Will we see gasworks again?

Once every town and city has a gas works. Although the gas works did not feature on the Monopoly Board, they were once commonplace. You can still see the old gasholders in towns and cities, where they are soemtimes used for gas storage. Originally in the United Kingdom gas, called Town gas, was created by extracting energy from coal by the process of gasification. You can also extract energy from carbon based materials, like oil and wood by the process of gasification, which in effect converts the coal, or oil or biomass into a synthetic gas which contains more of the usable energy from the raw material and less wasted energy.

Gas works created town gas, which was originally used for lighting and then, as electricity became more widespread for heating and cooking. Typically sixty years ago most homes had a gas hob and oven and perhaps one glorious gas fire, usually in the living room, which was lighted with matches and provided heat without the hassle and dirt that coal fires brought.

In 1965 BP discovered the first of many natural gas fields and the process of converting every town gas cooker and fire to work with natural gas started in 1967.  The conversion involved fitting different sized burners and cost what was a large sum of money because fitters visited over 13 million homes. When the conversion was completed the end of the gas works came, and for a long time the redundant gasholders blighted the skyline and the last gas works was taken out of commission in 1987 in Northern Ireland.

Gas works, of a different kind, may soon reappear on the landscape. In the Isle of Wight there is a new gasification plant which converts waste into energy, by means of synthetic gas. It may be possible that waste is better converted into methane than buried in landfill or recycled. The advantage of gasification is that it is a more efficient process than creating energy by directly burning the waste, although it is more expensive. Continue reading