What is Coal?

Coal is quite a common object that we come across frequently. But what is meant by coal? Coal is a non-renewable natural resource. It is a type of fossil fuel, which is mostly made up of carbon. A lot can be said about the coal meaning and coal definition. But before that, we need to know how coal is formed. Coal is formed due to the effects of heat and pressure on the remains of dead plant matter which get buried inside the Earth’s surface. After millions of years of being under high pressure and high temperature, they get transformed into fossil fuels. So, if you wonder what is the origin of coal, it is dead plant-based matter. Coal is considered to be the most efficient forms of energy. To know the uses of coal, we have first to understand its types. 

What Are The Different Types of Coal?

There are four types of coal - peat, lignite, bituminous and anthracite. Each type has different proportions of carbon and thus, have different uses. 

  1. Peat - This type of coal has less than 40% to 50% of carbon, while the remaining is moisture. This makes it difficult for us to ignite and cannot be easily used.

  2. Lignite - This type of coal has 40% - 55% carbon content, which implies that moisture content is lesser than the peat variant. This is mainly used in households for cooking and ironing and power plants.

  3. Bituminous - The carbon content here is 40% to 80%, which means there is very little moisture. It is used in power plants for creating electricity and is also used for producing steel.

  4. Anthracite - With 80% to 90% carbon content, this type has the maximum carbon content with very little moisture. It is used for heating commercial buildings and is the highest variety of coal.

Uses of Coal

Coal is a very widely used natural resource because of its unique characteristics.

  • Because of its affordability, it is used in several countries for electricity and power generation. 

  • Generally, powdered coal is used to create steam, which in turn generates electricity with high pressure. 

  • Coal also serves as a raw material in the making of several things like steel and iron, which we use in our everyday lives. 

  • Coal is available easily in countries like India and China and is used by many households, especially in rural areas, for activities like cooking. 

Explain The Formation Of Coal

A frequently asked question is, how is coal made? The origin of coal can be traced back to 300 million years ago. After plants die, their remains get buried in the soil. After millions of years, their remains get turned to fossil fuel under high temperature and high pressure. The story of coal is interesting since it is one of the three types of fossil fuel found on Earth, the others being petroleum and natural. Looking back at the history of coal, we can see that the formation of coal takes millions of years as the Marsh Swampy (Plant-based environment) transforms under heat and pressure. It is a non-renewable fossil fuel, which means it cannot be reused. 

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How Is Coal Obtained?

Now that we know how coal is formed, it is essential to understand: How do we get coal? Coal is extracted by different kinds of mining activities on the Earth’s surface. The most common ones are surface mining and underground mining. Surface mining is done when coal is less than 200 feet below ground level. In this process, mineworkers have to remove all kinds of rocks and soil-forming the top layer. It is cheaper than underground coal mining. There are three types of surface mining - strip mining, where explosives are used to remove the top layers; open pit mining when a pit is dug, and MTR mining where a whole mountain summit is destroyed. 

Underground mining is performed when the coal is deeper than 300ft below ground level. Coal mine workers have to carry out mining activities then. 

Disadvantages of Coal

Coal has a set of disadvantages: like coal mining accidents, coal pollution, etc. There are a large number of accidents that take place in coal mines because it is a dangerous and challenging activity involving heavy equipment. Moreover, coal emissions are very harmful to human beings, especially to the lungs. Coal pollution is widespread in areas that lie near coal reserves. When coal is burnt, it releases carbon dioxide in vast quantities, which is harmful to human beings. Moreover, coal is a non-renewable and exhaustive natural resource which implies that we should not depend on it for everyday activities. Coal is also one of the biggest contributors to global warming today. 

FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

1. Where is coal produced?

Coal reserves are large geographical areas where coal is deposited. These reserves are spread across the globe in all continents except in Antarctica. There are enormous amounts of coal - mostly in countries which have the largest land masses, for example, Russia, North America, China, Australia, etc. These countries, along with 6 more countries - India, Germany, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, South Africa and Serbia, have 90% of the world’s source of coal. In India, the state of Jharkhand has an estimated reserve of 80,716 million tonnes, with Jharia Mines in Dhanbad being one of the primary coal reserves.

2. Can coal be reused or recycled?

Once burned, coal cannot be reused or recycled. On burning coal, coal ash is formed. This coal ash comprises several minerals like calcium and aluminium, which can be reused. About 40% of coal ash produced each year is effectively reused to fill coal mines that are abandoned. Sometimes, coal ash is used as the topmost layer on roads and foundations of high rise buildings. Another advantage of reusing coal ash is that it lowers emissions from greenhouse gases by putting carbon to use.