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Uses of Coal: Cement
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Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Continuing our coal series from the past few months, dedicated readers have already learned some of the most common uses of coal, with the most prevalent use as generating electricity, followed by being used in steel production. As you’re reading this blog, it’s logical to say you realize that there are more than two uses of coal in people’s everyday lives. But if you weren’t necessarily aware of the multiple functions coal has, you’re in for a surprise.

You see, like other natural resources that have become commonplace in daily routines, coal is necessary for several commodities, materials, services, etc. that people have come to rely on in 2015. How so? Well, without electricity in one form or another, you wouldn’t be able to read this blog post, now would you? Countless items (buildings, cutlery, bridges, jet engines, and so on) call for steel during the production process — which, in turn, means they also require steel. So, other than information (falsely) spreading for years that diamonds come from coal, what on earth could coal be used for in everyday life? Why, it’s none other than cement.

Before you grab a stick and go to write your initials in that not-yet-dry sidewalk, know this: there is a difference between cement and concrete. Similar to people calling a rectangle a ‘square,’ cement, in fact, is an ingredient in the composite material of concrete. Cement is the binder used in concrete that hardens after it is molded into its desired shape and corresponding function. Concrete is a mixture of aggregates (sand and gravel or crushed stone) and paste (water and most often, Portland cement). Not a brand name, Portland cement is the generic term for the most common type of cement used around the world. Cement can be broken down even further into non-hydraulic cement (cement that will not set in water or wet conditions) and hydraulic cement (cement that will set in wet conditions or underwater).

Where does coal come into play during all of this? The black substance is used as an energy source during cement production. Like with many large-industry productions, cement requires a substantial amount of energy to be produced. Typically, cement is produced in a large kiln with coal used as one of the primary fuels. However, depending on the company making the cement, coal as a fuel is typically burned in powder form and not as the lumps in stockings it has become synonymous with. In the past, some locations would use coal as the drying slurry or for power generation, while coke was used for kiln burning.

Next time you’re out in the hustle and bustle of a big city, sightseeing, going for a jog, driving during your daily commute — almost any daily activity — take a look around. See those office buildings? What about that bridge you’re walking on? Peering over the Hoover Dam? Taking a visit to Italy, and plan on seeing the Roman Pantheon or the Coliseum? All of those structures and many more were built with concrete, which means they needed a form of cement as well. And what fuel source worked to create that cement? It would be the ever-widespread coal.


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