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About Coal

America's most abundant energy resource and a source of chemicals, fertilizer, and power worldwide.

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U.S. Resources
U.S. Consumption
World Resources
World Consumption
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Coal is defined as "a black or brownish black solid combustible substance formed by the partial decomposition of vegetable matter without free access of air and under the influence of moisture and often increased pressure and temperature." Coal can be burned as fuel or gasified to create a synthesis gas (syngas) that can then be used as a feedstock for the production of chemicals, fertilizer, and/or electric power.   { Coal Types }

U.S. Resources

The United States has enormous coal "resources" and "recoverable reserves." { Map   Terms Defined } The most reliable information about coal is published by the Energy Information Administration (EIA). The most recent figures available from the EIA, show that America's estimated recoverable reserves of coal --

Stand at 275 billion tons, an amount that is greater than any other nation in the world. { Chart }

Are capable of meeting domestic demand for more than 250 years at current rates of consumption.

U.S. Demand

America's coal is used primarily for the production of electricity. According to the EIA, in 2001 --

There were 315,000 Megawatts (net) of coal-based electrical generating capacity in the United States.

This represented approximately 37% of the total installed capacity.

However, coal plants accounted for 52% of the electricity generated since these facilities and nuclear plants are normally operated as "baseload" generators (the generating equipment normally operates on an around-the-clock basis).

Some 965 million tons of coal were consumed for the generation of electricity. This amounted to 86% of total U.S. coal production.


The EIA also makes energy production and consumption estimates for future years. Under these projections, domestic coal consumption is projected to grow at an average annual rate of 1.1% - 1.5% through 2025.

World Resources

Many large countries contain significant proven reserves of coal. While data quality varies widely, the countries with the greatest estimated recoverable reserves of coal are --

United States 273 billion tons  
Russia 173 billion tons  
China 126 billion tons  
India 93 billion tons  
Australia 90 billion tons  

World Demand

Coal is widely used around the globe for the generation of electricity and -- to a lesser but growing degree -- for the production of chemicals and fertilizer. Data compiled and distributed by the EIA shows that worldwide coal consumption --

Was estimated at 5.3 billion tons in 2001.

Is projected to increase by 2.2 billion tons per year over the next 25 years. This translates to a 1.5% average annual rate of growth (on a tonnage basis).

However, this relatively slow average annual grow rate masks substantial projected increases within certain large countries with fast growing economies. For example --

In China’s electricity sector, coal use is projected to grow by 4.2% a year through 2025.

Similarly, coal use for electricity generation in India is projected to rise by 2.1% annually over the next quarter century.

Sources of Information

U.S. Energy Information Administration
U.S. Geological Survey
International Energy Agency

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  © 2004-2009 Fred H. Hutchison

Edited on: March 27, 2009