haha

    thanks
     
  5. May 22, 2013 #4

    Borek

    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    Doesn't make much sense. It is like you want to compare weight with color, and you don't care about details.
     
  6. Jun 4, 2013 #5
    Let me try to understand what you mean my friend.

    Physical components and properties are pretty much the same thing. The physical properties or physical components that make up wood are cellulous fibers and lingin. So when i said " How much of the original properties of the wood are left?" i was trying to find out how much of the charcoal is actual wood and how much of that wood still contains voltile gasses.
    Now where the confusion can be is chemical properties or chemical compounds. Are the words compounds and components synomnous? The chemical compounds of wood are methan, calcium, VOC's etc etc etc but the chemical properties of wood are that it can burn, disolve in water or can not conduct electricity. AS FAR AS I KNOW! hahaha. Its been a year sincei have had chem.
    What i am asking is when the wood is deprived of oxygen and superheated in a kiln, how much of its original structure is left once it has become charcoal? Is it safe to say that 90% of the wood is now carbon and 10% is still wood that contains methane and other voltile gasses? If so, how many of the original voltile gasses remain in that 10%? all 50+ or just some of them?
    Is there a equation that shows what gasses remain and are burned off? or is that to complicated to show because of the 50+ chemicals found in wood? An equation would be cool to have but dont really need it. haha.

    thank you much.
     
  7. Jun 4, 2013 #6

    SteamKing

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    Well, you can try the lump charcoal database:
    http://www.nakedwhiz.com/lumpindexpage.htm?bag
    plenty of photos of charcoal samples.

    There's many different ways of making charcoal. The charcoal may not contain 'wood' in the usual sense; some brands use coconut shells. The wood chip charcoals bear the closest resemblance to their origins (one sample in the database had a wood chip which bore a legible mfgr.'s stamp from when it was used as a wood product (flooring, perhaps). The lump charcoals have been ground up and put into a mold along with fillers and binders to hold the charcoal dust together.

    Unless you do an assay on a charcoal sample, I don't know where you would find carbon content v. wood content. The mfgrs. and the users don't seem to really care, as long as the product is perceived to grill up a good meal.
     
  8. Jun 4, 2013 #7
    I have made charcoal before, its way fun. made a youtube video of it as well. haha. I have tons of hardwood lump and other types of charcoal. The reason i ask about how much wood is actually left in the charcoal, im doing some research for a cooking site and what not. The biggest debate that is going on is how much flavor is imparted by using differnt types of wood charcoal. IE mesquite charcoal vs oak charcoal. some say they will not use mesquite cuz it leaves a weird flavor while others say they can not taste it at all. However, it has been debated that you should not taste a difference between oak charcoal and mesquite because most (x%) has been turned into charcoal(carbon) and all chemical compounds found in wood that flavor the food are not present anymore and thats where i am curious. Hence the question i began with. haha. How much wood really remains and how much of the chemical compounds of the remaing wood actually stay. haha. its a very big debate to the point were certain brands of charcoal have been boycotted. haha

    See its all about the smoke given off of the charcoal. The smoke is what falvors the food and us compition BBQers look for what is called thin blue smoke. thats the stage where the wood has burned off all voltile gasses and thin blue smoke or invisible smoke is present. thats the stuff that lands you the big bucks.

    lol thanks for the reply. i know its an odd question.
     
  9. Jun 7, 2013 #8

    chemisttree

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper
    Gold Member

    I think you are out of luck if you are looking for a list of compounds in wood that are magically "shaken out" when heat and a little oxygen are applied. You can't analyse wood before it is set alight for the flavor compounds you want when the wood undergoes a complex destructive distillation/oxidation. What you CAN DO is analyze the "thin blue smoke" and the headspace within the smoker to find out which chemicals are being produced and at what rate at a particular temperature. Then you can use that fingerprint as your guide, perhaps, to better control the process/ingredients.
     
  10. Jun 7, 2013 #9

    SteamKing

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    It's the wood that makes it good. - Kenny Rogers
     
Know someone interested in this topic? Share this thread via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook




Similar Discussions: Understanding charcoal
  1. Understanding Bonding (Replies: 9)

Loading...