Burning Peat: A Renewable Fuel

Burning peat has its advantages: it’s a renewable fuel, it has natural deposits around the world and it is ecologically sound if used in moderation.

| January/February 1975


These peat chunks are drying in Francis' basement . . . an essential step because of the newly gathered material's very high water content. The ruler is included to show the size of the pieces.


If you've got a wood or coal-burning stove these days you've got a problem. Coal just ain't what it used to be (cheap!) and good wood sometimes can be hard to come by . . . even though it does grow on trees. So how can you keep the home fires burning? Go digging. For peat's sake.

Peat is so common in the United States and Canada that most people can't see the resource for looking at it. There are an estimated eighty million acres of deposit right here in the continental U.S. Most of this vast natural supply goes unused . . . although some people do throw a few bushels of the muck on their gardens for fertilizer and others use the more fibrous and mossy varieties as a dressing for flowerbeds. What most folks don't know, however, is that peat can be a clean-burning, efficient and low-cost fuel!

Last summer I often passed a swamp where a man was digging muck for sale as topsoil. I wondered if the wet material could be the "peat" I had heard was used for fuel in other parts of the world . . . so I obtained a few hundred pounds and dried it. The idea worked! Once lit, the chunks glowed like charcoal and gave off gases that burned with a flickering blue flame!

Peat is nothing more than partially decayed and compacted vegetable matter which — over a period of time — has accumulated where soil is wet enough to retard oxidation. Its color and consistency can be black and mucky or brown and fibrous or anything in between. Individual moors, bogs, swamps and shallow ponds each produce their own "copyrighted" variety of the material. In fact, varying types of peat are often found in layers — each formed as a result of a change in climate or vegetation — within the same marsh. You might even discover that the "turf" differs from one area of a single bed to another . . . and the bed itself might be a few inches to several feet deep. In its natural state, peat is around 95% water by weight (most of which must be dried out before burning) and frequently contains some sand.

The fuel value of peat has been utilized in Europe since the days of the ancient Greeks and Romans . . . so long, as a matter of fact, that the substance has undoubtedly played an important role in the development of western civilization. Large amounts were "coked" and used to power automobiles (run on carbon monoxide-producing generators) shortly after World War II. Today's rural Europeans still heat their homes with peat, and in Eastern Europe the fuel is even used to fire thermal power plants. The Soviet Union alone consumes as much as sixty million tons a year!

Most peat is used close to the bogs from which it comes. Its energy potential per pound is no higher than wood and peat has only half the Btu value of coal. Production costs (on a large scale) are therefore high when compared to the fossil fuels, and long-distance transportation of the material is economically impractical. The resource is competitive, however, where other fuels are unavailable or just too blamed expensive. Peat is most frequently used by farmers who have beds of the material on their land and who can harvest the fuel merely for the labor of digging and drying.

1/13/2008 9:58:14 AM

where can i buy peat-blocks to burn on my fire do u have a phone number

mother earth news fair


Oct. 21-22, 2017
Topeka, KS.

More than 150 workshops, great deals from more than 200 exhibitors, off-stage demos, inspirational keynotes, and great food!