The Irony of Ironbridge

The traditional way of producing iron was in small batches, using charcoal as the fuel. In 1709 Abraham Darby I built the world’s first blast furnace fuelled by coke. This enabled a continuous process to be used for production, enabling much greater quantities to be produced. What is more, charcoal is derived from wood, which was by then becoming increasingly scarce in Britain. Coke comes from coal, of which there were increasingly plentiful supplies. The unit costs of iron production therefore came down for the reasons of increased productivity and a cheaper, more plentiful, energy source. Without this switch the industrial revolution would not have started. The reason for building the blast furnace in Coalbrookdale should be obvious.

Darby’s grandson Abraham Darby III used this cheap iron to build, in 1779 the world’s first bridge from fabricated from cast iron. The village by this bridge and the gorge encompassing Coalbrookdale are now known as Ironbridge. It is now a major tourist attraction.

There has been a coal-fired power station in the Ironbridge Gorge since the 1930s. The directions from the site of the original blast furnace are below. The original 200MW facility was replaced in 1969 and 1970 by the twin 500MW facilities seen today. In 2012, one of those facilities was modified to accept wooden pellets that are imported from North America. The will generate up to £100,000,000 a year in renewables obligation certificates, increasing the cost of the electricity to consumers by 75%.

Globally forests are still declining. Wood is a scarce resource and expensive, with the price only likely to increase. Known coal reserves are sufficient to supply current global requirements for centuries, is cheap and the price is falling. Ironbridge can now claim to both a birthplace of the industrial revolution, and a symbol of sending the benefits of the industrial revolution into reverse. Spot the irony.

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3 Comments

  1. Brian H

     /  13/01/2014

    Why are you showing a Google error?
    Edit: ” Without this switch the industrial [would not have] revolution started.”

    I hope the Invisible Hand squeezes till the pips squeak.

    Reply
  2. Brian H

     /  13/01/2014

    My error: Edit: ” Without this switch the industrial revolution [would not have] started.”

    Reply

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