EMBARGOED FOR RELEASE | Thu Aug 26 16:42:03 EDT 2010

Charcoal: An American Chemical Society “Did You Know?” challenge

Note to journalists: Please report that this research was presented at a meeting of the American Chemical Society

BOSTON, Aug. 26, 2010 — Here’s a “Did You Know?” challenge for hungry family and friends lurking while you tend hot dogs, burgers, ribs, veggies, and other fare on that charcoal grill. They are fresh from a presentation here today at the American Chemical Society (ACS) 240th National Meeting & Exposition. The presenter was Michael J. Antal, Jr., Ph. D., one of the world’s foremost authorities on charcoal.

Did you know that:

  • Charcoal may have been the first synthetic material produced by humans.
  • Scientific evidence indicates that Cro-Magnon Man produced the first charcoal 38,000 years ago.
  • Making charcoal was a technological tour de force, requiring the knowledge and skill to ignite, control, and sustain a fire, and to extinguish it quickly.
  • Our prehistoric relatives used charcoal artistically, to draw scenes of animals and hunters on the walls of caves. Some of those cave sketches still exist today.
  • Charcoal can be made not just from hickory and mesquite wood, but from corn cobs, rice hulls, coconut shells, bone, nut shells, and other materials.
  • The BBQ grill is only one of dozens of other uses of charcoal in areas ranging from medicine and water purification to production of iron and making the soil more productive for agriculture. “Charcoal is the renewable replacement for coal,” Antal noted.
  • Reliance on charcoal for cooking and heating in developing countries has been a major factor in deforestation around the world.

And finally, a “Believe It or Not.” Despite being a world authority on charcoal, you’ll never find Antal tending a barbecue. “I’m mostly a vegetarian,” he noted. “I suppose I could grill vegetables, but I’m just not interested in grilling.”

Although Antal never grills food, members of his lab at the University of Hawaii at Manoa do, and he says that they ignite the charcoal with paper and kindling using a chimney-type charcoal starter, to avoid the air pollution emissions cause by liquid fire-starters.

For a charcoal review paper by Antal, go to charcoal.

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