With raised energy demand in the kind of electrical power and declining fossil fuel energy, it implies that alternative Energies and environmentally friendly green fuels to power our cars are currently being developed. However, besides green energy still has a lot of other alternative fuels and today this article will talk about coal that is known as a form of alternative energy.

Photo by Yaroslav Maltsev / Unsplash

Coal is the most plentiful fossil fuel on the earth today and is by far the most affordable source of available fossil fuel, averaging less than half the value of petroleum and gas. However, though fossil fuel coal is extremely low-cost, it's both dirty to burn and transport as well as being energy inefficient compared to the stored energy of oil and gas. With the invention of steam engines, fossil fuel coal became the world’s number one fuel.

Although less common today, fuel coal is still burnt in power stations to provide electricity. Fossil fuel Coal is found throughout the world and there's probably enough coal within the Earth’s crust to last over two hundred years at the current rate of consumption.

photographed while on an assignment for Indonesia’s largest coal mining company
Photo by Dominik Vanyi / Unsplash

Coal is a solid sedimentary rock that contains combustible hydrocarbons that are burned in industrial power stations to provide electricity and in the home to produce heat. The hydrocarbons present in coal can also be extracted to create liquid and gaseous synthetic fuels. The fossil fuels coal we use today took numerous years to create from ferns, plants and swamp stay that died and began to decay at the bottom of lakes and marshes.

These dead organic plants eventually shaped into peat, which is another kind of fuel that looks like rotten wood because the plants compressed together. Over time, high temperature and pressure turned this peat into the black coal we know nowadays. Then fossil fuel coal took millions of years to form in the Earth’s crust, thus we are able to not build more coal in a short period of time which is why coal is regarded as “non-renewable energy”.

Not all coal is the same. Coal is a combustible kind of rock of varied hardness, moisture, and mineral content producing four basic varieties and grades of coal. The top grade of coal is named “anthracite” which contains big amounts of carbon-producing the most energy when burnt. This is the black coal we see and burn in the fires. The second type is named “bituminous” coal. This is a lump of lower quality coal utilized in industry to provide coking coal for use in blast furnaces and the like. With less carbon than the bituminous coal and the least rich in both carbon and energy content is “lignite” coal. Lignite is brown colored coal that is mixed with different forms for use in power stations.

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One other kind of coal we can also mention here is “graphite”. The mineral graphite is a higher quality grade of coal better than anthracite consisting principally of carbon. Though it's not usually used as fuel as a result of it is exhausting to ignite, graphite is used for creating pencils and electrical parts because of its ability to conduct electricity.

Almost all of the coal in the world is buried deep under the ground. As coal is a fossil fuel made from layers of plants that were once alive, the layers of coal within the Earth’s crust are known as “seams” and since coal is found in a very solid kind these seams should be excavated by excavation or mining. If the coal seam is close to the surface it can be removed by open-pit or surface mining.

If the coal seam is buried deep in the ground, long tunnels known as mine shafts are needed to extract the coal. Once the coal is mined it's cleaned and sent by trains and lorries to power plants and factories. The principal use of coal nowadays is in the production of electricity. Power plants burn coal to form electricity. However, coal is an extremely polluting energy source.

When coal is burnt it pollutes the atmosphere producing acid rain (sulfur dioxide, SO2) and global warming (carbon dioxide, CO2) and is the single biggest air polluter in all the coal-burning countries. To assist ease these environmental factors, the coal is cleaned before it's burnt and large scrubbers are used to clean the smoke and capture the harmful greenhouse gases before it is released into the atmosphere.

To overcome some of the environmental issues about burning coal, clean coal-burning power plants and high taxation on greenhouse gas emissions by dirty power plants have helped reduce the pollution. Additionally, coal mining includes a negative environmental impact on the landscape and environment as massive mounds of earth are formed by the spoil generated form digging the rock and soil from the underground coal seams. Open-pit coal mines produce big holes and vast open pits in the landscape with the complete removal of trees, forests and even mountains to mine the coal.