In the spirit of stove discussion I thought I would inform everyone on the differences in types of fuel in Mongolia. The subject is dominated by wood, dung, and coal. Dung itself is also broken up in different categories.
Wood is one of man’s go to fire starters and for good reasons. It starts quickly (when dry), burns hot, and even makes food taste good (wood stove pizza anyone??). However, because wood starts quickly, it also burns quickly. If you fill your stove with wood you will have a hot fire for an 1-2 hours but your home will quickly get cold in a ger if you don’t keep adding wood. Stoves here aren’t really meant to take big logs so you have to keep adding small to medium sized pieces at regular intervals. No real sources of wood to speak of here in the Gobi but luckily people bring down wood neatly stacked in small bags from UB and then I buy them at outrageous prices.
Dung is Mongolia’s oldest and most beloved fuel source. It is everywhere (like in the middle of sidewalks everywhere), burns environmentally friendly, and is perfect for the nomadic lifestyle of herders. You just have to wait for it to dry and you have ready to burn fuel. Your animals come with you everywhere you go and make dung for you. Anything you don’t use is left for the next traveler. Now for the dung breakdown. Cow and horse dung burns medium to hot for a medium amount of time. Camel dung burns hotter than cow and horse dung at about the same amount of time. This is because camels eat more wood based food. Sheep and goat dung is collected after winter after the animals hang out in small shelters built to protect them from the wind and elements all season. The animals defecate in their home all winter, slowly raising the floor with their own excrement. The packed feces is then dug out and carved up like bricks. This dung is very prized as it burns hot for an extended period of time. Picking up small individual pieces of sheep and goat dung isn’t done. Sheep/goat brick dung is great for cooking on the stove because of its high heat and burn time. However, this dung has the strongest smell when it burns. Not bad in my opinion, just strong. All dung also keeps mosquitoes away in the summer. When I walk with Gobi I often take a large bag and fill up on dung from cows, horse, and camel.
Lastly we have coal. Coal and I have a love-hate relationship. Coal burns at a medium heat but for 3-4 hours. This is about as long as you can get in Mongolia. Coal needs dung or wood to get going but after the initial light you can just keep adding coal to the fire and it will never go out.This is why I love coal. Unfortunately coal has some bad aspects. It produces a thick black smoke that hurts your eyes and will give you respiratory issues. Anything that touches it gets filthy. Dealing with it involves sweeping the floor and washing your hands several times. Coal basically sucks and I hate it. However, winter without coal means lots of fire maintenance. Before the age coal and then transportation to bring wood from the north, one of the reasons why the Gobi was the hardest place to live in Mongolia was because you could only keep your home warm with dung. So I kind of need/appreciate coal. I feel bad for the people who don’t have access to coal up north. They rely on wood because there is plenty of it and it is cheaper. They won’t get the black lung though and are going through perfect training for a small baby getting up to feed the fire several times every night.
Hope you enjoyed the info! Who knows, if you ever get stuck in the wilderness for an extended period of time you can use some of this information. Maybe.