Coal is a combustible, sedimentary, organic rock, composed mainly of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. Coal seams are formed from vegetation, sandwiched between rock strata and altered by the effects of pressure and heat over millions of years. The use of coal in modern times is not fully understood by younger generations. Coal played a significant role in the industrial revolution in Britain and continues to do so, for power generation, steel production and less obviously in the manufacture of consumer goods.
The majority of Britain’s coal requirements are now met by imports from Russia, Columbia and the USA. Whilst domestic coal consumption in the UK is negligible, demand for ‘steam coal’ used in power generation remains high. Emerging manufacturing economies such as China have a huge appetite for coal. ‘Since 2000, global coal consumption has grown faster than any other fuel. The five largest coal users – China, USA, India, Russia and Japan – account for 76% of total global coal use’ (World Coal Association, 2013).
Coal is more abundant than gas and oil but is a major contributor to greenhouse gas concentrations. The development of carbon capture technology is seen as critical to its continued use as an economically efficient fuel source.