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Coal is primarily used as fuel to generate electric power in the United States. In coal-fired power plants, bituminous coal, subbituminous coal, or lignite is burned. The heat produced by the combustion of the coal is used to convert water into high-pressure steam, which drives a turbine, which produces electricity. In 2019, about 23 percent of all electricity in the United States was generated by coal-fired power plants, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Certain types of bituminous coal can also be used in making steel. Coal used for steel making needs to be high in carbon content and low in moisture, ash, sulfur, and phosphorous content. Coal that meets these specifications is known as metallurgical coal. Coal also has a myriad of other uses, including in cement production, carbon fibers and foams, medicines, tars, synthetic petroleum-based fuels, and home and commercial heating.
There are four major types (or “ranks”) of coal. Rank refers to steps in a slow, natural process called “coalification,” during which buried plant matter changes into an ever denser, drier, more carbon-rich, and harder material. The four ranks are:Anthracite: The highest rank of coal. It is a hard, brittle, and black lustrous coal, often referred to as hard coal, containing a high percentage of...
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...
The biggest coal deposit by volume is the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and Montana, which the USGS estimated to have 1.07 trillion short tons of in-place coal resources, 162 billion short tons of recoverable coal resources, and 25 billion short tons of economic coal resources (also called reserves) in 2013. The coal in the Powder River Basin is subbituminous in rank. Large coal deposits can also...
As of January 2020, the United States has the largest recoverable coal reserves with an estimated 252 billion short tons of coal remaining, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.Learn more:U.S. Coal Resources and AssessmentWorld Coal Quality Inventory
Although often associated with helping fuel the Nation’s growth during the Industrial Revolution, coal is very much part of our space-age present. In...