Coal is coal, right? False. Actually, there are several different types of coal, with no two being identical. Coal types are measured by heating values, sulfur levels, impurities, ash melting temperatures, mechanical strength and many other physical and chemical properties.
In general, coal is divided into four separate categories, which are also known as ranks. Ranging from lignite to subbituminous, higher carbon contents include bituminous and anthracite. The energy in coal is expressed as a BTU, which is the amount of heat required to increase the temperature of a single pound of water by one-degree Fahrenheit.
Nearly 90-percent of all U.S. coal reserves are bituminous or subbituminous. The former is common in central and eastern U.S. states, while the latter is located in Alaska and western areas.
Lignite is among the lowest coal rates and also one of the youngest. Lignite is commonly mined in Texas, but Montana, some Gulf Coast states and even North Dakota contain large deposits.
- Anthracite – This type of coal contains the highest carbon level content, averaging between 86- to 98-percent. The heat value is nearly 15,000 BTUs-per-pound. This type of heating is commonly associated with home heating, but it also makes up a very small amount of the U.S. coal market. Anthracite is most common in northeastern states, which are thought to contain approximately 7.3-billion tons of reserves.
- Bituminous – This is the most common form of coal found in the U.S. It is often used to generate electricity and make coke, which results in steel. A leading and profitable venture, this coal market is the fastest growing segment. It is still a small, niche market and often supplies heat for industrial purposes. The carbon content of this coal ranges from 45- to 86-percent carbon and features a heat value of 10,500 to 15,500 BTUs-per-pound.
- Subbituminous – With a heat value ranging from 8,300 to 13,000 BTUs-per-pound, this coal highlights a 35- to 45-percent carbon content. Reserves are common in the western states and this coal features a lower sulfur content, which makes it a cleaner burning fuel.
- Lignite – This young coal only contains approximately 25- to 35-percent carbon and generates a heating value from 4,000 to 8,300 BTUs-per-pound. This coal is also referred to as “brown coal,” and is used to generate electric power.
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