The 9 most important advantages and disadvantages of coal (2023)

Coal is an organic sedimentary rock that is highly combustible. It is composed primarily of carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen, making it a primary source of energy. Coal formation began between 360 and 290 million years ago, a period that produced a wide variety of coals, so the quality of coal deposits is determined by how long they formed and how long they were buried.

Despite its bad reputation, particularly from environmentalists, coal has many uses, not just in power generation, which is why it remains a vital commodity around the world. What is used to generate electricity is called thermal coal or thermal coal, while coking coal or metallurgical coal is mainly used to make steel. If coal mining were to cease, many industries would be affected, including paper mills, pharmaceutical companies, and alumina refineries. Because of this, it's highly unlikely that coal production would stop completely unless it shuts down completely, which would be a long time coming. Unfortunately, coal has negative effects that divide the world between two ends of the spectrum.

List of coal benefits

1. Primary energy source.
Coal supplies about 30% of the world's primary energy needs and generates 40% of electricity. Some of the largest producers are China, the United States, India and Indonesia. Compared to oil and natural gas, it is one of the most abundant sources of energy. According to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA), coal reserves in the United States alone can last up to 190 years, while the rest of the world has at least another 300 years. Even if it is considered non-renewable, coal is unlikely to become scarce anytime soon.

2. Jobs in coal mining.
According to the EIA, there are an estimated 600 coal-fired power plants, 1,100 manufacturing plants, and 52 coal mines in the United States alone. The mines alone employ some 134,000 people, contributing to a high employment rate, and 50,000 new workers are needed over the next 10 years to replace retiring workers. As the demand for coal continues to increase, employment will also increase, so there will be no shortage of jobs in the coal industry.

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Donkin Coal Mine, an American company based in Cape Breton, recently started hiring new workers. Several positions had to be filled, including underground machine operators, mechanical/electrical mine technicians, and foremen, all of whom advertise for $30-$35 per hour. There's definitely a good reason why the community would get excited and revved up.

3. Economic energy source.
If you think your energy bill is high, think about how much more expensive it will be when there is no coal. Remember that coal provides electricity and is also used in the manufacture of refrigerators and freezers that ensure the preservation of perishable foods. If coal were not available, this luxury would not exist.

It is cheaper compared to other fossil fuels for several reasons. First of all, coal mining is not difficult, whether on the surface or underground. Between open pit (surface) and underground (underground) mining, the former recovers 90% or more of the coal compared to the latter, which basically means miners don't have to go underground all the time. You just need big heavy equipment and explosives to discover the coal seams. It is also safe to store and easy to burn, which by the way creates useful by-products for other industries or products.

Transporting coal is also easier and cheaper. Unlike oil, it does not flow through high-pressure lines that require expensive maintenance. The abundance of coal also makes additional security when transporting it from one area to another unnecessary. Generation plants also require small capital investments to start up.

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4. Many applications.
As mentioned above, coal is very versatile, not just for power generation. Even its byproducts have surprising uses. For example, refined coal tar is used to make phenol, creosote oil, naphthalene, and other chemicals. Aspirin, soap, dyes, and fabrics also use coal byproducts. The charcoal itself is also used for specialty products, including activated carbon, which is used to make water filters, air purifiers, and kidney dialysis machines. Carbon fiber and silicon metal also use carbon as an essential component. Anyone who knows the purpose of such materials knows how important the role of carbon is. Shampoos and toothpaste wouldn't be the same without them.

5. Independent weather.
The only time coal mining can be stopped is when the site is declared dangerous or inoperable. But even if it rains or there is a strong wind, the works would continue and the plants would continue to work. This means a continuous power supply. If residential and commercial facilities were to rely on wind turbines, solar panels, or hydroelectric sources, the availability of electricity would depend on existing weather conditions. Businesses can't afford to shut down operations just because the sun doesn't rise or the wind isn't strong enough to turn the windmills.

6. Reduce dependence on oil.
In President Obama's speech, titled "Energy Security Can Only Happen If We Invest in Cleaner, More Efficient Fuels," he emphasized the energy security that can be achieved by reducing dependence on foreign oil, a reality that is viewed as a risk for national security since it originated in nations with unstable political regimes. But the best solution would be energy independence, which coal can help achieve, especially now that electric cars are becoming more popular. Since they only need to be loaded, the dependence on foreign oil can be reduced by a third by 2025.

Also, there are no government bodies like OPEC involved in coal mining and production, so there is no politics involved and no one will dictate the terms of your operation. Although there are rules and regulations that must be followed, no nation or two have any influence on coal mining.

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List of disadvantages of coal

1. Environmental Impact.
Burning coal can produce useful byproducts, but it can also release harmful wastes such as carbon dioxide, sulfuric acid, arsenic, ash, oxides of nitrogen, and sulfur dioxide. CO2 emissions from burning coal also account for an additional 65% of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, adding to greenhouse gases. For everyone, this means climate change and global warming. The pollution it causes has also caused acid rain in some areas. Although there are many causes of acid rain, burning coal is a major contributor as it releases sulfur dioxide and acid rain contains higher than normal levels of sulfuric and nitric acid.

However, newer coal power plants now emit 40% less CO2, according to the World Coal Institute. However, this is not enough to repair all the damage that older systems have caused. This is probably why Norway plans to sell many of its coal investments to curb climate change.

2. Effects of coal mining.
Keep in mind that coal seams are surrounded by plants, rivers, and other natural landscapes, and digging for coal would mean destroying areas of forest that serve as habitat for wildlife. There is no doubt that the ecosystem and biodiversity would take a beating. The process also leads to contamination of water, soil and air, i.e. acid rain. Noise emanating from large mining machines can also harm local wildlife.


Transporting coal would also require an extensive transportation system, probably traversing mountains, valleys, etc. The construction of such infrastructure would not only destroy the landscape, but also increase pollution from emissions from various vehicles.

Yet in the last 25 years, US coal mines have already mined more than 2.3 million acres of land. US coal mines have also paid more than $7 billion to reclaim abandoned mining land since 1978. The move even took place long before reclamation laws were passed. But would ruined landscapes fully recover? One thing is for sure, they will never be the same.

3. Impact on the health of miners.
Even before a miner becomes nauseated from inhaling fumes and the like, he is in danger of being buried deep in the earth. Finally, underground mining is prone to cave-ins and explosions. But the real risk lies in the health of the miners and the people who live near the excavation sites. In fact, between 50,000 and 130,000 people will be displaced once a coal mine opens. Constant exposure to harmful chemicals can lead to respiratory diseases, lung cancer, black lungs from coal dust, heart failure, nervous system damage from mercury, and low birth weight. Since coal mining emissions and particulates can also degrade and pollute buildings, human health is unintentionally affected as well.

When acid rain is prevalent, it can also cause more problems, even for people far from the coal mines. Finally, coal dust and other hazardous substances can be carried by the winds, contaminating everything in their path.

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Author Biography
Natalie Regoli is a daughter of God, devoted wife and mother of two children. She has a master's degree in law from the University of Texas. Natalie has published in several national magazines and has practiced law for 18 years.


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