What is coal?


Coal is a fossil fuel extracted from the ground by underground mining or open-pit mining (surface mining). It is a readily combustible black or brownish-black sedimentary rock. It is composed primarily of carbon along with assorted other elements, including sulfur. Coal is often associated with the Industrial Revolution, and remains an enormously important fuel, being the largest single source of electricity world-wide.

World coal consumption is about 5,800 million short tons (5.3 petagrams) annually, of which about 75% is used for electricity production. The region including China and India uses about 1,700 million short tons (1.5 Pg) annually. The USA consumes about 1,100 million short tons (1.0 Pg) of coal each year, using 90% of it for generation of electricity.

Where do they come from?

Peat swamps of Borneo

Coal is formed from plant remains that have been compacted, hardened, chemically altered, and metamorphosed by heat and pressure over geological time.

Coal was formed in swamp ecosystems which persisted in lowland sedimentary basins similar, for instance, to the peat swamps of Borneo today. These swamp environments were formed during slow subsidence of passive continental margins, and most seem to have formed adjacent to estuarine and marine sediments suggesting that they may have been in tidal delta environments.

When plants die in these peat swamp environments, their biomass is deposited in anaerobic aquatic environments where low oxygen levels prevent their complete decay by bacteria and oxidation.