Top 10 Coal Advantages and Disadvantages You Should Know About

Coal is an organic rock that is extremely valuable to humanity because it is highly combustible. Composed mainly of carbon oxygen and hydrogen, coal is a primary source of energy that we use for a lot of applications. Today we talk about some of the most important coal advantages and disadvantages that will boost your knowledge on the matter.

Given that coal formation has begun some 360 million to 290 million years ago, we have a wide variety of coal. The quality of the coal deposits we discover and use is determined by how long ago they were formed and how deeply they are buried.



Coal Advantages and Disadvantages

Despite the bad rep environmentalists often given it, coal has a plethora of applications and not just in electricity generation. That is why coal remains a vital product across the world, in spite of the many alternative sources of energy we discover and harness. If we were to stop coal mining, a lot of industries would be affected, including pharmaceutical companies, paper manufacturers, and alumina refineries. Let’s start with the advantages of coal mining.

1. Primary Energy Source

Coal is the primary supply for 30 percent of the energy requirements all over the world. It generates about 40 percent of all electricity, and the biggest producers are China, USA, Indonesia and India. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), U.S. coal reserves alone are estimated to last up to 190 years. The deposits across the rest of the world will last for another 300 years. Coal is considered non-renewable, but it is unlikely that we will suffer a shortage any time soon.

2. Coal Mining Jobs

EIA reports also show that coal provides a lot of jobs. Around 600 coal generating facilities, 1,100 manufacturing facilities, and 52 coal mines are in use in the U.S. alone. About 134,000 people work in the mines alone; over the next 10 years, an additional 50,000 employees will be required to replace retiring workers. Because coal demand is still on the rise there, will be no job shortage in the coal industry.

3. Inexpensive Energy Source

Our energy bills might seem high now, but they would be much more expensive if coal was non-existent. Thanks to coal, we have not just electricity, but also conveniences such as refrigerators and freezers. How would you preserve perishable food if coal was not available? At the same time, coal is cheaper when compared to other fossil fuels. Coal extraction is not difficult and opencast mining means that miners do not have to go deep underground all that often. Coal is also easy to burn and safe to store, while its transportation is cheaper. Unlike oil, it does not require high pressure pipelines, which means the expensive upkeep is unnecessary.

4. Plenty of Applications

We have already mentioned how versatile coal is, and not just for generating electricity. We have found amazing uses even for its by-products. For instance, we use refined coal tar to produce creosote oil, phenol, naphthalene and other useful chemicals. Coal’s by-products are also used to make aspirin, dyes, soap, and various fabrics. Coal itself is vital for creating specialist products, such as activated carbon (used in manufacturing air purifiers, water filters, and kidney dialysis machines).

5. Independent of Weather

Coal mining is halted only when the extraction site is declared inoperable or dangerous. But work in power plants continues just fine in rain or strong winds. This means we can enjoy a continuous supply of electricity. The same is not true for alternative sources of energy, such as solar panels, wind turbines, or hydro-energy sources. These sources are highly dependent on existing climatic conditions.

6. Reduces Dependence on Oil

President Obama has addressed the need for energy security multiple times. One way to achieve that is by reducing the nation’s dependency on foreign oil (most of which is sourced from countries with unstable political environments). Coal can help deliver energy independence, especially now that electric cars are getting more traction. Since they only need recharging, we could cut our dependency on foreign oil by a third by 2025.

Disadvantages of Coal

In spite of the many important advantages we just listed, coal also has plenty of negative impacts. These have led to an international debate which left the world torn between two ends of the spectrum. Let’s see what some of coal’s disadvantages that keep us so divided are.

7. Environmental Impact

It’s true that burning coal produces useful by-products, but it can also result in some harmful wastes, including carbon dioxide, arsenic, sulfuric acid, nitrogen oxide, ash, and sulfur dioxide. Carbon dioxide emissions from coal burning account for the additional 65 percent of CO2 in the atmosphere, significantly contributing to greenhouse gases. In other words, coal burning encourages climate change and severe pollution. In some areas, it has also led to acid rain, to which burning coal has remained a major contributor.

The World Coal Institute, however, estimates that newer coal plants now emit 40 percent less CO2. While this is good news, it’s still far from repairing the damage made by older plants.

8. Coal Mining Impact

Remember that coal seams are usually located in natural areas, where plants, rivers and other natural landscapes exist. Therefore, digging for coal often means destroying forest areas that serve as wildlife habitats. Entire ecosystems take a harsh beating for us to be able to use coal for our purposes. The mining process often results in soil, water, and air pollution (including the acid rain we mentioned). Transporting coal also requires extensive transportation infrastructure which destroys the landscape it passes through and increases pollution due to vehicle emissions.

9. Impact on Miners’ Health

In addition to the dangers of fume inhalation, miners are also at a high risk if being buried deep underground. Mining the earth, after all, is prone to explosions and cave-ins. But the real risk is on the miners’ health and on the health of the people living close to the dig areas. In fact, an average of 80,000 people is displaced when a coal mine opens up. Long-term exposure to harmful chemicals leads to congestive heart failure, lung cancer, respiratory diseases, black lung (due to coal dust), or nervous system damage (due to mercury). At the same time, coal dust and other hazardous substances affect people living far from the mines because they get carried through the winds.


Miners pose for a photograph at the coal face inside a mine in Choa Saidan Shah, Punjab province, April 29, 2014. / Source

10. Noise Pollution

In addition to scarring the landscape and various ecosystems, coal mining is also audibly disruptive. The equipment used for mining is generally very large and noisy, which may affect not just the miners, but local wildlife as well. And unfortunately, noise pollution is just one of the many kinds of pollution resulted from coal mining.

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William E. Eubanks

I'm one of the main writers on the site; mostly dealing with environmental news and ways to live green. My goal is to educate others about this great planet, and the ways we can help to protect it.

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