How is electricity generated from coal?

The process of generating electricity from coal is one of the oldest methods of electricity production. Firstly, coal is mined from the ground, and transported to the power plant. In most circumstances it is finely ground, turning it into powder that burns better, and then burned in a furnace. The heat from the furnace heats water, generating steam that is used to turn turbines which generate electricity. 

In 2019, coal accounted for 36.7% of global electricity. Most countries are trying to either cease or majorly reduce the use of coal to generate electricity due to its high emissions. When burned, coal releases a relatively large volume of greenhouse gasses that contribute to global warming; reducing reliance on coal is largely perceived as a major step in reducing humanity’s carbon footprint. 

Within the coal industry, there are other efforts being made to make coal greener – in part to protect the thousands of jobs that rely on coal. These include: 


High efficiency low emission coal (HELE) 

This family of technologies aims to reduce the CO2 emissions from coal by increasing the efficiency of coal plants. They include supercritical technologies that increase the temperature and pressure of the steam in order to be more efficient. They also include integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) systems that use coal to produce “syngas” which can be burned to produce electricity more efficiently than burning coal.  

Carbon capture use and storage (CCUS) 

These technologies aim to capture the CO2 generated from burning coal before it is released into the atmosphere. This CO2 can be used in other industries, or stored underground. 

These technologies are an important part of making the energy industry more environmentally efficient, recognising that despite the damage coal does, it is impractical for the world to simply stop using it due to infrastructure reliance, therefore a transitional period is required, especially in developing nations which are often more heavily reliant on coal. 

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