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The earliest industrial, use of charcoal, more than four thousand years ago, was as a reductant for iron smelting to change iron oxide into metallic iron. But charcoal was already well known as a high grade smokeless fuel for cooking and domestic heating. With the emergence of industrial society as we know it today in the middle of the nineteenth centry new and expanding uses for charcoal in industry opened up to the charcoal maker at the same time as traditional industrial uses such as iron smelting began to decline with the widespread use of coke from coal as the principal reductant of the iron and steel industry.

Today two distinct markets for charcoal are recognised, the industrial and the domestic ones.