Chapter 6 - Energy Sustainability

Part 4 - Fossil Fuels: Coal

coal trainSince the industrial age, our global human society has been built with fossil fuels. We now understand that the risks of continued fossil fuel use may be far greater than imagined. The atmospheric impacts of the products of combustion are causing climate change. Coal is an abundant, energy dense resource that has been important in our energy generation, transportation, and industrial sectors. However, coal is also the fossil fuel with the greatest levels of contaminants and carbon dioxide release per unit of energy generated. Without carbon capture and enhanced pollution abatement, coals future as a dominant energy resource is in doubt. A change in the future of coal will have an impact on coal producing communities and the industrial base of coal.


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  • Carbon density
  • SOx
  • NOx
  • Coal fired power plant
  • Coal ash
  • Mountaintop removal
  • Augering
  • Pit mining
  • Long wall mining
  • Room and pillar mining
  • Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle¬†
  • Carbon sequestration

Suggested Reading

  1. What is the role of coal in the United States? Energy in Brief. U.S. Energy Information Administration. U.S. Dept. of Energy.
  2. Annual Energy Review. U.S. Energy Information Administration. U.S. Dept. of Energy.
  3. Statistical Review of World Energy, 2011: Coal. BP Global.
  4. Coal. U.S. Energy Information Administration. U.S. Dept. of Energy.
  5. Coal. International Energy Association.
  6. World Coal Association.
  7. Survey of Energy Resources 2010. World Energy Council, 2010.


(Photo credit: Sam Despeaux and Carly Calhoun, 2011)