Coal on paper




Coal is one of the world’s most important sources of energy, fuelling almost 40% of electricity worldwide. In many countries this figure is much higher: Poland relies on coal for over 94% of its electricity; South Africa for 92%; China for 77%; and Australia for 76%. Coal has been the world’s fastest growing energy source in recent years – faster than gas, oil, nuclear, hydro and renewables.

Coal has played this important role for centuries – not only providing electricity, but also an essential fuel for steel and cement production, and other industrial activities.

The Coal Resource provides a comprehensive overview of coal and the role it plays in our lives. It covers how coal is formed, how it is mined, through to its use and the impact it has on our societies and natural environment. It describes coal’s important role as an energy source and how coal – along with other sources of energy – will be vital in meeting the world’s rapidly growing energy needs.

We hope that we will answer any questions you may have about the coal industry but if you would like further information, a number of other World Coal Institute (WCI) publications may be helpful.

>> The Role of Coal as an Energy Source (2003) describes the role that coal plays in our world today and examines this role in the context of wider issues, such as increasing energy demand, energy security and environmental challenges.

>> Clean Coal – Building a Future through Technology (2004) discusses how the environmental challenges facing coal – specifically the use of coal – can be overcome through the development and use of clean coal technologies.

>> In 2001 the World Coal Institute published Sustainable Entrepreneurship, the Way Forward for the Coal Industry – in conjunction with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) – looking at coal within the wider context of sustainable development.

Copies of all WCI publications and further information on the coal industry are available on our website:




The Coal Resource: A Comprehensive Overview of Coal 1

2 SECTION 1 WHAT IS COAL? 2 Types of Coal 3 Where is Coal Found? 4 Finding Coal

7 SECTION 2 COAL MINING 7 Underground Mining 7 Surface Mining 8 Coal Preparation 9 Coal Transportation 10 Safety at Coal Mines 11 Coal Mining & the Wider Community

13 SECTION 3 THE GLOBAL COAL MARKET 13 Coal Production 13 Coal Consumption 14 Coal Trade 16 Energy Security

19 SECTION 4 HOW IS COAL USED? 19 History of Coal Use 20 How is Coal Converted into Electricity? 21 Importance of Electricity Worldwide 22 Coal in Iron & Steel Production 24 Coal Liquefaction 24 Coal & Cement 25 Other Uses of Coal

27 SECTION 5 COAL & THE ENVIRONMENT 27 Coal Mining & the Environment 27 Land Disturbance 27 Mine Subsidence 28 Water Pollution 28 Dust & Noise Pollution 28 Rehabilitation 29 Using Methane from Coal Mines 29 Coal Use & the Environment 31 Technological Response 31 Reducing Particulate Emissions 32 Preventing Acid Rain 33 Reducing Carbon Dioxide Emissions 36 Coal & Renewable Energy 37 Overcoming Environmental Impacts

39 SECTION 6 MEETING FUTURE ENERGY DEMAND 39 The Role of Coal 40 Making Further Environmental Gains 41 Coal & Our Energy Future



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The build-up of silt and other sediments, together with movements in the earth’s crust (known as tectonic movements) buried these swamps and peat bogs, often to great depths. With burial, the plant material was subjected to high temperatures and pressures. This caused physical and chemical changes in the vegetation, transforming it into peat and then into coal.

Coal formation began during the Carboniferous Period – known as the first coal age – which spanned 360 million to 290 million years ago.

The quality of each coal deposit is determined by temperature and pressure and by the length of time in formation, which is referred to as its ‘organic maturity’. Initially the peat is converted into lignite or ‘brown coal’ – these are coal- types with low organic maturity. In comparison to other coals, lignite is quite soft and its colour can range from dark black to various shades of brown.

Over many more millions of years, the continuing effects of temperature and pressure produces further change in the lignite, progressively increasing its organic

maturity and transforming it into the range known as ‘sub-bituminous’ coals.

Further chemical and physical changes occur until these coals became harder and blacker, forming the ‘bituminous’ or ‘hard coals’. Under the right conditions, the progressive increase in the organic maturity can continue, finally forming anthracite.

Types of Coal The degree of change undergone by a coal as it matures from peat to anthracite – known as coalification – has an important bearing on its physical and chemical properties and is referred to as the ‘rank’ of the coal.

Low rank coals, such as lignite and sub- bituminous coals are typically softer, friable materials with a dull, earthy appearance. They are characterised by high moisture levels and low carbon content, and therefore a low energy content.

Higher rank coals are generally harder and stronger and often have a black, vitreous lustre. They contain more carbon, have lower moisture content, and produce more energy. Anthracite is at the top of the rank scale and


Coal is a fossil fuel. It is a combustible, sedimentary, organic rock, which is composed mainly of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. It is formed from vegetation, which has been consolidated between other rock strata and altered by the combined effects of pressure and heat over millions of years to form coal seams.

Photographs courtesy of the Australian Coal Association



>> Coal is the altered remains of prehistoric vegetation that originally accumulated in swamps and peat bogs. >>


Brown Coal



The Coal Resource: A Comprehensive Overview of Coal 3

has a correspondingly higher carbon and energy content and a lower level of moisture (see diagram on page 4).

Where is Coal Found? It has been estimated that there are over 984 billion tonnes of proven coal reserves worldwide (see definitions). This means that there is enough coal to last us over 190 years (see graph). Coal is located worldwide – it can be found on every continent in over 70 countries, with the biggest reserves in the USA, Russia, China and India.

Resource The amount of coal that may be present in a deposit or coalfield. This does not take into account the feasibility of mining the coal economically. Not all resources are recoverable using current technology.

Reserves Reserves can be defined in terms of proved (or measured) reserves and probable (or indicated) reserves. Probable reserves have been estimated with a lower degree of confidence than proved reserves.

Proved Reserves Reserves that are not only considered to be recoverable but can also be recovered economically. This means they take into account what current mining technology can achieve and the economics of recovery. Proved reserves will therefore change according to the price of coal; if the price of coal is low, proved reserves will decrease.

Source: IEA Coal Information 2004








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Countries with the Largest Reserves of Coal, 2003 (billion tonnes)

Source: BP 2004

Reserves-to-production Ratios, 2003 (Years)

Source: BP 2004

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Low Rank Coals 47%

Sub-Bituminous 30%

Bituminous 52%

Thermal Steam Coal

Metallurgical Coking Coal

Anthracite ~1%

Lignite 17%

Hard Coal 53%

Largely power generation

Power generation Cement manufacture

Industrial uses

Power generation Cement manufacture

Industrial uses

Manufacture of iron and steel

Domestic/ industrial including

smokeless fuel



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Types of Coal

While it is estimated that there is enough coal to last us 190 years, this could extend still further through a number of developments, including:

>> the discovery of new reserves through ongoing and improved exploration activities;

>> advances in mining techniques, which will allow previously inaccessible reserves to be reached.

All fossil fuels will eventually run out and it is essential that we use them as efficiently as possible. Significant improvements continue to be made in how efficiently coal is used so that more energy can be generated from each tonne of coal produced.

Finding Coal Coal reserves are discovered through exploration activities. The process usually involves creating a geological map of the area, then carrying out geochemical and geophysical surveys, followed by exploration drilling. This allows an accurate picture of the area to be developed.

The area will only ever become a mine if it is large enough and of sufficient quality that the coal can be economically recovered. Once this has been confirmed, mining operations begin.


The Coal Resource: A Comprehensive Overview of Coal 5

Coal Reserves Showing Regional Shares (at end of 2003)

■ Europe and Eurasia 36%

■ Asia Pacific 30%

■ North America 26%

■ Africa 6%

■ South and Central America 2%

Middle East coal reserves less than 1% of total reserves

Source: BP 2004

Gas Reserves Showing Regional Shares (at end of 2003)

■ Middle East 41%

■ Europe and Eurasia 35%

■ Asia Pacific 8%

■ Africa 8%

■ North America 4%

■ South and Central America 4%

Source: BP 2004

Oil Reserves Showing Regional Shares (at end of 2003)

■ Middle East 63%

■ Africa 9%

■ South and Central America 9%

■ Europe and Eurasia 9%

■ North America 6%

■ Asia Pacific 4%

Source: BP 2004

Large opencast mines can cover an area of many square kilometres and use very large pieces of equipment, such as draglines (pictured here). Photograph courtesy of Anglo Coal.

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The Coal Resource: A Comprehensive Overview of Coal 7

The choice of mining method is largely determined by the geology of the coal deposit. Underground mining currently accounts for about 60% of world coal production, although in several important coal producing countries surface mining is more common. Surface mining accounts for around 80% of production in Australia, while in the USA it is used for about 67% of production.

Underground Mining There are two main methods of underground mining: room-and-pillar and longwall mining.

In room-and-pillar mining, coal deposits are mined by cutting a network of ‘rooms’ into the coal seam and leaving behind ‘pillars’ of coal to support the roof of the mine. These pillars can be up to 40% of the total coal in the seam – although this coal can sometimes be recovered at a later stage. This can be achieved in what is known as ‘retreat mining’, where coal is mined from the pillars as workers retreat. The roof is then allowed to collapse and the mine is abandoned.

Longwall mining involves the full extraction of coal from a section of the seam or ‘face’ using mechanical shearers. A longwall face requires

careful planning to ensure favourable geology exists throughout the section before development work begins. The coal ‘face’ can vary in length from 100-350m. Self- advancing, hydraulically-powered supports temporarily hold up the roof while coal is extracted. When coal has been extracted from the area, the roof is allowed to collapse. Over 75% of the coal in the deposit can be extracted from panels of coal that can extend 3km through the coal seam.

The main advantage of room–and-pillar mining over longwall mining is that it allows coal production to start much more quickly, using mobile machinery that costs under $5 million (longwall mining machinery can cost $50 million).

The choice of mining technique is site specific but always based on economic considerations; differences even within a single mine can lead to both methods being used.

Surface Mining Surface mining – also known as opencast or opencut mining – is only economic when the coal seam is near the surface. This method recovers a higher proportion of the coal



>> Coal is mined by two methods – surface or ‘opencast’ mining and underground or ‘deep’ mining. >>

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deposit than underground mining as all coal seams are exploited – 90% or more of the coal can be recovered. Large opencast mines can cover an area of many square kilometres and use very large pieces of equipment, including: draglines, which remove the overburden; power shovels; large trucks, which transport overburden and coal; bucket wheel excavators; and conveyors.

The overburden of soil and rock is first broken up by explosives; it is then removed by draglines or by shovel and truck. Once the coal seam is exposed, it is drilled, fractured and systematically mined in strips. The coal is then loaded on to large trucks or conveyors for transport to either the coal preparation plant or direct to where it will be used.

Coal Preparation Coal straight from the ground, known as run- of-mine (ROM) coal, often contains unwanted impurities such as rock and dirt and comes in a mixture of different-sized fragments. However, coal users need coal of a consistent quality. Coal preparation – also known as coal beneficiation or coal washing – refers to the treatment of ROM coal to ensure a consistent quality and to enhance its suitability for particular end-uses.

The treatment depends on the properties of the coal and its intended use. It may require only simple crushing or it may need to go through a complex treatment process to reduce impurities.

To remove impurities, the raw run-of-mine coal is crushed and then separated into various size fractions. Larger material is usually treated using ‘dense medium separation’. In this

process, the coal is separated from other impurities by being floated in a tank containing a liquid of specific gravity, usually a suspension of finely ground magnetite. As the coal is lighter, it floats and can be separated off, while heavier rock and other impurities sink and are removed as waste.

The smaller size fractions are treated in a number of ways, usually based on differences in mass, such as in centrifuges. A centrifuge is a machine which turns a container around very quickly, causing solids and liquids inside it to separate. Alternative methods use the different surface properties of coal and waste. In ‘froth flotation’, coal particles are removed in a froth produced by blowing air into a water bath containing chemical reagents. The bubbles attract the coal but not the waste and are skimmed off to recover the coal fines. Recent technological developments have helped increase the recovery of ultra fine coal material.


Overburden is the layer of soil and rocks (strata) between the coal seams and the surface.

Longwall mining involves the full extraction of coal from a section of the seam using mechanical shearers. Photograph courtesy of Joy Mining Machinery.


DWT – Deadweight Tonnes which refers to the deadweight capacity of a ship, including its cargo, bunker fuel, fresh water, stores etc.

Continuous Miners Developing Roadways

Next Longwall Panel to be Mined

Direction of Mining Mined Area

Coal Conveyor

Coal Pillar

Coal Shearer and Roof Supports

Coal Pillars Retained for Roof Support

Coal Conveyor to Surface

Mine Surface Facilities

Previously Mined Longwall PanelMined Area

Coal Shearer and Roof Supports

Coal Seam

The Coal Resource: A Comprehensive Overview of Coal 9

Coal Transportation The way that coal is transported to where it will be used depends on the distance to be covered. Coal is generally transported by conveyor or truck over short distances. Trains and barges are used for longer distances within domestic markets, or alternatively coal can be mixed with water to form a coal slurry and transported through a pipeline.

Ships are commonly used for international transportation, in sizes ranging from Handymax (40-60,000 DWT), Panamax (about 60-80,000 DWT) to large Capesize vessels (about 80,000+ DWT). Around 700 million tonnes (Mt) of coal was traded internationally in 2003 and around 90% of this was seaborne trade. Coal transportation can be very expensive – in some instances it accounts for up to 70% of the delivered cost of coal.

Underground Mining Operations

Diagram courtesy of BHP Billiton Illawara Coal

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Measures are taken at every stage of coal transportation and storage to minimise environmental impacts (see Section 5 for more information on coal and the environment).

Safety at Coal Mines The coal industry takes the issue of safety very seriously. Coal mining deep underground involves a higher safety risk than coal mined in opencast pits. However, modern coal mines have rigorous safety procedures, health and safety standards and worker education and training, which have led to significant improvements in safety levels in both underground and opencast mining (see graph on page 11 for a comparison of safety levels in US coal mining compared to other industry sectors).

There are still problems within the industry. The majority of coal mine accidents and fatalities occur in China. Most accidents are in small scale town and village mines, often illegally operated, where mining techniques are labour intensive and use very basic equipment. The Chinese government is taking steps to improve safety levels, including the forced

Graded embankment to act as baffle against

noise and dust

Topsoil and subsoil stripped by motor scrapers

and carefully stored

Overburden from benches dug by shovels and hauled

by dump trucks

Overburden being excavated by dragline

Coal seams Overburden Dragline excavation

Froth flotation cells at Goedehoop Colliery are used for fine coal beneficiation. Photograph courtesy of Anglo Coal.

Surface Coal Mining Operations and Mine Rehabilitation

The Coal Resource: A Comprehensive Overview of Coal 11

closure of small-scale mines and those that fail to meet safety standards.

Coal Mining & the Wider Community Coal mining generally takes place in rural areas where mining and the associated industries are usually one of, if not, the largest employers in the area. It is estimated that coal employs over 7 million people worldwide, 90% of whom are in developing countries.

Not only does coal mining directly employ millions worldwide, it generates income and employment in other regional industries that are dependent on coal mining. These industries provide goods and services into coal mining, such as fuel, electricity, and equipment, or are dependent on expenditure from employees of coal mines.

Large-scale coal mines provide a significant source of local income in the form of wages, community programmes and inputs into production in the local economy.

However, mining and energy extraction can sometimes lead to land use conflicts and difficulties in relationships with neighbours and local communities. Many conflicts over land use can be resolved by highlighting that mining is only a temporary land use. Mine rehabilitation means that the land can be used once again for other purposes after mine closure.

Spoil pile Dragline bucket unloads burden

After the soils are replaced in their proper sequence, they are ripped to relieve compaction and

then cultivated, limed and fertilised

Dragline backfill

levelled by bulldozers

Tipping overburden

from benches to backfill

Subsoil and topsoil being

replaced and shaped

Grass and trees

Service Providing

Leisure & Hospitality

Trade, Transportation & Utilities Education & Health Services

Coal Mining

Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing & Hunting



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Injury Rates in Selected US Industries, 2003

(per 100 full-time employees)

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, US Department of Labor


Coal is traded internationally, with coal shipped huge distances by sea to reach markets. Photograph courtesy of Ports Corporation of Queensland

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The Coal Resource: A Comprehensive Overview of Coal 13

The world currently consumes over 4050 Mt of coal. Coal is used by a variety of sectors – including power generation, iron and steel production, cement manufacturing and as a liquid fuel. The majority of coal is either utilised in power generation – steam coal or lignite – or iron and steel production – coking coal.

Coal Production Over 4030 Mt of coal is currently produced – a 38% increase over the past 20 years. Coal production has grown fastest in Asia, while Europe has actually seen a decline in production.

The largest coal producing countries are not confined to one region – the top five producers are China, the USA, India, Australia and South Africa. Much of global coal production is used in the country in which it was produced, only around 18% of hard coal production is destined for the international coal market.

Global coal production is expected to reach 7 billion tonnes in 2030 – with China accounting for around half the increase over this period. Steam coal production is projected to have reached around 5.2 billion tonnes; coking coal 624 million tonnes; and brown coal 1.2 billion tonnes.

Coal Consumption Coal plays a vital role in power generation and this role is set to continue. Coal currently fuels 39% of the world’s electricity and this proportion is expected to remain at similar levels over the next 30 years.

Consumption of steam coal is projected to grow by 1.5% per year over the period 2002- 2030. Lignite, also used in power generation, will grow by 1% per year. Demand for coking coal in iron and steel production is set to increase by 0.9% per year over this period.

The biggest market for coal is Asia, which currently accounts for 54% of global coal consumption – although China is responsible for a significant proportion of this. Many countries do not have natural energy resources sufficient to cover their energy needs, and therefore need to import energy to help meet their requirements. Japan, Chinese Taipei and Korea, for example, import significant quantities of steam coal for electricity generation and coking coal for steel production.

It is not just a lack of indigenous coal supplies that prompts countries to import coal but also the importance of obtaining specific types of coal. Major coal producers such as China, the


THE GLOBAL COAL MARKET >> Coal is a global industry, with coal mined commercially

in over 50 countries and coal used in over 70. >>

Major Coal Importers, 2003


Japan 162 Republic of Korea 72 Chinese Taipei 54 Germany 35 UK 32 Russia 24 India 24 USA 23 Netherlands 22 Spain 22

Source: IEA Coal Information 2004

USA and India, for example, also import quantities of coal for quality and logistical reasons.

Coal will continue to play a key role in the world’s energy mix, with demand in certain regions set to grow rapidly. Growth in both the steam and coking coal markets will be strongest in developing Asian countries, where demand for electricity and the need for steel in construction, car production, and demands for household appliances will increase as incomes rise.

Coal Trade Coal is traded all over the world, with coal shipped huge distances by sea to reach markets.

Over the last twenty years, seaborne trade in steam coal has increased on average by about 8% each year, while seaborne coking coal trade has increased by 2% a year. Overall international trade in coal reached 718 Mt in 2003; while this is a significant amount of coal it still only accounts for about 18% of total coal consumed.

Transportation costs account for a large share of the total delivered price of coal, therefore international trade in steam coal is effectively divided into two regional markets – the Atlantic and the Pacific. The Atlantic market is made up of importing countries in Western Europe, notably the UK, Germany and Spain. The Pacific market consists of developing and OECD Asian importers, notably Japan, Korea and Chinese Taipei. The Pacific market currently accounts for about 60% of world steam coal trade. Markets tend to overlap when coal prices are high and supplies plentiful. South Africa is a natural point of convergence between the two markets.

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Top Ten Coal Producing Countries Worldwide, 2003 (Mt)

Source: IEA 2004

Top Ten Coal Consumers Worldwide, 2003 (Mt)

Source: IEA 2004


OECD is the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. It is a group of 30 member countries who are committed to democratic government and the market economy.

The Coal Resource: A Comprehensive Overview of Coal 15

Australia is the world’s largest coal exporter; exporting over 207 Mt of hard coal in 2003, out of its total production of 274 Mt. Coal is one of Australia’s most valuable export commodities. Although almost three-quarters of Australia’s exports go to the Asian market, Australian coals are used all over the world, including Europe, the Americas and Africa.

International coking coal trade is limited. Australia is also the largest supplier of coking coal, accounting for 51% of world exports. The USA and Canada are significant exporters and China is emerging as an important supplier. Coking coal is more expensive than steam coal, which means that Australia is able to afford the high freight rates involved in exporting coking coal worldwide.

2002 2030

35 51

64 77


35 20





16 13



12 24



14 15





16 1322 20 23








Major Inter-Regional Coal Trade Flows, 2002-2030 (Mt)

Source: IEA 2004

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Energy Security Minimising the risk of disruptions to our energy supplies is ever more important – whether they are caused by accident, political intervention, terrorism or industrial disputes. Coal has an important role to play at a time when we are increasingly concerned with issues relating to energy security .

The global coal market is large and diverse, with many different producers and consumers from every continent. Coal supplies do not come from one specific area, which would make consumers dependent on the security of supplies and stability of only one region. They are spread out worldwide and coal is traded internationally.

Many countries rely on domestic supplies of coal for their energy needs – such as China, the USA, India, Australia and South Africa. Others import coal from a variety of countries: in 2003 the UK, for example, imported coal from Australia, Colombia, Poland, Russia, South Africa, and the USA, as well as smaller amounts from a number of other countries and its own domestic supplies.

Coal therefore has an important role to play in maintaining the security of the global energy mix.

>> Coal reserves are very large and will be available for the foreseeable future without raising geopolitical or safety issues.

>> Coal is readily available from a wide variety of sources in a well-supplied worldwide market.

>> Coal can be easily stored at power stations and stocks can be drawn on in emergencies.

Total World Electricity Generation (% by Fuel, 2002)

■ Coal 39%

■ Gas 19%

■ Nuclear 17%

■ Hydro 16%

■ Oil 7%

■ Other* 2%

* Other includes solar, wind, combustible renewables, geothermal and waste

Source: IEA 2004

Total World Electricity Generation (% by Fuel, projected for 2030)

■ Coal 38%

■ Gas 30%

■ Hydro 13%

■ Nuclear 9%

■ Other* 6%

■ Oil 4%

* Other includes solar, wind, combustible renewables, geothermal and waste

Source: IEA 2004

The Coal Resource: A Comprehensive Overview of Coal 17

>> Coal-based power is not dependent on the weather and can be used as a backup for wind and hydropower.

>> Coal does not need high pressure pipelines or dedicated supply routes.

>> Coal supply routes do not need to be protected at enormous expense.

These features help to facilitate efficient and competitive energy markets and help to stabilise energy prices through inter-fuel competition.

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Major Coal Exporters, 2003 (Mt)

■ Steam

■ Coking

Source: IEA 2004

Minimising the risk …