Coal (from the Old English term col, which has meant "mineral of fossilized carbon" since the 13th century) is a combustible black or brownish-black sedimentary rock usually occurring in rock strata in layers or veins called coal beds or coal seams. The harder forms, such as anthracite coal, can be regarded as metamorphic rock because of later exposure to elevated temperature and pressure. Coal is composed primarily of carbon along with variable quantities of other elements, chiefly hydrogen, sulfur, oxygen, and nitrogen.

Throughout history, coal has been a useful resource. It is primarily burned for the production of electricity and/or heat, and is also used for industrial purposes, such as refining metals. A fossil fuel, coal forms when dead plant matter is converted into peat, which in turn is converted into lignite, then sub-bituminous coal, then bituminous coal, and lastly anthracite. This involves biological and geological processes that take place over a long period.

Coal is the largest source of energy for the generation of electricity worldwide, as well as one of the largest worldwide anthropogenic sources of carbon dioxide releases. In 1999 world gross carbon dioxide emissions from coal usage were 8,666 million tonnes of carbon dioxide.

Coal-fired electric power generation emits around 2,000 pounds of carbon dioxide for every megawatt-hour generated, which is almost double the carbon dioxide released by a natural gas-fired electric plant per megawatt-hour generated. Because of this higher carbon efficiency of natural gas generation, as the fuel mix in the United States has changed to reduce coal and increase natural gas generation, carbon dioxide emissions have unexpectedly fallen. Those measured in the first quarter of 2012 were the lowest of any recorded for the first quarter of any year since 1992.

Coal is extracted from the ground by coal mining, either underground by shaft mining, or at ground level by open pit mining extraction.

The top hard and brown coal producers in 2010 (and 2009) were (in millions of tons): China 3,162 (2,971); United States 997 (985); India 571 (571); Australia 420 (399); Indonesia 336 (301); Russia 324 (297); South Africa 255 (247); Poland 134 (135); Kazakhstan 111 (101); and Colombia 74 (73).

Read more about Coal:  Formation, Types, Early Uses As Fuel, Cultural Usage, Coal As A Traded Commodity, Environmental Effects, Economic Aspects, Energy Density and Carbon Impact, Underground Fires, Production Trends

Famous quotes containing the word coal:

    This island is made mainly of coal and surrounded by fish. Only an organizing genius could produce a shortage of coal and fish at the same time.
    Aneurin Bevan (1897–1960)

    The discovery of Pennsylvania’s coal and iron was the deathblow to Allaire. The works were moved to Pennsylvania so hurriedly that for years pianos and the larger pieces of furniture stood in the deserted houses.
    —For the State of New Jersey, U.S. public relief program (1935-1943)

    Writing is to descend like a miner to the depths of the mine with a lamp on your forehead, a light whose dubious brightness falsifies everything, whose wick is in permanent danger of explosion, whose blinking illumination in the coal dust exhausts and corrodes your eyes.
    Blaise Cendrars (1887–1961)