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Uses of Coal - Chemistry, Composition and Uses of Coal, Practice Problems and FAQ

“Try and learn to save resources, my dear. Learn to Save, for your better future’’

Haven’t we heard this phrase from our elders more than often? 

Indeed, we have. In fact, our elders are so thoughtful about us, they generally try to secure our future by accumulating something or the other, for easing our lives in future. If not money or wealth, they instil wisdom and knowledge in our souls, which in the long run, gives us the courage to survive and sustain in the harsh world. This is indeed a precious gift our ancestors have accumulated all through their lives and then they pass it on to us, knowingly, or unknowingly, for smoothening our paths on earth.


Coal is actually such a precious gift that the prehistoric living matters and plants on earth, had accumulated millions of years ago from the sun (as a source of energy) and have kept it in store for us to use later in life! Imagine the importance of Coal! It has the nickname “Black Diamond”. In fact, there is a Superfast Express train named “Black Diamond Express” in India that connects Howrah with Dhanbad en routing some of the major industrial stoppages or coal cities of India like Durgapur, Asansol, Raniganjh to Bokaro (via Dhanbad): the most famous coal belt region of India with some famous organisations like IISCO, SAIL, DSP present in here.


  • What is Coal?
  • Composition of Coal
  • Coal as a Source of Energy
  • Uses of Coal
  • Problems Associated with the Use of Coal
  • Practice Problems
  • Frequently Asked Questions - FAQ

What is Coal?

Coal is a solid carbon-rich combustible material that is usually brown or black Coal is a solid combustible substance rich in carbon that is often brown or black in colour and found in layered sedimentary strata, making it one of the most important major fossil fuels. Coal is mostly made up of carbon, with varying proportions of additional elements such as hydrogen, sulphur, oxygen, and nitrogen.

  • Coal is defined as carbonaceous materials with a content of more than 50% by weight (or 70% by volume) formed by the compaction and hardening of altered plant remnants, such as peat deposits. The term "coal" refers to carbonaceous materials that contain more than 50% by weight (or 70% by volume) of carbon and are created by compacting and hardening altered plant remains, such as peat deposits.
  • Different types of plant material (coal type), degree of coalification (coal rank), and impurity range produce different variations of coal (coal grade). Different varieties of coal are produced by various plant materials (coal type), levels of coalification (coal rank), and impurity ranges (coal grade).
  • Although most coals are found in stratified sedimentary deposits, they can be subjected to increased temperatures and pressures as a result of igneous intrusions or deformation during orogenesis (i.e., mountain-building processes), resulting in the formation of anthracite and even graphite. Despite the fact that the majority of coals are found in stratified sedimentary deposits, they can be subjected to higher temperatures and pressures as a result of igneous intrusions or deformation during orogenesis (i.e., processes that result in the formation of mountains) and this can lead to the formation of anthracite and even graphite.
  • Despite the fact that the concentration of carbon in the Earth's crust is less than 0.1 per cent by weight, it is necessary for life and serves as humanity's primary source of energy. Although the amount of carbon in the Earth's crust is less than 0.1 percent by weight, it is essential for life and the world's main energy source.

Composition of Coal

  • Plants' woody tissue is mostly made up of cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin. 
  • The majority of modern peat is lignin, with cellulose and hemicellulose concentrations varying from 5% to 40%. Waxes, nitrogen- and sulphur-containing chemicals, and other organic molecules are also found. 
  • Lignin is made up of around 54% carbon, 6% hydrogen, and 30% oxygen, whereas cellulose is made up of 44%, 6% hydrogen, and 49% oxygen. 
  • On a weight basis, bituminous coal contains approximately 84.4% carbon, 5.4% hydrogen, 6.7% oxygen, 1.7% nitrogen, and 1.8% sulphur. 
  • This means that during coalification, chemical processes must remove the majority of the oxygen and hydrogen, leaving only carbon, a process known as carbonization.

Dehydration, decarboxylation, and demethanation are the main steps in carbonization. Dehydration is the process of removing water molecules from mature coal by reactions such as

2 R–OH → R–O–R + H2O

2 R-CH2-O-CH2-R → R-CH=CH-R + H2O

Decarboxylation is a chemical reaction that eliminates carbon dioxide from mature coal.


Demethylation proceeds as

2 R-CH3 → R-CH2-R + CH4

R-CH2-CH2-CH2-R → R-CH=CH-R + CH4

Coal composition is provided as a proximate analysis (moisture, volatile matter, fixed carbon, and ash) or an ultimate analysis (moisture, volatile matter, fixed carbon, and ash). It refers to the volatile compounds that are formed and released when coal is heated. On a weight basis, typical bituminous coal may contain 84.4% carbon, 5.4% hydrogen, 6.7% oxygen, 1.7% nitrogen, and 1.8% sulphur on a dry, ash-free basis.

Coal as a Source of Energy

Coal made the entire industrial revolution possible, and it has always pushed the industrial sector forward by being a very inexpensive fuel. However, when burned for electricity, it produces pollution, and human civilisation is currently attempting to shift towards a clean and green future. Due to its low cost as a fuel, coal enabled the entire industrial revolution and has continuously advanced the industrial sector. However, as it pollutes when burned to make energy, human civilization is actively working to transition to a clean and sustainable future.

Coal is a plentiful natural resource that can be used for electricity, as a chemical source for a variety of synthetic compounds (such as colours, oils, waxes, medicines, and insecticides), and for the creation of coke for metallurgical processes. Coal is a primary source of energy for steam generation, which is used to generate electricity. Furthermore, coal gasification and liquefaction produce gaseous and liquid fuels that are easy to transport (e.g. through pipelines) and store in tanks. After a massive increase in coal consumption in the early 2000s, fueled mostly by China's economic expansion, coal use worldwide peaked in 2012. Since then, coal use has been steadily declining, largely compensated by advances in renewable energy. A plentiful natural resource, coal can be used to produce coke for use in metallurgical operations, power, and a wide range of synthetic compounds (including dyes, oils, waxes, medications, and pesticides). The primary energy source for producing steam, which is then utilised to produce electricity, is coal. Additionally, the gaseous and liquid fuels produced by coal gasification and liquefaction are simple to move (e.g., through pipelines) and store in tanks. Coal use worldwide peaked in 2012 following a sharp rise in consumption in the early 2000s, primarily driven by China's economic growth. Since then, the use of coal has continuously decreased while being partly offset by advancements in renewable energy.

Uses of Coal

Coal appears to be the cheapest and most important source of energy. Here is a list of all of The following are coal's significant applications.


  • Coal is used to create a wide range of products in a variety of industries. Coal is used in the manufacture of cement, paper, and aluminium, as well as in the chemical and pharmaceutical industry.
  • Coal is used to make a range of raw materials, including benozle, coal tar, sulphate of ammonia, creosote, and other chemicals.
  • Coal is also used in the production of specialised products such as activated carbons, carbon fibre, and silicon metals.

Electricity Production

  • Coal is typically used in the creation of thermal energy, which contributes to the production of electricity.
  • Powdered coal is burned at high temperatures, and the heat produced is used to transform water into steam. High temperatures are produced during the burning of powdered coal, and this heat is used to turn water into steam.
  • Under the influence of a strong magnetic field, this steam is used to power high-speed turbines. The rotation of turbines initiates a process that results in the generation of electricity. As a result of its low cost, coal is used for energy and power generation in many countries. This steam is utilised to drive extremely fast turbines while being influenced by a powerful magnetic field. Turbine rotation starts a process that leads to the creation of electricity. Coal is used for energy and power generation in many nations due to its low cost.

Steel Industry

  • In this steel industry, coal is cooked in furnaces to make coal coke.
  • Manufacturers use coal coke to smelt iron ore into iron, which is then used to create steel.
  • Coal is used to create steel in the steel industry.
  • In the meantime, ammonia gas is recovered from coke ovens and utilised to make nitric acid, ammonia salts, and fertilisers.
  • Coal is cooked in furnaces to create coal coke in the steel industry.
  • Iron ore is smelted by manufacturers into iron, which is subsequently used to make steel.
  • The steel industry uses coal to make steel.
  • Fertilisers, ammonia salts, and nitric acid are produced in the interim using ammonia gas that is reclaimed from coke furnaces.

Gasification and Liquefaction

  • Coal can be converted into a mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen, which is known as synthetic gas.
  • These gases are intermediate products that can be transformed into urea, methanol, pure hydrogen, and other compounds.
  • Coal can also be converted into synthetic fuels, which are liquids made from coal.
  • However, coal-derived compounds are mostly used to generate other products. Besides, coal or coal by-products are used in the majority of products on the market.
  • Aspirins, solvents, soap, dyes, polymers, and fibres such as nylon and rayon are among them. 
  • Synthetic gas, a mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide produced from coal, is a possible end product.
  • These gases are intermediary products that can be processed into other molecules like urea, methanol, and pure hydrogen.
  • Synthetic fuels, that are liquids derived from coal, can also be created through the conversion of coal.
  • However, the majority of chemicals made from coal are utilised to create other goods. In addition, most products on marker contain coal or coal byproducts.
  • Among them are aspirin, cleaners, soap, colours, polymers, and fibres like nylon and rayon.

For Domestic Use

  • In very cold and frigid climates and underdeveloped or poor countries, coal is still used as a cooking fuel and a source of heat, where LPG or Biogas are not available. 
  • It provides a considerably more cost-effective way of cooking and heat generating.

Problems Associated with the Use of Coal

  • Mining is a dangerous business. Hundreds of coal miners are killed or gravely injured every year. Roof collapses, rock blasts, flames, and explosions are all major mining risks.
  • Coal mining and coal preparation factories have wreaked havoc on the environment. Surface mining, also known as strip mining, destroys natural habitats, and one type of surface mining, known as mountaintop removal mining, modifies the terrain of the area substantially and irreversibly.
  • Mining is a risky industry. Every year, hundreds of coal miners die or suffer serious injuries. Major mining risks include roof collapses, rock blasts, flames, and explosions.
  • Environmental damage from coal mining and coal preparation facilities is extensive. Natural habitats are destroyed by surface mining, also known as strip mining, and mountaintop removal mining, significantly and permanently alters the terrain of the region.
  • Surface regions exposed during mining, as well as coal and rock refuse (which was frequently dumped haphazardly), weather quickly, producing a lot of silt and soluble chemical compounds including sulfuric acid and iron sulphates.
  • Sediment from nearby streams might block them up. Iron oxides have discoloured rocks, and "acid mine drainage" has resulted in significant plant and animal population declines in the area.
  • Coal use is linked to a variety of air pollution problems. Many chemicals are created during the incomplete combustion or conversion of coal, some of which are carcinogenic.
  • Sulphur and nitrogen oxides produced by coal combustion mix with atmospheric moisture to form sulfuric and nitric acids, resulting in acid rain.
  • Surface areas left exposed after mining, along with coal and rock waste (which was sometimes deposited carelessly), weather quickly, resulting in a large amount of silt and soluble chemical compounds like sulfuric acid and iron sulphates.
  • They might become blocked by sediment from neighbouring streams. Rocks have been stained by iron oxides, and "acid mine drainage" has caused a major loss in the local plant and animal species.
  • Several issues with air pollution are related to the use of coal. When coal is burned or converted inefficiently, several compounds are produced, some of which are carcinogenic.
  • Acid rain is a product of the reaction between sulphur and nitrogen oxides from coal combustion and ambient moisture to produce sulfuric and nitric acids.
  • It also produces particle debris (fly ash) that can be carried hundreds of kilometres by the wind, as well as solids (bottom ash and slag) that must be disposed of.
  • Electrostatic precipitators, baghouses, and scrubbers are some of the devices that can capture dangerous pollutants, but the technology is less popular in developing countries. Alternative combustion methods are currently being researched.
  • In addition, it generates solids (bottom ash and slag) that need to be disposed of as well as particle debris (fly ash) that can be transported hundreds of kilometres by the wind.
  • Scrubbers, baghouses, and electrostatic precipitators are a few of the tools that can absorb harmful pollutants, although the technology is less common in underdeveloped nations. Alternative combustion processes are being studied right now.

Practice Problems

Q1. What are the names of the fuels that emit unburned carbon particles into the atmosphere, such as coal, wood and petroleum?

A. Fossil Fuels
B. Unburnt Fuel
C. Carbon Fuel
D. Nitrogen Fuel

Answer: Coal. wood and petroleum are actually fossil fuels. Fossil fuels are a kind of natural fuel generated millions of years ago from the remains of deceased animals or plants in the ground.

So, option A) is the correct answer.

Q2. Coal is used often in

A. Hydropower generation
B. Nuclear Power generation
C. Thermal Power generation
D. Solar Power generation

Answer: Coal is used in thermal power plants. Coal is the most common fuel used to generate electricity in thermal power plants. Before being forced-fed to the furnace in coal-fired thermal power plants, the raw coal is crushed to the consistency of flour. 

So, option C) is the correct answer.

Q3. Coal is predominantly used in the production of

A. Copper
B. Bronze
C. Steel
D. Gold Jewellery

Answer: Coal is used to create steel in the steel industry. Coking coal is a critical component of the iron and steel industry. The blast furnace and the generation of metallurgical coke for reduction of iron ore or injection with the hot blast are the two most common uses of coal in the steel industry 

So, option C) is the correct answer.

Q4. What is the percentage of carbon in bituminous coal?

A. 96.4 %
B. 46.5 %
C. 16.6 %
D. 84.4 %

Answer: On a weight basis, bituminous coal contains approximately 84.4% carbon, 5.4% hydrogen, 6.7% oxygen, 1.7% nitrogen, and 1.8% sulphur. 

So, option D) is the correct answer

Frequently Asked Questions - FAQ

Question 1. How are charcoal and coke related to coal?
Answer: Charcoal and coke are obtained by heating wood and coal, respectively, at high temperatures in the absence of air. Wood and coal are heated to high temperatures without any air to produce charcoal and coke, respectively.

Question 2. What are the main uses of charcoal and coke?
Answer: Coke is used as a fuel and as a reducing agent in metallurgy. Activated charcoal adsorbs poisonous gases. Coke is used in metallurgy as a reducing agent and as fuel. Poisonous gases are absorbed by activated charcoal.

Question 3. Which is the best grade of coal?
Answer: The highest grade of coal is anthracite. Hard coal is a hard, brittle, black glossy coal with a high percentage of fixed carbon and a low percentage of volatile matter. Its carbon content is around 85-95%. Anthracite coal is the best quality. A hard coal is a black, glossy coal that is hard, brittle, and has a low percentage of volatile matter and a high percentage of fixed carbon. It contains between 85% and 99% carbon.

Question 4. Which kind of rock is coal obtained from?
Answer: Coal is a combustible sedimentary rock found in layers known as coal beds. It is usually black or brownish-black in colour, and it takes millions of years to form.

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