Coal is a fossil fuel and it is found on many places on earth, in rock formations that are millions and millions of years old. These rock formations when found in clusters are called coal mines.
Coal is made through a process that takes millions of years, and began even before prehistoric times. It is essentially the remains of dead plants pressurized at the bottoms of swamps with dirt and water. This is why it is called a fossil fuel.
Besides coal, fossil fuels contain a variety of chemicals, mostly carbons and hydrocarbons, but also petroleum, natural gas, methane, liquid petroleum, and anthracite coal.
Some of these substances are lethal, and therefore harmful, like methane and hydrocarbons, while others like anthracite coal are not.
It is considered non -renewable, because its usage exceeds its availability (because it takes so many millions of years to form).
Coals are ranked depending on the pressure applied to it during its making and the amount of heat energy it can produce. So the higher the rank, the more heat it produces.
Anthracite coal has 86-97% of carbon, which is considered the highest, and is also burns at the highest rate. Bituminous coal has the second highest carbon capacity with 45 – 86% and is used abundantly in the steel industry and to generate electricity.
Sub-bituminous coal is ranked 3rd in the list with carbon percentage of 35 – 45%. Finally, Lignite Coal, with 25-35% of carbon is the lowest energy power. They have the lowest energy content because they have not gone through the process of millions of years; they are in a relatively early stage.
Most of the extracted coal is used for electricity production. The industrial sector also use coal and its by-products for producing tar, medicines, fertilizers, synthetic fibres and plastic. The steel industry uses coal to make coke, which is used to make steel.
Electricity is generated from coal when the extracted coal is burned. The resulting steam is used to power turbines which in turn produce electricity.
In the steel industry coal is baked at high temperatures to make coke, the key factor in steel that makes it flexible and durable.
Outcrop coal was used as part of funeral pyres between 3000-2000 BC, and by the end of the 2nd century AD Romans were known to have found its various uses and exploited them. The Greeks had also used it for burning and other purposes.
1763 – 1774, James Watt developed the steam engine, which replaced the water wheel and would influence the transportation industry of the future. Between 1885 and 1950, domestic usage of coal for heating purposes increased making it the most widely used energy source in the world.
By 1982, coal was used largely for electricity and power generation on an industrial scale, and domestic usage gradually decreased.
The environment in also affected when coal is being heated. The combustion process releases many toxic gasses like sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, carbon dioxide, mercury, and particles that contribute to acid rain. These chemicals not only damage the atmosphere it also affects the health of living organisms.
Mining coal has to be done with extreme expert care. Otherwise, not only will it damage the ecosystem, it can also cost the lives of the miners.
Over periods, the land quality of mined regions decreases, while it also contributes towards hazardous waste.
There are both positive and negative economic impacts of using coal. A main positive impact is the economic boost from electricity production using coal. It is amongst the largest of industries supplying thousands of jobs.
The negative economic impacts are related to the environmental pollution aspect. The damage its fumes and extraction does to the ecosystem (global warming) and human life is immense.
Despite its negative impact, and the increased usage of other renewable and non-renewable energy sources, coal is still considered an indispensable commodity.
The main reason for this is, especially in America, coal is the most widely available fossil fuel resource. This means that America does not need to rely on exporting energy sources to support its production.
It is also used more than oil for domestic electricity production. Lastly, despite its disadvantages, the benefits of investing in coal technologies outweigh its costs.
Coal after being mined is mainly transported by train. It is also called “dirty” energy because of its environmental pollution. Many coal purification systems are being used to reduce this “dirty” factor, to make coal an increasingly cleaner energy source.
The current coal deposits in the world are estimated to provide energy for the next 300 years
Coal is mined in over 100 countries, is the official state rock of Utah and the official state mineral of Kentucky. Both China’s economic improvement and its increased environmental problems are due to coal.
In America, due to the economic support that coal has, it is predicted to be the major supporting factor of the country’s electrical power system for hundreds of years to come. This means more jobs being generated, and security of employment.