Grindlebone Center for Bypassed Technologies

Kerosene:  An Overview

One of the features of the "Floating Empire" project (here see the blog "Tales of the Floating Empire" in the menu to the left)  was the opportunity to experiment with different forms of alternative energy sources, from wood fires to solar generated electricity.  One of the most fruitful of these has been our experiences with Kerosene as a heating, lighting, and cooking fuel.  Gradually replacing whale oil in the 19th century, Kerosene (or Paraffin as it is referred to outside of the U.S.) became the primary cooking fuel in the United States in the late 19th and early 20th century before being replaced by rural electrification and transportable propane.  It remains in use in the U.S. in some rural areas, as well as aboard vessels and for camping or emergency applications.

I thought, based upon this experience, that it might be useful to do a review of the current state of Kerosene technology as we have applied it, its utility, and the potential for wider use.

From Wikipedia:  "Kerosene is a combustible hydrocarbon liquid widely used as a fuel, in industry, and in households. Its name is derived from Greek: κηρός (keros) meaning wax, and was registered as a trademark by Abraham Gesner in 1854 before evolving into a genericized trademark. It is sometimes spelled kerosine in scientific and industrial usage. The term "kerosene" is common in much of India, Canada, the United States, Australia and New Zealand.

Kerosene is usually called paraffin in the UK, Ireland, Southeast Asia and South Africa.

Kerosene is widely used to power jet engines of aircraft (jet fuel) and some rocket engines, but is also commonly used as a cooking and lighting fuel and for fire toys such as poi. In parts of Asia, where the price of kerosene is subsidized, it fuels outboard motors on small fishing boats. Kerosene lamps are widely used for lighting in rural areas of Asia and Africa where electrical distribution is not available or too costly for widespread use. World total kerosene consumption for all purposes is equivalent to about 1.2 million barrels per day."

By comparison, U.S.  Gasoline consumption alone is around 19 million barrels per day.

It should be noted that, in parts of the U.S., Kerosene must be dyed red in order to differentiate it from gasoline.  This does not, apparently, affect it's performance.  

As a fuel, Kerosene is quite safe.  Unlike volatile fuels like gasoline, and most especially like propane, it will not explode or even burn in it's undispersed liquid form.  A pool of gasoline is explosive.  A pool of Kerosene will not even burn under normal circumstances, and will put out a lit match tossed therein.  It has a low rate of absorption through the skin, and a very low toxicity, but burns quite cleanly in a properly managed device.  As such it is a major step up in interior air quality form "three stone" cooking in the third world.

The First uses for Kerosene as a widespread fuel were as replacements for whale oil in the 19th century.  Kerosene lanterns remain a staple for campers and for emergency or atmospheric lighting.  The most common lamp is the simple, single wick lamp, providing up to about 14 candlepower depending on style and wick size.  Cold blast lanterns, often referred to erroneously as "railroad lanterns", are common for camping and can produce light output in the 20 candlepower range. Aboard the Floating Empire, we utilize Kirkman #2 cold blast lanterns, both for lighting and to assist in heating (they can produce up to 1200 BTU when running).  Unpressurized mantle lanterns like the legendary Aladdin lamps can compete in light output with electric bulbs, and current versions can produce about the same light as a 50 watt incandescent bulb.  Pressurized lanterns can be even brighter, but are more problematic to operate and require greater maintainence.

Through the period of rural electrification in the U.S., Kerosene stoves, usually unpressurized ones, were the predominant form of cooking and heat, especially in farm America.  The cookstoves, often still available at flea markets and antique stores, often had up to four burners using one piece circular wicks fed from a central well or gravity fed bottle.  With the decline of Kerosene as a fuel in the U.S., these were largely replaced by electric or bottle gas stoves.  Pressurized camp stoves and hiking stoves still find some favor in the U.S. for sports enthusiasts, and kerosene marine stoves seem to be gaining again in popularity.

In Africa and Asia, however, these stoves remain in heavy use.  Companies like Butterfly in Indonesia build all aluminum restaurant burners used throughout the region.  We have, ourselves, had wonderful results with the Butterfly 16 wick stove.  The device burns economically, silently, and quite cleanly, and at 10,500 BTU, is capable of the high heat necessary for deep frying.  The company also makes an excellent stovetop oven which allows baking and reheating.

It is in the arena of heating that Kerosene remains in heavy use in the West.  Kerosene heaters, forced and convection, still play a major role in industrial and emergency heating, with outputs in excess of 150,000 BTU common for forced air "jet" heaters.  The ability of Kerosene to quietly and safely produce dry heat for an entire home is virtually unmatched, and it remains far less expensive than Propane or other portable heating methods.  Aboard Floating Empire, we utilized a borrowed antique kerosene heater before purchasing a Dura Heat 10,500 BTU convection heater, which is more than enough to keep the entire structure warm.

Yes, believe it or not, there are kerosene run freezers and refrigerators.  While not exactly inexpensive, the units--some made by the Amish in the U.S.--use Aladdin-type burners to provide heat for absorption cycle cooling, and are quite effective.  

Hot Water
Primarily available in Asia, on demand hot water systems are available from companies like Toyotomi.

Environmental Concerns and Alternatives
There are a few downsides to the use of Kerosene.  While the appliances are largely odorless while (properly) burning, they can often be smelled during startup and when being put out, and the odor of Kerosene is found unpleasant by some.  As a flame source of heat, there is always a production of Carbon Dioxide gas, as well as a small amount of Carbon Monoxide.  Proper ventilation is always necessary, and the use of a carbon monoxide detector is recommended.  
On top of this, Kerosene is, indeed, a fossil fuel, and does contribute to the emissions helping to create climate change.  Fortunately, most appliances which run on kerosene will also run on biodiesel as well as as on most vegetable oils when diluted with ethel alcohol, both renewable resources.
As an off-grid, minimal footprint alternative, Kerosene represents a safe, off-grid, readily available, alternative which we have used successfully in day to day living.  We would be delighted to hear your own experiences on our forum.

Lanterns and Kerosene Refrigerators:

Lanterns, cold blast lanterns, aladdin lanterns, and parts:
W. T. Kirkman Lanterns, Inc

Butterfly stoves and ovens:
St. Paul Mercantile

The Big Dumb Battery Project

Historical perspective: By the end of the 19th century, batteries were a common device in the west. Recharged by waterfalls, steam, Jacobs wind turbines, or simply used as chemical generators, commercial batteries by Edison and others drove lights, electric motors, motorcars, and later, everything from doorbells to radios. With the advent of commercial powerstations, and with widespread rural electrification, the use of this relatively simple powersource fell in to disuse. Common batteries of the era couldn't sustain the high current levels needed for early electrical appliances, and interest faded.
Several things now have changed: home electrical and electronic devices are now wildly more efficient, especially in the lighting arena, and the new drive for autonomy is fueling a new set of pioneers in power.
Project objectives: The big dumb battery project is to create a large, salt water battery bank utilizing largely discarded or readily available components to determine if basic home needs (lighting, small appliances, and electronics) might be met with this inexpensive, off-grid power system. While the project is in its infancy, a detailed discussion on some of the concepts can be found at, along with photos of some of the early electrode work.

Call for Papers, Videos, and Reviews

Grindlebone's new site, the Center for Bypassed Technologies, is issuing a call for Videos, Papers, Articles, Images, and Reviews. Focus is on actual or potential modern day applications for technologies, techniques, and manners of living that might have been bypassed by cheap energy, market or social trends, or politics.

Submission Guidelines:
By presenting materials for consideration, you are presenting that either the materials in question are in the public domain or that you have received rights to publish same. Articles should be well written and well researched, with adequate citations to allow other scholars to do follow up studies. Videos should be presented in the form of links to public video sources such as YouTube. Personal opinion and personal research should be clearly stated as such.
Please query first for all submissions to and please inform us if you would like to be by-lined if your work is accepted. Any and all possibilites can be fodder for the new site, from tesla to biocoal, rocket stoves to aladdin lamps, icyballs to steam bicycles, whatever you can find, dream, or fabricate.

We are hoping that our meagre efforts may lead others to further research and perhaps to making positive change. Many Thanks. Watch this Space for further developments.

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