Why Coal

Why Coal

Coal has many uses worldwide, the most significant uses being electricity generation, steel production, cement manufacturing and liquid fuel production. Around 6.1 billion tons of hard coal were used worldwide last year and 1 billion tons of brown coal. Since 2000, global coal consumption has grown faster than any other fuel. The five largest coal users—China, US, India, Russia and Japan – account for 77 percent of total global coal use.

Coal is safe, reliable, easily stored, and readily available. The immense size of the world’s coal reserves means that it will be available for the foreseeable future. The ratio of coal reserves to production is approximately 2.6 times that of oil and 1.9 times that of natural gas.

Quick Facts

  • Total demand for US coal reached 1.05 billion tons in 2010.
  • Nearly half of US electricity is generated from coal.
  • Each person in the US uses 3.4 tons of coal annually.
  • Coal is the most affordable source of power fuel per million Btu, historically averaging less than one-quarter the price of petroleum and natural gas.
  • Coal accounts for about 30 percent of US total energy production and 21 percent of total energy consumption.
  • The US has nearly 261 billion tons of recoverable coal reserves, according to the Energy Information Administration. That’s a 235-year supply at current rates of use.
  • US coal mining directly employs nearly 136,000 people; for each coal mining job, an additional 3.5 jobs are created elsewhere in the economy.
  • Power plants being built today emit 90 percent less pollutants (SO2, NOx, Particulates, mercury) than the plants they replace from the 1970s, according the National Energy Technology Laboratory.
  • Coal plants in the 21st century emit 40 percent less co2 than the average 20th century coal plant, according to the World Coal Institute.
  • Regulated emissions from coal-based electricity generation have decreased overall by more than 50 percent since the 1970s while coal use has tripled, according to government statistics.
  • US coal operations have reclaimed more than 2.3 million acres of mined land over the past 25 years.
  • Since 1978, US coal mines have paid more than $7 billion to reclaim mines that were abandoned prior to laws requiring reclamation.
  • Railroads move about two-thirds of US coal shipments annually.
  • Coal is the largest freight commodity moved by barges through the nation’s inland waterways.

BTU Conversion Chart (PDF)