Coal is a combustible black or brownish-black sedimentary rock, formed as rock strata called coal seams. Coal is mostly carbon with variable amounts of other elements; chiefly hydrogen, sulfur, oxygen, and nitrogen.[1] Coal is formed if dead plant matter decays into peat and over millions of years the heat and pressure of deep burial converts the peat into coal.[2] Vast deposits of coal originates in former wetlands—called coal forests—that covered much of the Earth's tropical land areas during the late Carboniferous (Pennsylvanian) and Permian times.[3][4]

As a fossil fuel burned for heat, coal supplies about a quarter of the world's primary energy and two-fifths of its electricity.[5] Some iron and steel making and other industrial processes burn coal.

The extraction and use of coal causes many premature deaths and much illness.[6] Coal damages the environment, including by climate change as it is the largest anthropogenic source of carbon dioxide, 14 Gt in 2016,[7] which is 40% of the total fossil fuel emissions.[8] As part of the worldwide energy transition many countries have stopped using or use less coal.

The largest consumer and importer of coal is China. China mines account for almost half the world's coal, followed by India with about a tenth. Australia accounts for about a third of world coal exports followed by Indonesia and Russia.[9]

Sedimentary rock
Coal bituminous
Mineral Lignito GDFL028
Lignite (brown coal)
Coal anthracite
Anthracite (hard coal)


The word originally took the form col in Old English, from Proto-Germanic *kula(n), which in turn is hypothesized to come from the Proto-Indo-European root *g(e)u-lo- "live coal".[10] Germanic cognates include the Old Frisian kole, Middle Dutch cole, Dutch kool, Old High German chol, German Kohle and Old Norse kol, and the Irish word gual is also a cognate via the Indo-European root.[10]


Coal is composed of macerals, minerals and water.[11] Fossils and amber may be found in coal.


Struktura chemiczna węgla kamiennego
Example chemical structure of coal

At various times in the geologic past, the Earth had dense forests[12] in low-lying wetland areas. Due to natural processes such as flooding, these forests were buried underneath soil. As more and more soil deposited over them, they were compressed. The temperature also rose as they sank deeper and deeper. As the process continued the plant matter was protected from biodegradation and oxidation, usually by mud or acidic water. This trapped the carbon in immense peat bogs that were eventually covered and deeply buried by sediments. Under high pressure and high temperature, dead vegetation was slowly converted to coal. The conversion of dead vegetation into coal is called coalification. Coalification starts with dead plant matter decaying into peat. Then over millions of years the heat and pressure of deep burial causes the loss of water, methane and carbon dioxide and an increase in the proportion of carbon.[11] Thus first lignite (also called "brown coal"), then sub-bituminous coal, bituminous coal, and lastly anthracite (also called "hard coal" or "black coal") may be formed.[2][13]

The wide, shallow seas of the Carboniferous Period provided ideal conditions for coal formation, although coal is known from most geological periods. The exception is the coal gap in the Permian–Triassic extinction event, where coal is rare. Coal is known from Precambrian strata, which predate land plants—this coal is presumed to have originated from residues of algae.[14][15]

Sometimes coal seams (also known as coal beds) are interbedded with other sediments in a cyclothem.


Sydney Mines Point Aconi Seam 038
Coastal exposure of the Point Aconi Seam in Nova Scotia
Coal Rank USGS
Coal ranking system used by the United States Geological Survey

As geological processes apply pressure to dead biotic material over time, under suitable conditions, its metamorphic grade or rank increases successively into:

  • Peat, a precursor of coal
  • Lignite, or brown coal, the lowest rank of coal, most harmful to health,[16] used almost exclusively as fuel for electric power generation
    • Jet, a compact form of lignite, sometimes polished; used as an ornamental stone since the Upper Palaeolithic
  • Sub-bituminous coal, whose properties range between those of lignite and those of bituminous coal, is used primarily as fuel for steam-electric power generation.
  • Bituminous coal, a dense sedimentary rock, usually black, but sometimes dark brown, often with well-defined bands of bright and dull material It is used primarily as fuel in steam-electric power generation and to make coke.
  • Anthracite, the highest rank of coal is a harder, glossy black coal used primarily for residential and commercial space heating.
  • Graphite is difficult to ignite and not commonly used as fuel; it is most used in pencils, or powdered for lubrication.

Cannel coal (sometimes called "candle coal") is a variety of fine-grained, high-rank coal with significant hydrogen content, which consists primarily of liptinite.

There are several international standards for coal.[17] The classification of coal is generally based on the content of volatiles. However the most important distinction is between thermal coal (also known as steam coal), which is burnt to generate electricity via steam; and metallurgical coal (also known as coking coal), which is burnt at high temperature to make steel.

Hilt's law

Hilt's law is a geological observation that (within a small area) the deeper the coal is found, the higher its rank (or grade). It applies if the thermal gradient is entirely vertical; however, metamorphism may cause lateral changes of rank, irrespective of depth.


Tiangong Kaiwu Coal Mining
Chinese coal miners in an illustration of the Tiangong Kaiwu encyclopedia, published in 1637

The earliest recognized use is from the Shenyang area of China where by 4000 BC Neolithic inhabitants had begun carving ornaments from black lignite.[18] Coal from the Fushun mine in northeastern China was used to smelt copper as early as 1000 BC.[19] Marco Polo, the Italian who traveled to China in the 13th century, described coal as "black stones ... which burn like logs", and said coal was so plentiful, people could take three hot baths a week.[20] In Europe, the earliest reference to the use of coal as fuel is from the geological treatise On stones (Lap. 16) by the Greek scientist Theophrastus (c. 371–287 BC):[21][22]

Among the materials that are dug because they are useful, those known as anthrakes [coals] are made of earth, and, once set on fire, they burn like charcoal. They are found in Liguria ... and in Elis as one approaches Olympia by the mountain road; and they are used by those who work in metals.

— Theophrastus, On Stones (16) translation

Outcrop coal was used in Britain during the Bronze Age (3000–2000 BC), where it formed part of funeral pyres.[23][24] In Roman Britain, with the exception of two modern fields, "the Romans were exploiting coals in all the major coalfields in England and Wales by the end of the second century AD".[25] Evidence of trade in coal, dated to about AD 200, has been found at the Roman settlement at Heronbridge, near Chester; and in the Fenlands of East Anglia, where coal from the Midlands was transported via the Car Dyke for use in drying grain.[26] Coal cinders have been found in the hearths of villas and Roman forts, particularly in Northumberland, dated to around AD 400. In the west of England, contemporary writers described the wonder of a permanent brazier of coal on the altar of Minerva at Aquae Sulis (modern day Bath), although in fact easily accessible surface coal from what became the Somerset coalfield was in common use in quite lowly dwellings locally.[27] Evidence of coal's use for iron-working in the city during the Roman period has been found.[28] In Eschweiler, Rhineland, deposits of bituminous coal were used by the Romans for the smelting of iron ore.[25]

Men of the Mine- Life at the Coal Face, Britain, 1942 D8263
Coal miner in Britain, 1942

No evidence exists of the product being of great importance in Britain before about AD 1000, the High Middle Ages.[29] Mineral coal came to be referred to as "seacoal" in the 13th century; the wharf where the material arrived in London was known as Seacoal Lane, so identified in a charter of King Henry III granted in 1253.[30] Initially, the name was given because much coal was found on the shore, having fallen from the exposed coal seams on cliffs above or washed out of underwater coal outcrops,[29] but by the time of Henry VIII, it was understood to derive from the way it was carried to London by sea.[31] In 1257–1259, coal from Newcastle upon Tyne was shipped to London for the smiths and lime-burners building Westminster Abbey.[29] Seacoal Lane and Newcastle Lane, where coal was unloaded at wharves along the River Fleet, still exist.[32]

These easily accessible sources had largely become exhausted (or could not meet the growing demand) by the 13th century, when underground extraction by shaft mining or adits was developed.[23] The alternative name was "pitcoal", because it came from mines. The development of the Industrial Revolution led to the large-scale use of coal, as the steam engine took over from the water wheel. In 1700, five-sixths of the world's coal was mined in Britain. Britain would have run out of suitable sites for watermills by the 1830s if coal had not been available as a source of energy.[33] In 1947 there were some 750,000 miners in Britain[34] but the last deep coal mine in the UK closed in 2015.[35]

A grade between bituminous coal and anthracite was once known as "steam coal" as it was widely used as a fuel for steam locomotives. In this specialized use, it is sometimes known as "sea coal" in the United States.[36] Small "steam coal", also called dry small steam nuts (or DSSN), was used as a fuel for domestic water heating.

Sea coal continues to accumulate on beaches around the world from both natural erosion of exposed coal seams and windswept spills from cargo ships. Many homes in such areas gather sea coal as a significant, and sometimes primary, source of home heating fuel.[37] Scavenging sea coal for heating is still commonplace on both the Pacific and Atlantic coasts of the U.S.[38]

Emission Intensity

Emission intensity is the greenhouse gas emitted over the life of a generator per unit of electricity generated. Of the currently widely used methods of generating electricity the emission intensity of coal and oil is high, as they emit around 1000g of CO2eq for each kWh generated; natural gas and pumped hydro are medium emission intensity at around 500g CO2eq per kWh; and all other methods are typically low emission intensity of under 100g per kWh. The emission intensity of coal varies with type and generator technology and exceeds 1200g per kWh in some countries.[39]

Energy density

The energy density of coal, that is its heating value, is roughly 24 megajoules per kilogram[40] (approximately 6.7 kilowatt-hours per kg). For a coal power plant with a 40% efficiency, it takes an estimated 325 kg (717 lb) of coal to power a 100 W lightbulb for one year.[41]

27.6% of world energy was supplied by coal in 2017 and Asia used almost three quarters of it.[42]



Average content elements other than carbon
Substance Content
Mercury (Hg) 0.10±0.01 ppm[43]
Arsenic (As) 1.4–71 ppm[44]
Selenium (Se) 3 ppm[45]

Coking coal and use of coke to smelt iron

Coke Ovens Abercwmboi
Coke oven at a smokeless fuel plant in Wales, United Kingdom

Coke is a solid carbonaceous residue derived from coking coal (a low-ash, low-sulfur bituminous coal, also known as metallurgical coal), which is used in manufacturing steel and other iron products.[46] Coke is made from coking coal by baking in an oven without oxygen at temperatures as high as 1,000 °C, driving off the volatile constituents and fusing together the fixed carbon and residual ash. Metallurgical coke is used as a fuel and as a reducing agent in smelting iron ore in a blast furnace.[47] The carbon monoxide produced by its combustion reduces hematite (an iron oxide) to iron.

Waste carbon dioxide is also produced () together with pig iron, which is too rich in dissolved carbon so must be treated further to make steel.

Coking coal should be low in ash, sulfur, and phosphorus, so that these do not migrate to the metal.[46] The coke must be strong enough to resist the weight of overburden in the blast furnace, which is why coking coal is so important in making steel using the conventional route. Coke from coal is grey, hard, and porous and has a heating value of 29.6 MJ/kg. Some cokemaking processes produce byproducts, including coal tar, ammonia, light oils, and coal gas.

Petroleum coke (petcoke) is the solid residue obtained in oil refining, which resembles coke but contains too many impurities to be useful in metallurgical applications.

Use in foundry components

Finely ground bituminous coal, known in this application as sea coal, is a constituent of foundry sand. While the molten metal is in the mould, the coal burns slowly, releasing reducing gases at pressure, and so preventing the metal from penetrating the pores of the sand. It is also contained in 'mould wash', a paste or liquid with the same function applied to the mould before casting.[48] Sea coal can be mixed with the clay lining (the "bod") used for the bottom of a cupola furnace. When heated, the coal decomposes and the bod becomes slightly friable, easing the process of breaking open holes for tapping the molten metal.[49]

Alternatives to coke

Scrap steel can be recycled in an electric arc furnace; and an alternative to making iron by smelting is direct reduced iron, where any carbonaceous fuel can be used to make sponge or pelletised iron. To lessen carbon dioxide emissions in future hydrogen might be used as the reducing agent and biomass or waste as the source of carbon.[50]


Coal gasification, as part of an integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) coal-fired power station, is used to produce syngas, a mixture of carbon monoxide (CO) and the hydrogen (H2) gas to fire gas turbines to produce electricity. Syngas can also be converted into transportation fuels, such as gasoline and diesel, through the Fischer-Tropsch process; alternatively, syngas can be converted into methanol, which can be blended into fuel directly or converted to gasoline via the methanol to gasoline process.[51] Gasification combined with Fischer-Tropsch technology is used by the Sasol chemical company of South Africa to make motor vehicle fuels from coal and natural gas.

During gasification, the coal is mixed with oxygen and steam while also being heated and pressurized. During the reaction, oxygen and water molecules oxidize the coal into carbon monoxide (CO), while also releasing hydrogen gas (H2). This used to be done in underground coal mines, and also to make town gas which was piped to customers to burn for illumination, heating, and cooking.

3C (as Coal) + O2 + H2O → H2 + 3CO

If the refiner wants to produce gasoline, the syngas is routed into a Fischer-Tropsch reaction. This is known as indirect coal liquefaction. If hydrogen is the desired end-product, however, the syngas is fed into the water gas shift reaction, where more hydrogen is liberated:

CO + H2O → CO2 + H2


Coal can be converted directly into synthetic fuels equivalent to gasoline or diesel by hydrogenation or carbonization.[52] Coal liquefaction emits more carbon dioxide than liquid fuel production from crude oil. Mixing in biomass and using CCS would emit slightly less than the oil process but at a high cost.[53] State owned China Energy Investment runs a coal liquefaction plant and plans to build 2 more.[54]

Coal liquefaction may also refer to the cargo hazard when shipping coal.[55]

Production of chemicals

Coal to chemicals routes diagram
Production of chemicals from coal

Chemicals have been produced from coal since the 1950s. Coal can be used as a feedstock in the production of a wide range of chemical fertilizers and other chemical products. The main route to these products is coal gasification to produce syngas. Primary chemicals that are produced directly from the syngas include methanol, hydrogen and carbon monoxide, which are the chemical building blocks from which a whole spectrum of derivative chemicals are manufactured, including olefins, acetic acid, formaldehyde, ammonia, urea and others. The versatility of syngas as a precursor to primary chemicals and high-value derivative products provides the option of using relatively inexpensive coal to produce a wide range of valuable commodities.

Because the slate of chemical products that can be made via coal gasification can in general also use feedstocks derived from natural gas and petroleum, the chemical industry tends to use whatever feedstocks are most cost-effective. Therefore, interest in using coal tends to increase for higher oil and natural gas prices and during periods of high global economic growth that may strain oil and gas production. Also, production of chemicals from coal is of much higher interest in countries like South Africa, China, India and the United States where there are abundant coal resources. The abundance of coal combined with lack of natural gas resources in China is a strong inducement for the coal to chemicals industry there. Similarly, Sasol has built and operated coal-to-chemicals facilities in South Africa.

Coal to chemical processes require substantial quantities of water. Much coal to chemical production is in China[56][57] where coal dependent provinces such as Shanxi are struggling to control its pollution.[58]

Coal as fuel to generate electricity

Precombustion treatment

Refined coal is the product of a coal-upgrading technology that removes moisture and certain pollutants from lower-rank coals such as sub-bituminous and lignite (brown) coals. It is one form of several precombustion treatments and processes for coal that alter coal's characteristics before it is burned. Thermal efficiency improvements are achievable by improved pre-drying (especially relevant with high-moisture fuel such as lignite or biomass).[59] The goals of precombustion coal technologies are to increase efficiency and reduce emissions when the coal is burned. Precombustion technology can sometimes be used as a supplement to postcombustion technologies to control emissions from coal-fueled boilers.

Power plant combustion

Ashtabulacoalcars e2
Coal rail cars

Coal burnt as a solid fuel in coal power stations to generate electricity is called thermal coal. Coal is also used to produce very high temperatures through combustion. Efforts around the world to reduce the use of coal have led some regions to switch to natural gas and electricity from lower carbon sources.

When coal is used for electricity generation, it is usually pulverized and then burned in a furnace with a boiler.[60] The furnace heat converts boiler water to steam, which is then used to spin turbines which turn generators and create electricity.[61] The thermodynamic efficiency of this process varies between about 25% and 50% depending on the pre-combustion treatment, turbine technology (e.g. supercritical steam generator) and the age of the plant.[62][63][64][65]

A few integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) power plants have been built, which burn coal more efficiently. Instead of pulverizing the coal and burning it directly as fuel in the steam-generating boiler, the coal is gasified to create syngas, which is burned in a gas turbine to produce electricity (just like natural gas is burned in a turbine). Hot exhaust gases from the turbine are used to raise steam in a heat recovery steam generator which powers a supplemental steam turbine. The overall plant efficiency when used to provide combined heat and power can reach as much as 94%.[66] IGCC power plants emit less local pollution than conventional pulverized coal-fueled plants; however the technology for carbon capture and storage after gasification and before burning has so far proved to be too expensive to use with coal.[67] Other ways to use coal are as coal-water slurry fuel (CWS), which was developed in the Soviet Union, or in an MHD topping cycle. However these are not widely used due to lack of profit.

In 2017 38% of the world's electricity came from coal, the same percentage as 30 years previously.[68] In 2018 global installed capacity was 2TW (of which 1TW is in China) which was 30% of total electricity generation capacity.[69] The most dependent major country is South Africa, with over 80% of its electricity generated by coal.[70]

The total known deposits recoverable by current technologies, including highly polluting, low-energy content types of coal (i.e., lignite, bituminous), is sufficient for many years. On the other hand, much may have to be left in the ground to avoid climate change,[71][72] so maximum use could be reached sometime in the 2020s.

Coal industry

Coal mining

About 8000 Mt of coal are produced annually, about 90% of which is hard coal and 10% lignite. As of 2018 just over half is from underground mines.[73] More accidents occur during underground mining than surface mining. Not all countries publish mining accident statistics so worldwide figures are uncertain but it is thought that most deaths occur in coal mining accidents in China: in 2017 there were 375 coal mining related deaths in China.[74] Most coal mined is thermal coal (also called steam coal as it is used to make steam to generate electricity) but metallurgical coal (also called "metcoal" or "coking coal" as it is used to make coke to make iron) accounts for 10% to 15% of global coal use.[75]

Legality of coal mining

A court in Australia has cited climate change in ruling against a new coal mine.[76]

Coal as a traded commodity

China mines almost half the world's coal, followed by India with about a tenth.[77] Australia accounts for about a third of world coal exports, followed by Indonesia and Russia; while the largest importers are Japan and India.

The price of metcoal is volatile[78] and much higher than the price of thermal coal because metcoal must be lower in sulfer and requires more cleaning.[79] Coal futures contracts provide coal producers and the electric power industry an important tool for hedging and risk management.

In some countries new onshore wind or solar generation already costs less than coal power from existing plants.[80][81] However, for China this is forecast for the early 2020s[82] and for south-east Asia not until the late 2020s.[83] In India building new plants is uneconomic and, despite being subsidized, existing plants are losing market share to renewables.[84]

Market trends

Of the countries which produce coal China mines by far the most, almost half the world's coal, followed by less than 10% by India. China is also by far the largest consumer. Therefore, market trends depend on Chinese energy policy.[85] Although the effort to reduce pollution means that the global long term trend is to burn less coal, the short and medium term trends may differ, in part due to Chinese financing of new coal-fired power plants in other countries.[69]

Major coal producers

Countries with annual production higher than 300 million tonnes are shown.

Production of Coal by Country and year (million tonnes) [86][77][87][9]
Country 2000 2005 2010 2015 2017 Share
China 1,384 2,350 3,235 3,747 3,523 46%
India 335 429 574 678 716 9%
United States 974 1,027 984 813 702 9%
Australia 314 375 424 485 481 6%
Indonesia 77 152 275 392 461 6%
Russia 262 298 322 373 411 5%
World Total 4,726 6,035 7,255 7,862 7,727 100%

Major coal consumers

Countries with annual consumption higher than 500 million tonnes are shown. Shares are based on data expressed in tonnes oil equivalent.

Consumption of Coal by Country and year (million tonnes)[88] [89]
Country 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 Share
China 2,691 2,892 3,352 3,677 4,538 4,678 4,539 3,970 coal + 441 met coke = 4,411 3,784 coal + 430 met coke = 4,214 51%
India 582 640 655 715 841 837 880 890 coal + 33 met coke = 923 877 coal + 37 met coke = 914 11%
United States 1,017 904 951 910 889 924 918 724 coal + 12 met coke = 736 663 coal + 10 met coke = 673 9%
World Total 7,636 7,699 8,137 8,640 8,901 9,013 8,907 7,893 coal + 668 met coke = 8561 7,606 coal + 655 met coke = 8261 100%

Major coal exporters

Exports of Coal by Country and year (million tonnes)[90]
Country 2016
Australia 391
Indonesia 369
Russia 165
Colombia 83
United States 54

Exporters are at risk of a reduction in import demand from India and China.[91]

Major coal importers

Imports of Coal by Country and year (million tonnes)[92]
Country 2016
China 256
India 196
Japan 190
South Korea 128
Taiwan 66
Germany 58
Turkey 36

Damage to human health

The use of coal as fuel causes ill health and deaths.[93]

The deadly London smog was caused primarily by the heavy use of coal. Globally coal is estimated to cause 800,000 premature deaths every year,[94] mostly in India[95] and China.[96][97][98]

Breathing in coal dust causes coalworker's pneumoconiosis which is known colloquially as "black lung", so-called because the coal dust literally turns the lungs black from their usual pink color.[99] In the United States alone, it is estimated that 1,500 former employees of the coal industry die every year from the effects of breathing in coal mine dust.[100]

Around 10% of coal is ash:[101] coal ash is hazardous and toxic to human beings and some other living things.[102] Coal ash contains the radioactive elements uranium and thorium. Coal ash and other solid combustion byproducts are stored locally and escape in various ways that expose those living near coal plants to radiation and environmental toxics.[103]

Huge amounts of coal ash and other waste is produced annually. Use of coal generates hundreds of millions of tons of ash and other waste products every year. These include fly ash, bottom ash, and flue-gas desulfurization sludge, that contain mercury, uranium, thorium, arsenic, and other heavy metals, along with non-metals such as selenium.[104]

Coal smokestack emissions cause asthma, strokes, reduced intelligence, artery blockages, heart attacks, congestive heart failure, cardiac arrhythmias, mercury poisoning, arterial occlusion, and lung cancer.[105][106]

Annual health costs in Europe from use of coal to generate electricity are estimated at up to €43 billion.[107]

In China, improvements to air quality and human health would increase with more stringent climate policies, mainly because the country's energy is so heavily reliant on coal. And there would be a net economic benefit.[108]

A 2017 study in the Economic Journal found that for Britain during the period 1851–1860, "a one standard deviation increase in coal use raised infant mortality by 6–8% and that industrial coal use explains roughly one-third of the urban mortality penalty observed during this period."[109]

Damage to the environment

Aerial view of ash slide site Dec 23 2008 123002
Aerial photograph of the site of the Kingston Fossil Plant coal fly ash slurry spill taken the day after the event

Coal mining and coal fueling of power stations and industrial processes can cause major environmental damage.[110]

Water systems are affected by coal mining.[111] For example, mining affects groundwater and water table levels and acidity. Spills of fly ash, such as the Kingston Fossil Plant coal fly ash slurry spill, can also contaminate land and waterways, and destroy homes. Power stations that burn coal also consume large quantities of water. This can affect the flows of rivers, and has consequential impacts on other land uses. In areas of water scarcity, such as the Thar Desert in Pakistan, coal mining and coal power plants would use significant quantities of water.[112]

One of the earliest known impacts of coal on the water cycle was acid rain. Approximately 75 Tg/S per year of sulfur dioxide (SO2) is released from burning coal. After release, the sulfur dioxide is oxidized to gaseous H2SO2 which scatters solar radiation, hence its increase in the atmosphere exerts a cooling effect on climate. This beneficially masks some of the warming caused by increased greenhouse gases. However, the sulfur is precipitated out of the atmosphere as acid rain in a matter of weeks,[113] whereas carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere for hundreds of years. Release of SO2 also contributes to the widespread acidification of ecosystems.[114]

Disused coal mines can also cause issues. Subsidence can occur above tunnels, causing damage to infrastructure or cropland. Coal mining can also cause long lasting fires, and it has been estimated that thousands of coal seam fires are burning at any given time.[115] For example, Brennender Berg has been burning since 1668 and is still burning in the 21st century.[116]

The production of coke from coal produces ammonia, coal tar, and gaseous compounds as by-products which if discharged to land, air or waterways can pollute the environment.[117] The Whyalla steelworks is one example of a coke producing facility where liquid ammonia is discharged to the marine environment.

Underground fires

Thousands of coal fires are burning around the world.[118] Those burning underground can be difficult to locate and many cannot be extinguished. Fires can cause the ground above to subside, their combustion gases are dangerous to life, and breaking out to the surface can initiate surface wildfires. Coal seams can be set on fire by spontaneous combustion or contact with a mine fire or surface fire. Lightning strikes are an important source of ignition. The coal continues to burn slowly back into the seam until oxygen (air) can no longer reach the flame front. A grass fire in a coal area can set dozens of coal seams on fire.[119][120] Coal fires in China burn an estimated 120 million tons of coal a year, emitting 360 million metric tons of CO2, amounting to 2–3% of the annual worldwide production of CO2 from fossil fuels.[121][122] In Centralia, Pennsylvania (a borough located in the Coal Region of the United States), an exposed vein of anthracite ignited in 1962 due to a trash fire in the borough landfill, located in an abandoned anthracite strip mine pit. Attempts to extinguish the fire were unsuccessful, and it continues to burn underground to this day. The Australian Burning Mountain was originally believed to be a volcano, but the smoke and ash come from a coal fire that has been burning for some 6,000 years.[123]

At Kuh i Malik in Yagnob Valley, Tajikistan, coal deposits have been burning for thousands of years, creating vast underground labyrinths full of unique minerals, some of them very beautiful.

The reddish siltstone rock that caps many ridges and buttes in the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and in western North Dakota is called porcelanite, which resembles the coal burning waste "clinker" or volcanic "scoria".[124] Clinker is rock that has been fused by the natural burning of coal. In the Powder River Basin approximately 27 to 54 billion tons of coal burned within the past three million years.[125] Wild coal fires in the area were reported by the Lewis and Clark Expedition as well as explorers and settlers in the area.[126]

Global Warming

The largest and most long term effect of coal use is the release of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that causes climate change and global warming. Coal is the largest contributor to the human-made increase of CO2 in the atmosphere,[127] 40% of the total.[8] Coal mining can emit methane, another greenhouse gas.[128]

In 2016 world gross carbon dioxide emissions from coal usage were 14.5 giga tonnes.[129] For every megawatt-hour generated, coal-fired electric power generation emits around a tonne of carbon dioxide, which is double the approximately 500 kg of carbon dioxide released by a natural gas-fired electric plant.[130] In 2013, the head of the UN climate agency advised that most of the world's coal reserves should be left in the ground to avoid catastrophic global warming.[131]

Coal pollution mitigation

"Clean" coal technology usually addresses atmospheric problems resulting from burning coal. Historically, the primary focus was on SO2 and NOx, the most important gases which caused acid rain; and particulates which cause visible air pollution, illness and premature deaths. SO2 can be removed by flue-gas desulfurization and NO2 by selective catalytic reduction (SCR). Particulates can be removed with electrostatic precipitators. Although perhaps less efficient wet scrubbers can remove both gases and particulates. And mercury emissions can be reduced up to 95%.[132] However capturing carbon dioxide emissions is generally not economically viable.


Local pollution standards include GB13223-2011 (China), India,[133] the Industrial Emissions Directive (EU) and the Clean Air Act (United States).

Satellite Monitoring

Satellite monitoring is now used to crosscheck national data, for example Sentinel-5 Precursor has shown that Chinese control of SO2 has only been partially successful.[134] It has also revealed that low use of technology such as SCR has resulted in high NO2 emissions in South Africa and India.[135]

Combined cycle power plants

A few Integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) coal-fired power plants have been built with coal gasification. Although they burn coal more efficiently and therefore emit less pollution, the technology has not generally proved economically viable for coal, except possibly in Japan although this is controversial.[136][137]

Carbon capture and storage

Although still being intensively researched and considered economically viable for some uses other than with coal; carbon capture and storage has been tested at the Petra Nova and Boundary Dam coal-fired power plants and has been found to be technically feasible but not economically viable for use with coal, due to reductions in the cost of solar PV technology.[138]


In the long term coal and oil could cost the world trillions of dollars.[139] Coal alone may cost Australia billions,[140] whereas costs to some smaller companies or cities could be on the scale of millions of dollars.[141] The economies most damaged by coal (via climate change) may be India and the US as they are the countries with the highest social cost of carbon.[142] Bank loans to finance coal are a risk to the Indian economy.[95]

China is the largest producer of coal in the world. It is the world's largest energy consumer, and coal in China supplies 60% of its primary energy. However two fifths of China's coal power stations are estimated to be loss-making.[82]

Air pollution from coal storage and handling costs the USA almost 200 dollars for every extra ton stored, due to PM2.5.[143] Coal pollution costs the EU €43 billion each year.[144] Measures to cut air pollution benefit individuals financially and the economies of countries[145][146] such as China.[147]


Broadly defined total subsidies for coal in 2015 have been estimated at around US$2.5 trillion, about 3% of global GDP.[148] In the EU state aid to new coal-fired plants is expected to be banned from mid-2019 and to existing coal-fired plants from 2025. However government funding for new coal power plants is being supplied via Exim Bank of China,[149] the Japan Bank for International Cooperation and Indian public sector banks.[150] Coal in Kazakhstan was the main recipient of coal consumption subsidies totalling US$2 billion in 2017.[151] Coal in Turkey benefited from substantial subsidies.

Stranded assets

Some coal-fired power stations could become stranded assets, for example China Energy Investment, the world's largest power company, risks losing half its capital.[82] However state owned electricity utilities such as Eskom in South Africa, Perusahaan Listrik Negara in Indonesia, Sarawak Energy in Malaysia, Taipower in Taiwan, EGAT in Thailand, Vietnam Electricity and EÜAŞ in Turkey are building or planning new plants.[149]


Countries building or financing new coal-fired power stations, such as Japan, face mounting international criticism for obstructing the aims of the Paris Agreement.[69] And Australia is being criticised by the Pacific Islands.[152]


Allegations of corruption are being investigated in India[153] and China.[154]

Opposition to coal

Coral not coal protest at India Finance Minister Arun Jaitley Visit to Australia (25563929593)
Protesting damage to the Great Barrier Reef caused by climate change in Australia
Gemeinsam stark,Hambacher Forst,NRW
Tree houses for protesting the felling of part of Hambach Forest for the Hambach surface mine in Germany: after which the felling was suspended in 2018

Opposition to coal pollution was one of the main reasons the modern environmental movement started in the 19th century.

Transition away from coal

In order to meet global climate goals and provide power to those that don't currently have it coal power must be reduced from nearly 10,000TWh to less than 2,000TWh by 2040.[155] Many countries, such as the Powering Past Coal Alliance, have already or are transitioned away from coal;[156] the largest transition announced so far being Germany which is due to shutdown its last coal-fired power station between 2035 and 2038.[157] Some countries use the ideas of a "just transition", for example to use some of the benefits of transition to provide early pensions for coal miners.[158] However low lying Pacific Islands are concerned the transition is not fast enough and that they will be inundated by sea level rise; so they have called for OECD countries to completely phase out coal by 2030 and other countries by 2040.[152]

Peak coal

Coal mine Wyoming
A coal mine in Wyoming, United States. The United States has the world's largest coal reserves.

Although many countries have coal underground not all will be consumed.

Of the three fossil fuels, coal has the most widely distributed resources. Coal is mined on all continents except Antarctica. However many such resources have no economic value (much value has been destroyed by shale gas fracking).[159] The largest resources are found in the United States, Russia, China, Australia and India:

Proved reserves at end 2017 (billion tonnes)[87][9]
Country Anthracite & Bituminous SubBituminous & Lignite Total Percentage of World Total
United States 221 30 251 24
Russia 70 90 160 16
Australia 68 77 145 14
China 131 8 139 13
India 93 5 98 9
World Total 718 317 1035 100

Nowadays "peak coal" means the point in time when consumption of coal reaches a maximum. As of 2018 global peak coal consumption is predicted to occur by the early 2020s at the latest.[91]

Switch to cleaner fuels and lower carbon electricity generation

Coal-fired generation puts out about twice the amount of carbon dioxide—around a tonne for every megawatt hour generated—than electricity generated by burning natural gas at 500 kg of greenhouse gas per megawatt hour.[160] In addition to generating electricity, natural gas is also popular in some countries for heating and as an automotive fuel.

The use of coal in the United Kingdom declined as a result of the development of North Sea oil and the subsequent dash for gas during the 1990s. In Canada some coal power plants, such as the Hearn Generating Station, switched from coal to natural gas. In 2017, coal power in the United States provided 30% of the electricity, down from approximately 49% in 2008,[161][162][163] due to plentiful supplies of low cost natural gas obtained by hydraulic fracturing of tight shale formations.[162] [164]

Coal regions in transition

Some coal-mining regions are highly dependent on coal.


Some coal miners are concerned their jobs may be lost in the transition.[165]


The white rot fungus Trametes versicolor can grow on and metabolize naturally occurring coal.[166] The bacteria Diplococcus has been found to degrade coal, raising its temperature.[167]

Cultural usage

Coal is the official state mineral of Kentucky[168] and the official state rock of Utah;[169] both U.S. states have a historic link to coal mining.

Some cultures hold that children who misbehave will receive only a lump of coal from Santa Claus for Christmas in their christmas stockings instead of presents.

It is also customary and considered lucky in Scotland and the North of England to give coal as a gift on New Year's Day. This occurs as part of First-Footing and represents warmth for the year to come.

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Further reading

  • Walter Licht, Thomas Dublin (2005). The Face of Decline: The Pennsylvania Anthracite Region in the Twentieth Century. Cornell University Press. ISBN 978-0-8014-8473-5. OCLC 60558740.
  • Long, Priscilla (1991). Where the Sun Never Shines: A History of America's Bloody Coal Industry. New York: Paragon House. ISBN 978-1-55778-465-0. OCLC 25236866.
  • Rottenberg, Dan (2003). In the Kingdom of Coal; An American Family and the Rock That Changed the World. Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-93522-7. OCLC 52348860.
  • Thurber, Mark (2019). Coal. Polity Press. ISBN 978-1509514014.
  • Outwater, Alice (1996). Water: A Natural History. New York: Basic Books. ISBN 978-0-465-03780-3. OCLC 37785911.
  • Smith, Duane A. (1993). Mining America: The Industry and the Environment, 1800–1980. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas. p. 210. ISBN 978-0-87081-306-1.
  • Freese, Barbara (2003). Coal: A Human History. Penguin Books. ISBN 978-0-7382-0400-0. OCLC 51449422.

External links


Anthracite, often referred to as hard coal, is a hard, compact variety of coal that has a submetallic luster. It has the highest carbon content, the fewest impurities, and the highest energy density of all types of coal and is the highest ranking of coals.

Anthracite is the most metamorphosed type of coal (but still represents low-grade metamorphism), in which the carbon content is between 92% and 98%. The term is applied to those varieties of coal which do not give off tarry or other hydrocarbon vapours when heated below their point of ignition. Anthracite ignites with difficulty and burns with a short, blue, and smokeless flame.

Anthracite is categorized into standard grade, which is used mainly in power generation, and high grade (HG) and ultra high grade (UHG), the principal uses of which are in the metallurgy sector. Anthracite accounts for about 1% of global coal reserves, and is mined in only a few countries around the world. China accounts for the majority of global production; other producers are Russia, Ukraine, North Korea, South Africa, Vietnam, the UK, Australia, Canada and the US. Total production in 2010 was 670 million tons.

Business magnate

A business magnate or industrialist is an entrepreneur of great influence, importance, or standing in a particular enterprise or field of business. The term characteristically refers to a wealthy entrepreneur or investor who controls, through personal business ownership or dominant shareholding position, a firm or industry whose goods or services are widely consumed. Such individuals may also be called czars, moguls, proprietors, tycoons, taipans, barons, or oligarchs.


The Carboniferous is a geologic period and system that spans 60 million years from the end of the Devonian Period 358.9 million years ago (Mya), to the beginning of the Permian Period, 298.9 Mya. The name Carboniferous means "coal-bearing" and derives from the Latin words carbō ("coal") and ferō ("I bear, I carry"), and was coined by geologists William Conybeare and William Phillips in 1822.Based on a study of the British rock succession, it was the first of the modern 'system' names to be employed, and reflects the fact that many coal beds were formed globally during that time. The Carboniferous is often treated in North America as two geological periods, the earlier Mississippian and the later Pennsylvanian. Terrestrial animal life was well established by the Carboniferous period. Amphibians were the dominant land vertebrates, of which one branch would eventually evolve into amniotes, the first solely terrestrial vertebrates.

Arthropods were also very common, and many (such as Meganeura) were much larger than those of today. Vast swaths of forest covered the land, which would eventually be laid down and become the coal beds characteristic of the Carboniferous stratigraphy evident today. The atmospheric content of oxygen also reached its highest levels in geological history during the period, 35% compared with 21% today, allowing terrestrial invertebrates to evolve to great size.The later half of the period experienced glaciations, low sea level, and mountain building as the continents collided to form Pangaea. A minor marine and terrestrial extinction event, the Carboniferous rainforest collapse, occurred at the end of the period, caused by climate change.

Coal India

Coal India Limited (CIL) is an Indian state-controlled coal mining company headquartered in Kolkata, West Bengal, India and the largest coal-producing company in the world and a Maharatna company.The company contributes to around 82% of the coal production in India. It produced 554.14 million tonnes of raw coal in 2016-17, an increase from its earlier production of 494.24 million tonnes of coal during FY2014–15 and earned a revenue of ₹95,435 crore (US$13 billion) from sale of coal in the same financial year. As on 14 October 2015, Union Government of India owns CIL and controls the operations of CIL through Ministry of Coal. In April 2011, CIL was conferred the Maharatna status by the Union Government of India, making it one of the seven maharatnas. As on 14 October 2015, its market capitalisation was ₹2.11 lakh crore (US$29 billion) making it India's 8th most valuable company by market value.

Coal mining

Coal mining is the process of extracting coal from the ground. Coal is valued for its energy content, and, since the 1880s, has been widely used to generate electricity. Steel and cement industries use coal as a fuel for extraction of iron from iron ore and for cement production. In the United Kingdom and South Africa, a coal mine and its structures are a colliery, a coal mine a pit, and the above-ground structures the pit head. In Australia, "colliery" generally refers to an underground coal mine. In the United States, "colliery" has been used to describe a coal mine operation but nowadays the word is not commonly used.

Coal mining has had many developments over the recent years, from the early days of men tunnelling, digging and manually extracting the coal on carts, to large open cut and long wall mines. Mining at this scale requires the use of draglines, trucks, conveyors, hydraulic jacks and shearers.

Coal mining in the United Kingdom

Coal mining in the United Kingdom dates back to Roman times and occurred in many different parts of the country. Britain's coalfields are associated with Northumberland and Durham, North and South Wales, Yorkshire, the Scottish Central Belt, Lancashire, Cumbria, the East and West Midlands and Kent. After 1970, coal mining quickly collapsed and practically disappeared in the 21st century. The consumption of coal – mostly for electricity – fell from 157 million tonnes in 1970 to 18 million tonnes in 2016. Of the coal mined, 77% of supplies were imported from Colombia, Russia and the United States. Of the coal mined in the UK in 2016 all was from open-cast coal mines. Employment in coal mines fell from a peak of 1,191,000 in 1920 to 695,000 in 1956, 247,000 in 1976, 44,000 in 1993, and to 2,000 in 2015.Almost all onshore coal resources in the UK occur in rocks of the Carboniferous age, some of which extend under the North Sea. Bituminous coal is present in most of Britain's coalfields and is 86% to 88% carbon. In Northern Ireland, there are extensive deposits of lignite which is less energy-dense based on oxidation (combustion) at ordinary combustion temperatures (i.e. for the oxidation of carbon - see fossil fuels).The last deep coal mine in the UK closed on 18 December 2015. Twenty-six open cast mines still remain open and Banks Mining said in 2018 they planned to start mining a new site in County Durham.

Coke (fuel)

Coke is a grey, hard, and porous fuel with a high carbon content and few impurities, made by heating coal or oil in the absence of air — a destructive distillation process. It is an important industrial product, used mainly in iron ore smelting, but also as a fuel in stoves and forges when air pollution is a concern.

The unqualified term "coke" usually refers to the product derived from low-ash and low-sulfur bituminous coal by a process called coking. A similar product called petroleum coke, or pet coke, is obtained from crude oil in oil refineries. Coke may also be formed naturally by geologic processes.


The Donbass (Russian: Донба́сс) or Donbas (Ukrainian: Донба́с), is a historical, cultural, and economic region in eastern Ukraine and southwestern Russia. The word "Donbass" is a portmanteau formed from Donets Basin (Ukrainian: Донецький басейн, translit. Donetskyj basejn; Russian: Донецкий бассейн, translit. Donetskij bassejn), which refers to the river Donets that flows through it. Multiple definitions of the region's extent exist, and its boundaries have never been officially demarcated.

The most common definition in use today refers to the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine, whilst the historical coal mining region excluded parts of these oblasts, and included areas in Dnipropetrovsk Oblast and Southern Russia. A Euroregion of the same name is composed of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts in Ukraine and Rostov Oblast in Russia. Donbass formed the historical border between the Zaporizhian Sich and the Don Cossack Host. It has been an important coal mining area since the late 19th century, when it became a heavily industrialised territory.In March 2014, following the 2014 Ukrainian revolution and Russian military intervention, large swaths of the Donbass became gripped by unrest. This unrest later grew into a war between pro-Russian separatists affiliated with the self-proclaimed unrecognized Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics, and the post-revolutionary Ukrainian government. Until the ongoing war, the Donbass was the most densely populated of all the regions of Ukraine apart from the capital city of Kiev.

Before the war, the city of Donetsk (then the fifth largest city of Ukraine) had been considered the unofficial capital of the Donbass. Large cities (over 100,000 inhabitants) also included Luhansk, Mariupol, Makiivka, Horlivka, Kramatorsk, Sloviansk, Alchevsk, Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk. Now the city of Kramatorsk is the interim administrative center of the Donetsk Oblast, whereas the interim center of Luhansk Oblast is the city of Severodonetsk. On the separatist side, Donetsk, Makiivka and Horlivka are now the largest cities in the Donetsk People's Republic, and Luhansk and Alchevsk in the Luhansk People's Republic.

Electricity sector in India

The utility electricity sector in India has one National Grid with an installed capacity of 350.162 GW as on 28 February 2019. Renewable power plants constituted 15.3% of total installed capacity. During the fiscal year 2017-18, the gross electricity generated by utilities in India was 1,303.49 TWh and the total electricity generation (utilities and non utilities) in the country was 1,486.5 TWh. The gross electricity consumption was 1,149 kWh per capita in the year 2017-18. India is the world's third largest producer and third largest consumer of electricity. Electric energy consumption in agriculture was recorded highest (17.89%) in 2015-16 among all countries. The per capita electricity consumption is low compared to many countries despite cheaper electricity tariff in India.India has surplus power generation capacity but lacks adequate infrastructure for supplying electricity to all needy people. In order to address the lack of adequate electricity supply to all the people in the country by March 2019, the Government of India launched a scheme called "Power for All". This scheme will ensure continuous and uninterrupted electricity supply to all households, industries and commercial establishments by creating and improving necessary infrastructure. It is a joint collaboration of the Government of India with states to share funding and create overall economic growth.India's electricity sector is dominated by fossil fuels, and in particular coal, which in 2017-18 produced about three fourths of all electricity. However, the government is pushing for an increased investment in renewable energy. The National Electricity Plan of 2018 prepared by the Government of India states that the country does not need additional non-renewable power plants in the utility sector until 2027, with the commissioning of 50,025 MW coal-based power plants under construction and achieving 275,000 MW total installed renewable power capacity after retirement of nearly 48,000 MW old coal fired plants.

European Coal and Steel Community

The European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) was an organisation of six European countries created after World War II to regulate their industrial production under a centralised authority. It was formally established in 1951 by the Treaty of Paris, signed by Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and West Germany. The ECSC was the first international organisation to be based on the principles of supranationalism, and started the process of formal integration which ultimately led to the European Union.

The ECSC was first proposed by French foreign minister Robert Schuman on 9 May 1950 as a way to prevent further war between France and Germany. He declared his aim was to "make war not only unthinkable but materially impossible" which was to be achieved by regional integration, of which the ECSC was the first step. The Treaty would create a common market for coal and steel among its member states which served to neutralise competition between European nations over natural resources, particularly in the Ruhr.

The ECSC was overseen by four institutions: a High Authority composed of independent appointees, a Common Assembly composed of national parliamentarians, a Special Council composed of national ministers, and a Court of Justice. These would ultimately form the blueprint for today's European Commission, European Parliament, the Council of the European Union and the European Court of Justice.

The ECSC stood as a model for the communities set up after it by the Treaty of Rome in 1957, the European Economic Community and European Atomic Energy Community, with whom it shared its membership and some institutions. The 1967 Merger (Brussels) Treaty led all of ECSC's institutions to merge into the European Economic Community, but the ECSC retained its own independent legal personality. In 2002, the Treaty of Paris expired and the ECSC ceased to exist in any form, its activities fully absorbed by the European Community under the framework of the Amsterdam and Nice treaties.

Fly ash

Fly ash or flue ash, also known as pulverised fuel ash in the United Kingdom, is a coal combustion product that is composed of the particulates (fine particles of burned fuel) that are driven out of coal-fired boilers together with the flue gases. Ash that falls to the bottom of the boiler is called bottom ash. In modern coal-fired power plants, fly ash is generally captured by electrostatic precipitators or other particle filtration equipment before the flue gases reach the chimneys. Together with bottom ash removed from the bottom of the boiler, it is known as coal ash. Depending upon the source and composition of the coal being burned, the components of fly ash vary considerably, but all fly ash includes substantial amounts of silicon dioxide (SiO2) (both amorphous and crystalline), aluminium oxide (Al2O3) and calcium oxide (CaO), the main mineral compounds in coal-bearing rock strata.

The minor constituents of fly ash depend upon the specific coal bed composition but may include one or more of the following elements or compounds found in trace concentrations (up to hundreds ppm): arsenic, beryllium, boron, cadmium, chromium, hexavalent chromium, cobalt, lead, manganese, mercury, molybdenum, selenium, strontium, thallium, and vanadium, along with very small concentrations of dioxins and PAH compounds. It also has unburnt carbon.In the past, fly ash was generally released into the atmosphere, but air pollution control standards now require that it be captured prior to release by fitting pollution control equipment. In the United States, fly ash is generally stored at coal power plants or placed in landfills. About 43% is recycled, often used as a pozzolan to produce hydraulic cement or hydraulic plaster and a replacement or partial replacement for Portland cement in concrete production. Pozzolans ensure the setting of concrete and plaster and provide concrete with more protection from wet conditions and chemical attack.

In the case that fly (or bottom) ash is not produced from coal, for example when solid waste is incinerated in a waste-to-energy facility to produce electricity, the ash may contain higher levels of contaminants than coal ash. In that case the ash produced is often classified as hazardous waste.

Fossil fuel

A fossil fuel is a fuel formed by natural processes, such as anaerobic decomposition of buried dead organisms, containing energy originating in ancient photosynthesis.

The age of the organisms and their resulting fossil fuels is typically millions of years, and sometimes exceeds 650 million years.

Fossil fuels contain high percentages of carbon and include petroleum, coal, and natural gas.

Other commonly used derivatives include kerosene and propane.

Fossil fuels range from volatile materials with low carbon to hydrogen ratios like methane, to liquids like petroleum, to nonvolatile materials composed of almost pure carbon, like anthracite coal.

Methane can be found in hydrocarbon fields either alone, associated with oil, or in the form of methane clathrates.

The theory that fossil fuels formed from the fossilized remains of dead plants by exposure to heat and pressure in the Earth's crust over millions of years was first introduced by Andreas Libavius "in his 1597 Alchemia [Alchymia]" and later by Mikhail Lomonosov "as early as 1757 and certainly by 1763". The first use of the term "fossil fuel" was by the German chemist Caspar Neumann, in English translation in 1759.In 2017 the world's primary energy sources consisted of petroleum (34%), coal (28%), natural gas (23%), amounting to an 85% share for fossil fuels in primary energy consumption in the world.

Non-fossil sources in 2006 included nuclear (8.5%), hydroelectric (6.3%), and others (geothermal, solar, tidal, wind, wood, waste) amounting to 0.9%.

World energy consumption was growing at about 2.3% per year. In 2015 about 18% of worldwide consumption was from renewable sources.Although fossil fuels are continually being formed via natural processes, they are generally considered to be non-renewable resources because they take millions of years to form and the known viable reserves are being depleted much faster than new ones are being made.The use of fossil fuels raises serious environmental concerns.

The burning of fossil fuels produces around 21.3 billion tonnes (21.3 gigatonnes) of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year.

It is estimated that natural processes can only absorb about half of that amount, so there is a net increase of 10.65 billion tonnes of atmospheric carbon dioxide per year.

Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas that increases radiative forcing and contributes to global warming.

A global movement towards the generation of low-carbon renewable energy is underway to help reduce global greenhouse gas emissions.

Fossil fuel power station

A fossil fuel power station is a thermal power station which burns a fossil fuel such as coal, natural gas, or petroleum to produce electricity. Central station fossil fuel power plants are designed on a large scale for continuous operation. In many countries, such plants provide most of the electrical energy used. Fossil fuel power stations have machinery to convert the heat energy of combustion into mechanical energy, which then operates an electrical generator. The prime mover may be a steam turbine, a gas turbine or, in small plants, a reciprocating internal combustion engine. All plants use the energy extracted from expanding gas, either steam or combustion gases.

Although different energy conversion methods exist, all thermal power station conversion methods have efficiency limited by the Carnot efficiency and therefore produce waste heat.

By-products of fossil fuel power plant operation must be considered in their design and operation. The flue gas from combustion of the fossil fuels is discharged to the air. This gas contains carbon dioxide and water vapor, as well as other substances such as nitrogen oxides (NOx), sulfur oxides (SOx), mercury, traces of other metals, and, for coal-fired plants, fly ash. Solid waste ash from coal-fired boilers must also be removed. Some coal ash can be recycled for building materials.Fossil fueled power stations are major emitters of carbon dioxide (CO2), a greenhouse gas which is a major contributor to global warming.

The results of a recent study show that the net income available to shareholders of large companies could see a significant reduction from the greenhouse gas emissions liability related to only natural disasters in the United States from a single coal-fired power plant.

However, as of 2015, no such cases have awarded damages in the United States.

Per unit of electric energy, brown coal emits nearly two times as much CO2 as natural gas, and black coal emits somewhat less than brown.

Carbon capture and storage of emissions has been proposed to limit the environmental impact of fossil fuel power stations, but it is still at a demonstration stage.

Industrial Revolution

The Industrial Revolution was the transition to new manufacturing processes in Europe and the US, in the period from about 1760 to sometime between 1820 and 1840. This transition included going from hand production methods to machines, new chemical manufacturing and iron production processes, the increasing use of steam power and water power, the development of machine tools and the rise of the mechanized factory system. The Industrial Revolution also led to an unprecedented rise in the rate of population growth.

Textiles were the dominant industry of the Industrial Revolution in terms of employment, value of output and capital invested. The textile industry was also the first to use modern production methods.The Industrial Revolution began in Great Britain, and many of the technological innovations were of British origin. By the mid-18th century Britain was the world's leading commercial nation, controlling a global trading empire with colonies in North America and the Caribbean, and with some political influence on the Indian subcontinent, through the activities of the East India Company. The development of trade and the rise of business were major causes of the Industrial Revolution.The Industrial Revolution marks a major turning point in history; almost every aspect of daily life was influenced in some way. In particular, average income and population began to exhibit unprecedented sustained growth. Some economists say that the major impact of the Industrial Revolution was that the standard of living for the general population began to increase consistently for the first time in history, although others have said that it did not begin to meaningfully improve until the late 19th and 20th centuries.GDP per capita was broadly stable before the Industrial Revolution and the emergence of the modern capitalist economy, while the Industrial Revolution began an era of per-capita economic growth in capitalist economies. Economic historians are in agreement that the onset of the Industrial Revolution is the most important event in the history of humanity since the domestication of animals and plants.Although the structural change from agriculture to industry is widely associated with the Industrial Revolution, in the United Kingdom it was already almost complete by 1760.The precise start and end of the Industrial Revolution is still debated among historians, as is the pace of economic and social changes. Eric Hobsbawm held that the Industrial Revolution began in Britain in the 1780s and was not fully felt until the 1830s or 1840s, while T.S. Ashton held that it occurred roughly between 1760 and 1830. Rapid industrialization first began in Britain, starting with mechanized spinning in the 1780s, with high rates of growth in steam power and iron production occurring after 1800. Mechanized textile production spread from Great Britain to continental Europe and the United States in the early 19th century, with important centres of textiles, iron and coal emerging in Belgium and the United States and later textiles in France.An economic recession occurred from the late 1830s to the early 1840s when the adoption of the original innovations of the Industrial Revolution, such as mechanized spinning and weaving, slowed and their markets matured. Innovations developed late in the period, such as the increasing adoption of locomotives, steamboats and steamships, hot blast iron smelting and new technologies, such as the electrical telegraph, widely introduced in the 1840s and 1850s, were not powerful enough to drive high rates of growth. Rapid economic growth began to occur after 1870, springing from a new group of innovations in what has been called the Second Industrial Revolution. These new innovations included new steel making processes, mass-production, assembly lines, electrical grid systems, the large-scale manufacture of machine tools and the use of increasingly advanced machinery in steam-powered factories.


Kerosene, also known as paraffin, lamp oil, and coal oil (an obsolete term), is a combustible hydrocarbon liquid which is derived from petroleum. It is widely used as a fuel in industry as well as households. Its name derives from Greek: κηρός (keros) meaning wax, and was registered as a trademark by Canadian geologist and inventor Abraham Gesner in 1854 before evolving into a genericized trademark. It is sometimes spelled kerosine in scientific and industrial usage. The term kerosene is common in much of Argentina, Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand, and the United States, while the term paraffin (or a closely related variant) is used in Chile, eastern Africa, South Africa, Norway, and in the United Kingdom. The term lamp oil, or the equivalent in the local languages, is common in the majority of Asia. Liquid paraffin (called mineral oil in the US) is a more viscous and highly refined product which is used as a laxative. Paraffin wax is a waxy solid extracted from petroleum.

Kerosene is widely used to power jet engines of aircraft (jet fuel) and some rocket engines and is also commonly used as a cooking and lighting fuel, and for fire toys such as poi. In parts of Asia, kerosene is sometimes used as fuel for small outboard motors or even motorcycles. World total kerosene consumption for all purposes is equivalent to about 1.2 million barrels (50 million U.S. gallons; 42 million imperial gallons; 190 million liters) per day.To prevent confusion between kerosene and the much more flammable and volatile gasoline, some jurisdictions regulate markings or colorings for containers used to store or dispense kerosene. For example, in the United States, Pennsylvania requires that portable containers used at retail service stations for kerosene be colored blue, as opposed to red (for gasoline) or yellow (for diesel fuel).


Lignite, often referred to as brown coal, is a soft, brown, combustible, sedimentary rock formed from naturally compressed peat. It is considered the lowest rank of coal due to its relatively low heat content. It has a carbon content around 60–70 percent. It is mined all around the world, is used almost exclusively as a fuel for steam-electric power generation, and is the coal which is most harmful to health.

National Coal Board

The National Coal Board (NCB) was the statutory corporation created to run the nationalised coal mining industry in the United Kingdom. Set up under the Coal Industry Nationalisation Act 1946, it took over the United Kingdom's collieries on "vesting day", 1 January 1947. In 1987, the NCB was renamed the British Coal Corporation, and its assets were subsequently privatised.


Peat (), also known as turf (), is an accumulation of partially decayed vegetation or organic matter. It is unique to natural areas called peatlands, bogs, mires, moors, or muskegs. The peatland ecosystem is the most efficient carbon sink on the planet, because peatland plants capture CO2 naturally released from the peat, maintaining an equilibrium. In natural peatlands, the "annual rate of biomass production is greater than the rate of decomposition", but it takes "thousands of years for peatlands to develop the deposits of 1.5 to 2.3 m [4.9 to 7.5 ft], which is the average depth of the boreal [northern] peatlands". Sphagnum moss, also called peat moss, is one of the most common components in peat, although many other plants can contribute. The biological features of Sphagnum mosses act to create a habitat aiding peat formation, a phenomenon termed 'habitat manipulation'. Soils consisting primarily of peat are known as histosols. Peat forms in wetland conditions, where flooding or stagnant water obstructs the flow of oxygen from the atmosphere, slowing the rate of decomposition.Peatlands, particularly bogs, are the primary source of peat,

although less-common wetlands including fens, pocosins, and peat swamp forests also deposit peat. Landscapes covered in peat are home to specific kinds of plants including Sphagnum moss, ericaceous shrubs, and sedges (see bog for more information on this aspect of peat). Because organic matter accumulates over thousands of years, peat deposits provide records of past vegetation and climate by preserving plant remains, such as pollen. This allows the reconstruction of past environments and study changes in land use.Peat is harvested as an important source of fuel in certain parts of the world. By volume, there are about 4 trillion cubic metres (5.2 trillion cubic yards) of peat in the world, covering a total of around 2% of the global land area (about 3 million square kilometres or 1.2 million square miles), containing about 8 billion terajoules of energy. Over time, the formation of peat is often the first step in the geological formation of other fossil fuels such as coal, particularly low-grade coal such as lignite.Depending on the agency, peat is not generally regarded as a renewable source of energy, due to its extraction rate in industrialized countries far exceeding its slow regrowth rate of 1 mm per year, and as it is also reported that peat regrowth takes place only in 30-40% of peatlands. Because of this, the UNFCCC, and another organization affiliated with the United Nations classified peat as a fossil fuel. However, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has begun to classify peat as a "slowly renewable" fuel. This is also the classification used by many in the peat industry. At 106 g CO2/MJ, the carbon dioxide emission intensity of peat is higher than that of coal (at 94.6 g CO2/MJ) and natural gas (at 56.1) (IPCC).

Thermal power station

A thermal power station is a power station in which heat energy is converted to electric power. In most of the places in the world the turbine is steam-driven. Water is heated, turns into steam and spins a steam turbine which drives an electrical generator. After it passes through the turbine, the steam is condensed in a condenser and recycled to where it was heated; this is known as a Rankine cycle. The greatest variation in the design of thermal power stations is due to the different heat sources; fossil fuel dominates here, although nuclear heat energy and solar heat energy are also used. Some prefer to use the term energy center because such facilities convert forms of heat energy into electrical energy. Certain thermal power stations are also designed to produce heat energy for industrial purposes, or district heating, or desalination of water, in addition to generating electrical power.

Coal types by grade
(lowest to highest)
Coal combustion
Coal mining
Non-renewable energy
Renewable energy
Electric energy
Total energy
Failure modes
and policies
Statistics and Production

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