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What is coal?

Coal is a sedimentary deposit composed predominantly of carbon that is readily combustible. Coal is black or brownish-black, and has a composition that (including inherent moisture) consists of more than 50 percent by weight and more than 70 percent by volume of carbonaceous material. It is formed from plant remains that have been compacted, hardened, chemically altered, and metamorphosed by heat and pressure over geologic time.

Coal is found all over the world—including the United States—predominantly in places where prehistoric forests and marshes existed before being buried and compressed over millions of years. Some of the largest coal deposits are located in the Appalachian basin in the eastern U.S., the Illinois basin in the mid-continent region, and throughout numerous basins and coal fields in the western U.S. and Alaska.

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