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Everyday Applications of Coal
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Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Though young children and adults alike are familiar with the tale that Santa will leave coal in your stocking if you’ve been naughty, what purpose does this black lump serve, exactly? Besides being used as a common fuel source, this mineral has uses in other everyday applications as well. Read on to see what (somewhat surprising) uses coal has.

•     Electricity
The National Mining Association reports that coal generates nearly 40 percent of the U.S.’s electricity. A relatively high statistic, we felt it would be good to start with electricity on this list. There are power stations in the U.S. (and across the globe) that are coal-fired powered. Coal and gas are burned to heat water to the boiling point, which then produces steam that causes a turbine to spin. Another machine turns this power into electricity. In areas that use coal for electricity, electric bills tend to be lower than when relying on another fuel for electricity.

•     Steel
Another common application of coal: roughly 70 percent of steel is created using coke — no, not the carbonated beverage, but rather a low-ash, low-sulfur, high carbon solid material made from coal. Coking coal is also known as metallurgical coal. Coke is burned at an extremely high temperature (around 1,832 degrees Fahrenheit or 1,000 degrees Celsius) in the absence of oxygen to remove any impurities in it so it can be used in the production of steel. As steel is used almost universally in structures, telecommunications, transportation and other applications, it’s no wonder this widely available energy resource is used in its production.

•     Cement
Whether it was a new sidewalk being poured or the beginning of a new building being constructed, cement is a key element in the construction industry. Mixing cement with gravel and water forms concrete, which is also an important element. But these elements wouldn’t be anywhere without coal. Cement is made from calcium carbonate, silica, iron oxide and alumina. Placed into a high-temperature kiln (fueled by coal), the raw materials are heated and transformed into a substance called clinker. From there, clinker is mixed with gypsum and then ground into a fine powder to make cement. As large amounts of energy are needed to create cement, coal is a logical choice of fuel to use.

Next time you threaten your children with coal in their stockings (or even if you’re being the one threatened), know that while coal may not make a good Christmas present, it is vital to the everyday functions of businesses, industries and households like yours.


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