Charcoal is an organic carbon compound with a variety of uses.

Charcoal (C)

Charcoal is an organic carbon compound. Charcoal has a variety of uses, including fuel for food production, fuel for heating, and as an absorbent used for water and food purification. Industrially, it is an important input for steelmaking, and it is also used in machinery and equipment, in pigments, and as a component of gun powder.

Charcoal production has a strong association with high C02 emissions and with countries experiencing weak rule of law and poor human rights and environmental governance. Materiality ESG issues highly associated with charcoal production include deforestation, child labour, and forced labour.

Main Uses and Attributes

Charcoal is an organic carbon compound that can be found in various forms including wood charcoal, activated charcoal and barbeque charcoal. It is an impure form of graphitic carbon, or graphite, and produced as a residue when a material is partially burned or heated with limited access to air.[1]  It results from the high-temperature decomposition of organic material, called pyrolysis.[2]

Physically, charcoal appears as a black, porous solid. It is a low-density compound, absorbent and has little mechanical strength. Chemically, charcoal is a low ash compound, highly combustible and highly reactive to carbon dioxide.[3]

Globally, the predominant use of charcoal is for outdoor cooking.[4] Wood charcoal, produced from the burning of wood, is used as fuel and can also be a source of acetone. Activated charcoal, an absorbent compound, can absorb odorous and coloured substances from gases or liquids. Thanks to this attribute it is used in the purification of drinking water and sugar, the recovery of solvents, and in gas masks for the removal of toxic compounds from the air. It also has a variety of medical uses for the same reason.[5] Charcoal is also used in making black gunpowder and case-hardening chemicals, and in blast furnaces as a source of carbon.

For industrial purposes, charcoal is heavily deployed in steelmaking as an alternative to traditional coal-fired blast furnaces. Brazil is the global leader in charcoal production and is coal-scarce; steelmakers in the country are often vertically integrated with charcoal-producing plantations.

Main Uses

  • Defence
  • Machinery and Equipment
  • Pigments

Key Industries

  • Chemical
  • Energy
  • Steel Making

Key Countries

Top Producer Brazil

Supply Chain Risk

TDi assesses Charcoal for key risks affecting the security of supply, and for its association with artisanal and small-scale mining.

Overall Supply Chain Resilience Risk
Strength of Association with ASM
Very Low Moderate Very High

Country Governance Risks

Charcoal's association with countries experiencing:

Violence and Conflict
Weak Rule of Law
Poor Human Rights
Poor Environmental Governance
Very Low Moderate Very High

Association with ESG issues

TDi Sustainability's data rates Charcoal's association with the following issues as high or very high:

Violence and Conflict
Disease Prevalence in Affected Areas
Negative Perceptions of Corporate Citizenship
Occupational Health and Safety
Child Labour
Labour Rights
Forced Labour
Indigenous Peoples Rights
Company/Community Conflicts
Community Rights Violations
Non-Payment of Taxes
Illicit Financial Flows
Release of Radiation
Negative Biodiversity and Conservation Impact
Degraded/Fragmented Landscape
Very Low Moderate Very High

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