While coal use has evolved and production has grown tremendously from the days of locomotive engines and potbelly stoves, it remains an essential component in our everyday lives. Coal-fueled electrical power is used to light homes, schools, offices, and shopping centers. Industrial facilities generate both heat and power for industrial uses. The global demand for energy is ever-increasing, as nations grow and develop and as new power-intensive applications emerge. Today, steam coal is used by utilities to generate electricity, while metallurgical coal is used for either the coking process or in place of steam coal.

Coal is mined using giant machines to remove the coal from the ground. There are two basic methods to remove coal: surface mining and underground mining. Surface mining is used when the coal is typically less than 200 feet below the surface. Giant machines are used to remove the top layers of soil and rock to expose the coal. The coal is excavated, and after the mining is complete, the soil and rock are returned to fill the mine. The area is then revegetated and can be used for other purposes, such as cropland, wildlife habitat, recreation, commercial, or industrial use. This method is used most frequently in the United States because much of the coal resource base is near the surface and it is less expensive than underground mining.

After coal is removed, it typically goes on a conveyor belt to a preparation plant that is located at the mining site. The plant cleans and processes coal to remove dirt, rock, ash, sulfur, and other unwanted materials, increasing the heating value of the coal. The coal may also be sorted by quality and size.

Once the coal is processed it is shipped to wherever it is needed, typically by rail, but also by truck or barge or even a coal-slurrypipeline. Transportation methods depend on the distance to be traveled and access to existing transportation systems.





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