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Uses of Coal: Steel
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Thursday, July 9, 2015

Last month, we informed you on the most prevalent usage of coal after it has been mined. While electricity is highly important in this go-go-go world where people constantly need to plug in, the powerful form of fossilized carbon is mined for a myriad of reasons. Another common application for coal once it’s mined, is for steel production.

Of course, since steel is an alloy, besides needing carbon (in the form of coal) to be produced, it also needs iron. As crucial of a part that iron plays in steel production, our focus is on coal. However, after being smelted from its ore, the iron contains more carbon than it needs. In order for steel to become steel, the amount of carbon within the beginning form of this alloy must be reduced (if only for other elements to be added). But, before there can be too much carbon — that ultimately has to be reduced — coal has to be turned into coke.

No, this coke isn’t the caramel-colored soft drink that people regularly gulp down. When those in-the-know of the mining industry mention “coke,” it refers to the porous, black rock that is concentrated carbon, rather than fossilized carbon. This form of coke comes from — You guessed it! — coal. Specifically, it comes from coking coal.

Coking coal also goes by another not-as-straightforward name, metallurgical coal. Different from thermal coal, which is used for electricity, coking coal/metallurgical coal has to be turned into almost pure carbon for it to become coke. But to break metallurgical coal down into coke, it must also have low sulfur and phosphorous contents as well.

After metallurgical coal is heated and liquefied, it gets turned into coke. From there, the coke is used in combination with iron and other alloying elements that can include manganese, chromium, and nickel, for steel production. From there, steel is used in many sectors and respective applications, with one of the most common sectors being construction. Steel is used in bridge, skyscrapers, high-rises, automobiles, and suspension cables. In transportation, steel is used in trucks, trains, railways, ships, and anchor chains. In the energy sector, steel is used for the infrastructure of pipelines, oil wells, wind turbines, and electricity power turbines’ components (but not the same coal that is used for electricity). Other common uses of steel are packaging, and appliances and industry.

Though the usage of electricity in daily life may seem more obvious than the use of steel, the amount of sectors and their respective applications that require steel for production, construction, usage, and more, looks like it can rival the use of electricity. Let’s just hope the Pittsburgh Steelers don’t change their name to the “Pittsburgh Coalers” anytime soon.


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