Last edited 20 May 2021

The Coal Research Establishment

Coal has been the focus of experimentation at the laboratories at Stoke Orchard, Gloucestershire since the 1930s. Research and development into coal has been managed by a number of bodies since then, starting with the Government Fuel Research station, but the Coal Research Establishment (CRE) has become synonymous with the site.

British Coal’s Director of Research Jacob Bronowski set up the CRE in 1950 to investigate alternative technologies to improve the value of the energy produced from burning coal.

One of the CRE’s most notable breakthroughs was a coal liquefaction process which produced synthetic oil that could be used to power motor engines, including a demonstration Ford Torino which was kept at the site. Today, a number of international research stations are pursuing new research projects into coal liquefaction.

Gasification is a key part of the liquefaction process. This was pioneered successfully by CRE in the 1950s, using coal seams at Newman Spinney. Instead of burning coal as a fossil fuel, it is chemically transformed into synthetic natural gas (SNG). In later years CRE pursued clean coal projects, which would trap the carbon in a usable form that could be exploited in other chemical processes.

When the CRE joined forces with Gastec, a Dutch company, in 1994, it added gas and gas appliance testing to its portfolio.

Today it is part of the Kiwa Group, a global testing, inspection and certification organisation. Kiwa employs 150 people in the UK, servicing industries as diverse as construction, agriculture, food, boiler and stove manufacturing. Pioneering research is still undertaken at the Kiwa Gastec labs just outside Cheltenham, predominantly into hydrogen and other gases.

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