What Is Coal? Coal is a burnable carbonaceous rock that contains large amounts of carbon.

Coal is also a fossil fuel—a substance that contains the remains of plants and animals and that can be burned to release energy. Coal contains elements such as hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen; has various amounts of minerals; and is itself considered to be a mineral of organic origin. How Was Coal Formed? Scientists believe that during the Carboniferous period (280 to 345 million years ago) large amounts of plant life and other organic matter grew in the swampy areas and lagoons that covered much of the earth. As the plants and other life forms died, they drifted down to the bottom of the swamps, slowly decomposed, and formed peat—a soggy, sponge like material. The peat became buried and compressed under the earth's surfaces over a long period of time. Over millions of years and through the forces of heat and pressure, the compressed peat became coal. The greater the heat and pressure, the harder the coal was that formed. What Are the Four Major Categories of Coal? Coal is classified into four categories, or ranks, based on how it responded to increasing heat and pressure over long periods of time and how much carbon it contains: Lignite (soft): This type of coal contains a lot of moisture and ash and breaks apart easily. Of the four types, lignite has the lowest carbon content and heating value. Also called brown coal, lignite is used mainly at electricity-generating plants.

Sub bituminous (medium-soft): This dull black coal has less moisture than lignite. Sub bituminous is generally used to produce steam for electricity generation.

Bituminous (medium-hard): This type of coal, which contains very little moisture, has high heat value. It is used to generate electricity and to produce coke, a coal residue used in the steel industry

Anthracite (hard): This type of coal has the highest carbon content and the lowest moisture and ash content. Anthracite burns slowly and makes a good heating fuel for homes. What Is Coal Used For?

Coal is primarily used to generate electricity. and the steel industry uses coke and coal by-products to make steel for bridges. cement. • industry. manufacturing plants and industries use coal to make chemicals. In addition. twenty-three of the twenty-five electricity-generation power plants with the lowest operating costs are using coal. • cooking. nine out of every ten tons of coal mined in the United States today is used to generate electricity. Coal is still used in the iron and steel industry. means lower operating costs for businesses and for homeowners. has decreased because of changes in blast-furnace and steel-making technologies as well as shifts in steel demand. • transportation. In the United States. such as that generated by coal. This energy is released when coal is burned. made from ancient plant material. fertilizers. • lighting. Inexpensive electricity. • communication. Certain industries consume large amounts of coal. moderate inflation. to name a few. In fact. Carbon. gives coal most of its energy. and metal products. and automobiles. paper. Why Is Coal Used to Generate Electricity? Coal is used to generate electricity because it is a reliable and low-cost energy source. and increase coal's competitiveness in the marketplace. which helps to boost the economy. • and much more! Releasing Coal's Energy . • cooling. For example. Coal's methanol and ethylene are used to make products such as plastics. ceramics. but the domestic use of coke. concrete and paper companies burn coal. a substance made by heating coal to very high temperatures. We use coal-generated electricity for • heating. buildings. medicines. • healthcare. • farming. and tar. and about 56 percent of the electricity used in USA is coalgenerated electricity. Electricity from Coal Electricity from coal is the electric power made from the energy stored in coal.

compared with the rising cost of other fuels. How does coal compare to these other fossil fuels? In terms of supply. electricity has been delivered. transforming heat energy from burning coal into mechanical energy that spins the turbine engine. 2. The water returns to the boiler. which helps the coal burn more efficiently. The burning coal heats water in a boiler. A machine called a pulverizer grinds the coal into a fine powder. in which coal is inserted into a bed of particles suspended in air that react with the coal to heat the boiler and make steam • Combined-cycle systems. The coal powder mixes with hot air.000 volts at this point. Coal is a versatile fuel. In fact. Coal's Role in Our Electrical Supply Natural gas and oil are also used to make electricity. 7. The spinning turbine is used to power a generator. The delivery process is instantaneous. By the time you have flipped a switch to turn on a light. to cities and towns. electricity travels along distribution lines. creating steam. 6. 3. Voltages are often as high as 500. It can be used as a solid fuel or it can be converted to a gas to replace expensive imported fuels. and the cycle begins again Other new processes of using coal to make electricity include the following: • Fluidized bed combustion (FBC). it turns back into water. This happens when magnets inside a copper coil in the generator spin. coal has a clear advantage. and the mixture moves to the furnace. in which (1) gas produced by heating coal operates a combustion turbine connected to a generator and (2) the exhaust gases from this turbine heat water. which in turn operates a steam-powered generator Delivering Electricity Electricity-generating plants send out electricity using a transformer. A condenser cools the steam moving through the turbine. From the substation transformers. which increases the voltage of the electricity based on the amount required and the distance it must travel. which can be either above or below the ground. 5. Transformers once again reduce the voltage—this time to about 120 to 140 volts—for safe use inside homes and businesses. generating electricity from coal is cheaper than the cost of producing electricity from . 4. These transformers reduce the voltage for use in the local areas to be served. a machine that turns mechanical energy into electric energy. Steam released from the boiler powers an engine called a turbine.The process of converting coal into electricity has multiple steps and is similar to the process used to convert oil and natural gas into electricity: 1. The cost of using coal should continue to be even more competitive. Electricity flows along transmission lines to substation transformers. As the steam is condensed.

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