Coal is a general term for a wide variety of solid materials that are high in carbon content. Most coal is burned by electric utility companies to produce steam to turn their generators. Some coal is used infactories to provide heat for buildings and industrial processes. A special, high-quality coal is turned intometallurgical coke for use in making steel.86% of the coal used in the United States is burned by electric power plants to produce electricity. When burned, coal generates energy in the form of heat. In a power plant that uses coal as fuel, this heatconverts water into steam, which is pressurized to spin the shaft of a turbine. This spinning shaft drives agenerator that converts the mechanical energy of the rotation into electric power.Coal is also used in the steel industry. The steel industry uses coal by first heating it and converting it intocoke, a hard substance consisting of nearly pure carbon. The coke is combined with iron ore andlimestone. Then the mixture is heated to produce iron. Other industries use different coal gases given off during the coke-forming process to make fertilizers, solvents, medicine, pesticides, and other products.Fuel companies convert coal into easily transportable gas or liquid fuels. Coal-based vapor fuels are produced through the process of
Gasification may be accomplished either at the site of thecoalmine or in processing plants. In processing plants, the coal is heated in the presence of steam andoxygen to produce
, a mixture of carbon monoxide, hydrogen, and methane used directly asfuel or refined into cleaner-burning gas.On-site gasification is accomplished by controlled, incomplete burning of an underground coal bed whileadding air and steam. To do this, workers ignite the coal bed, pump air and steam underground into the burning coal, and then pump the resulting gases from the ground. Once the gases are withdrawn, they may be burned to produce heat or generate electricity. Or they may be used in synthetic gases to producechemicals or to help create liquid fuels.
processes convert coal into a liquid fuel that has a composition similar to that of crude petroleum. Coal can be liquefied either by direct or indirect processes. However, because coal is a