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Uses of Coal: Electricity
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Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Santa Claus delivers it to children who haven’t behaved at Christmas. Katniss Everdeen’s hometown of District 12 mines it and uses it for power. But other than being a black rock fossilized carbon, what does coal do? Sure, there’s the widely spread myth that under pressure, coal turns into diamonds. But it’s a myth for a reason. When people are mining for coal, its end result can be one of several applications. Though the United States isn’t under the rule of Panem’s government, in our world, coal is also mined for power.

According to the National Mining Association (NMA), nearly 60 percent of all electricity in the U.S. is generated from coal and uranium. Plus, the NMA also reports the powerful black carbon makes up about 40 percent of the nation’s electricity, when divided by power sector generation. Then why does it seem not many people know one of the common uses of coal is for electricity? It could be because there are actually two types of coal, thermal and metallurgical, and only the former is used to generate electricity. The latter is mainly used in the production of steel.

When divided into its two types, it makes sense that coal is commonly mined in order to provide people with power; it provides the “thermal” of thermal power stations. However, once the coal is converted into thermal energy, it gets converted again to mechanical energy, and then once more into electrical energy, which then powers people’s homes, electronic devices, appliances, and countless other gadgets or mechanisms. Though the initial way to use coal for electricity generation was through pulverization and combustion, multiple groups and companies are now working to take further steps at improving thermal energy efficiency.

Among the ways to improve thermal energy efficiency include pre-drying, new cooling technologies, and coal gasification. A number of these new methods even fall under the realm of clean coal technology. But it’s coal gasification that’s used for electricity generation. During the gasification process, instead of being directly burned for fuel, coal is gasified in order to create syngas. To create syngas, the coal is blown through a gasifier unit with oxygen and water vapor, while simultaneously being heated. From there, the syngas is burned in a gas turbine, just like natural gas, to produce electricity. It may seem like a lengthy process, but in power stations that use coal gasification instead of the traditional method, they have low pollutant emissions and allow for relatively easy carbon capture.

Though just one of the many uses of coal, electricity is important to people, businesses, schools, hospitals, and countless other settings across the globe. While it may be compact, coal is so powerful, that the World Coal Association reports that coal-fired power stations made up 41 percent of the world’s electricity in 2012. That stat may be slightly under half, but coal fuels electricity in countries both small and large. Yet, that stat also leaves us pondering: Where on earth is Santa Claus so easily getting coal?


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