Coal fundamentals

A brief overview

German coal excavator for surface mining of brown coal

Stone coal

Mikael Höök UHDSG 2007-01-22

It has higher energy content than brown coal and contains less ash. The quality is often related to as “organic maturity”. It is still quite soft and brittle with quite high water content (20-30%). The highpressure environment combined with the heat from the Earths interior transformed the organic matter by altering its chemical nature. This type is divided into two sub-groups called steam coal and coking coal. High-rank coals The following stage forms bituminous coal. Used in cement manufacturing and a large array of industrial processes along with power generation. with a carbon content in the range of 25-35%. quite similar to the creation of oil in many ways. Time timescales for creation of different types of coal vary much. Coking coal and steam coal are the two types of coal that is most frequently traded. while anthracite requires millions of years to form. 2 . A peat deposit can be created in as little as 9000 years. The accumulation of silt. sometimes down to enormous depths. A high quality coal has been subjected to the higher pressure. the rest is composed of water. air. muck and similar organic ingredients started in swamps and bogs millions of years ago.Coal basics What is coal? As most people know. Low-rank coals The first stage in the coal maturity scale is called peat. Due to very high water content and the presence of lots of non-carbon materials peat is not as energy-rich as brown coal and limited to local small-scale heating. hydrogen. The carbon content is 35-45% with a reasonable energy content. The steam coal is used as sub-bituminous coal in power generation. Next stage is sub-bituminous coal. Due to the acidic conditions the organic material is prohibited from decaying completely. temperature and longer transformation times than coal of lower quality. coal consists of organic matter from prehistoric times that have been altered chemically during high pressures and long exposure. The carbon content of bituminous coal is around 60-86%. and sulphur. The stage after peat is called lignite or “brown coal”. Approximately 60% of the worlds swamp areas are peat. The quality of a coal deposit is defined by the pressure and temperature together with the time. First it was transformed into peat and the peat was then refined into coal of different types. Tectonic shifts and movements in the earths crust buried these areas. This type of coal is mainly used for large-scale power generation. thus making it an better fuel for coal-fired power plants. The water content is high (up to 66%) and the color can go from dark black to different shades of brown.

Both graphite and diamonds have many uses in industry and are not treated as normal coal. Graphite is not used as a fuel. The final type is called anthracite and consists of almost pure carbon (8698%) together with some impurities.Coking coal is a vital fundament in the metallurgical industry. phosphor and other unwanted materials are the typical properies of coking coal. 3 . Coal mining There are two ways of mining coal. surface mining and underground mining. uses 80% surface mining. Barely 1 percent of all coal is classified as anthracite and it is mainly used in domestic situations as a smokeless fuel. Underground mining currently stands for approximately 60% of the worlds coal production. Australia. High carbon content and low amounts of sulphur. Higher carbon content than 98% leads to graphite or diamonds. It is harder to ignite than steam coal and the scarce supplies have greatly limited the uses. due to the problems of igniting it. However the worlds largest coal exporter. Which method that is used depends on the local properties of the coal seams.

room-and-pillar mining and longwall mining. This temporarily damages the area. A problem with underground coal mining is the risk of explosions. Surface mining can recover as much as 90% and more of the coal. while European production actually has declined. Two different mining methods exist. Coal transportation How coal is transported depends on the distance to the place where it will be used. alternatively the coal can be grinded into a fine powder and mixed with water to form a coal slurry that can be transported through pipelines. Coal seams contain small amounts of methane and other combustible gases that might be ignited by sparks. Coal 1 WCI – The Coal Resource 4 . The choice of mining technique is always based on economic considerations and differences in a single mine can lead to both methods being used. A small proportion of coal is also used for various chemical processes. The first one is cheaper. But is only economical when the coal seam is located near the surface. The largest consumers are mainly power generation and steel industry. This treatment can be everything from crushing the coal into fine powder to complex chemical cleaning processes to reduce certain impurities. but if proper refilling and recuperation is undertaken the mining site can completely restored. Cement manufacturing and coal liquefaction are two a medium consumers. but leaves more coal unrecoverable while the long wall mining option is more expensive but can recover more coal. Coal is generally transported over short distances with trucks or conveyors. Coal production has increased with 38% the last 20 years. This is not a problem in surface mining. Coal production The world currently consumes over 4000 Mt on coal each year. Surface mining is simply a matter of soil relocation that uncovers the coal by moving the overlying dirt.Underground mines normally takes longer time to finish and tend to make a larger portion of the coal seam unusable. leading to explosions when the gas conditions are right. however it is the only viable choice for coal seams deep down. Coal that comes directly from a mine often needs to be treated in various ways. Around 700 million tones of coal were traded internationally in 2003 and around 90% was seaborne trade1. Asia is the fastest growing coal producer. Trains and barges are used for longer distances within a domestic market. Coal cleaning can reduce the amount of ash by over 50% and thus cutting down the amount of waste from coal combustion. Ships are used for the longest distances. Global coal production is expected to reach 7 billion tones in 2030 with China accounting for nearly half the increase.

typically due to high transportation costs involved in coal trade. is the worlds largest coal exporter. In many cases up to 70% of the total cost is due to transportation expenses. both used for power generation. Australia.transportation can be very expensive. The biggest market for coal is Asia. India and Korea. The importance of obtaining certain types of coal. is an important factor to consider. Currently 54% of the global coal consumption takes place in Asia. Logistical reasons is another explanation of why a major coal producer imports foreign coal. Only around 18% of hard coal production goes the international market. Demand for coking coal in steel industry is likely to increase with a similar number. exporting 207 Mt2. Japan. due to the low energy content compared to high-rank coals. mostly in China. with a total hard coal production equal to 274 Mt. for example good coking coal. Coal market and trade Coal contributes to around 39% of the global electricity and this number is expected to change very little over the next 30 years. 2 Year 2003. Source WCI – The Coal Resource 5 . Australia is also the world’s largest supplier of coking coal. accounting for 51% of world total export. It is easier to import foreign coal directly to major consumption areas than mining domestic coal in faraway regions with undersized transportation systems. Lignite and sub-bituminous coal can be traded regionally but is too expensive for shipment over longer distances. Most of the coal is consumed in the same country as it was produced. Coking coal is quite expensive compared to other types of coal and that makes it possible for Australia to afford the high freight costs involved in exporting coal worldwide. is projected to an increase of around 1% per year. Even though many Asian countries have large coal assets they import a significant amount. The growth of steam coal and lignite. Only high-rank coal is traded internationally.

The international market is therefore effectively divided into two regional markets. Japan and Korea as the largest importers. the Atlantic and the Pacific. The Pacific market is made up of various Asian countries with China. while seaborne coking coal trade has grown by 2% annually. mostly by shipping lanes. Currently the pacific market accounts of 60% of the worlds steam coal trade. Seaborne trade of steam coal as increased with an average of 8% per year. Still international trade only constitutes of a small proportion of the total global coal production. Both steam and coking coal are imported to high consumption areas like major cities and industrial zones near the coast. Transportation costs account for a large part of the total delivered price of coal. 6 . Germany and Spain. Asia is probably the most active market and is likely to continue to be that for a long time.Coal is traded all over the world. The two regions tend to overlap during good times and South Africa is a natural point of convergence between the two regions. The Atlantic market consists of major European importers like UK.

In comparison with oil and gas the price of coal actually declined last year. It is present in over 70 countries and mined in 50 of them.Security Coal is the most abundant of all fossil fuels. 7 . The global market is very diverse with a large number of available exporting countries. Furthermore coal doesn’t come from one specific area and the dependence of political stability in certain regions becomes non-existing. All the worlds’ largest economies have significant domestic coal supplies. The price of coal have been much more stable historically compared to oil and gas.

Growing environmental concerns and more stringent regulations for fossil fuels will certainly lead to higher coal prices. However. It is therefore possible to build up emergency storages that can be used in times of need. trading centers. industrial centers or at power stations. Transportation of coal does not require high-pressure pipelines that may become vulnerable to accidents. Coal does not create serious environmental impact if a transport suffers from an incident. coal is likely to remain the most affordable fuel for power generation in many developing and industrial country for several decades in the future. 8 . The need for protection during transport is very small. It is much easier to clean up coal from a sunken transport ship or a derailed train compared to cleaning up after an oil transport. sabotage or terrorism. Coal can also be stored at mines. Storing coal is easy and based on well proved technology and methods.

Because of its cheapness. The development of new coal-based power plants is closely tied to gasification technology. Since a new concept utilizes gasification of coal to improve efficiency and lower emissions. The powder is blown into a combustion chamber and is used to generate steam. 9 . reliability and availability coal is one of few energy sources that can meet the increasing demand of electricity in the world. Nowadays coal is first milled into a fine powder. thus increasing its surface area and allowing it to burn more quickly. It is also easier to clean out impurities and noxious materials from the syngas compared to cleaning the exhaust vapor from ordinary combustion of coal.Coal energy Coal has been a fundamental pillar of the electricity generation in the west and is estimated to be so for the developing economies of today. The earliest coal combustion power plants burned coal lumps on a metal grate to boil steam that could be used in turbines. The IGCC-design (Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle) creates a synthesis gas from coal or any other carbon source and burns the gas in a high efficiency gas turbine.

The IGCC-concept stretches far beyond just generating electricity. Analysts deem that IGCC-technology is very well suited for developing countries that have indigenous coal and lack the funds to import oil or develop other energy sources. The current reliability is deemed a bit lower than other coal combustion methods. such as pulverized supercritical coal combustion and coal fluidized bed combustion. Further development points towards net efficiencies of 56% in the future. 3 WCI – Clean coal: building a future through technology 10 . A part of the syngas can be diverted to a FT-synthesis stage and used for producing fuels and other chemical products. Today there are around 160 IGCC-plants in operation worldwide3. Further development is needed to make IGCC-technology the chosen pathway of future coal energy undertakings. The gasification makes carbon dioxide separation easier compared to ordinary coal combustion and therefore the potential to eliminate emissions of greenhouse gases looks very promising. The syngas can also be “shifted” to produce pure hydrogen for a future hydrogen economy. However the flexibility of an IGCC-plant is a great advantage. During times of need the plant can be focused on generating electricity and in spare-time the production can be shifted towards fuel via FT-synthesis. especially for countries that need both electricity and fuels.IGCC-designs typically offer efficiencies around 45% and reduce NOx and SOx-emissions by 95-99%.

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