Storage Of Chemical Energy

Chemical fuels can be easily stored for long periods. The solid fuels present the least problems of storage. For simple temporary storage, coal can be dumped in a pile on the ground. If storage is for only a short period the coal can be left in the open. For longer-term storage, it is desirable to cover the coal with some type of waterproof cover. The cover prevents rain from soaking the coal and interfering with the combustion process. Rainwater can also leach toxic sulfur compounds from coal stored in the open creating significant environmental damage.

The storage of oil and oil derived liquid chemical fuels is somewhat more complicated than the storage of coal. These fuels must be confined in a tank. It is usually best to cover the tank so water and dirt do not contaminate the fuel. In this case, the cover serves the purpose of protecting the oil from contamination and evaporation rather than protecting the soil from water that has leached toxins from the fuel. The tanks designed for liquid fuel storage are somewhat more costly than the simple coal pile, but the cost is still quite small. Tank storage of liquid fuels range from large ocean going tankers, to onshore storage depots, storage at local distribution points, local gas stations, automobile tanks and the small tank that stores the fuel to power small tools such as the lawn mower and the chain saw.

Gas is the most complicated chemical fuel to store. It must be placed in a container of sufficient strength to resist the gas pressure and prevent all leakage. In the early part of this century coal gas or producer gas, also made from coal, was manufactured near the users. Pipeline runs were short. This allowed the use of low-pressure storage gasholders that change their volume in response to gas input and withdrawal. These tanks are large, but relatively low cost. When low-pressure storage is used, there is no need to spend a large amount of energy compressing the gas. In the late thirties and forties, the United States switched to natural gas. The continent wide high-pressure natural gas lines serve as storage; no local storage is needed. Low-pressure gas storage was largely abandoned.

In a large-scale distribution system, the pipelines provide a large volume continent-spanning storage reservoir in addition to their primary function as a conduit. In other applications, where modest capacity is required and cost is not a major consideration, gas can be stored in high-pressure bottles as is done with welding gas.


The storage methods used with chemical fuels are satisfactory regardless of the storage duration required. Chemical fuels can be stored for hours, days, months, or years allowing maximum flexibility for the fuel consumer. If sufficient storage space is available, chemical fuels can be purchased when the price is low for use later. Chemical fuels can be purchased and stored against future disruptions in the fuel distribution system. In the summer when river barge transportation is available at low cost, coal fired power plants buy their winter fuel and place it in storage. In the winter when the river is frozen and fuel cannot be shipped, the power plant can continue operating using its stored fuel. Emergency power systems can be equipped with a supply of fuel adequate for several days' operation. With proper design, fuel can be reliably stored for years ensuring its availability if the main power systems fail.

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