Coal is a fossil fuel like, oil and natural gas. A fossil fuel is a natural energy resource. The Earth forms them over a hundred million years from the remains of plants or animals.

Coal is made up of the energy from plants that grew in swamps. Layers of rocks and dirt covered those plants for over a million years. The rocks and dirt produced a lot of pressure and heat. The combined result turned those plant remains into coal.

In order to get to the coal, you have to dig deep into the ground. Digging for coal is known as, mining. Miners are people who dig and gather coal. There are two major ways to mine for coal. They include,

Surface Mining
Miners can use excavators and bulldozers to dig for coal if it is less than 200 feet underground. They remove soil, and then layers of rock to expose or reveal the coal. Sometimes miners have to use dynamite to remove the tops of mountains. This makes it easier to get to the coal. After the coal is collected, the area is filled in with soil and plants and trees are re-planted. This method is cheaper and safer than underground mining.

Underground Mining
Some coal is located much farther underground. There are mines that are more than 1,000 feet deep! Miners have to take an elevator down mineshafts and then catch small trains to move through tunnels to reach the coal.

Types of Coal

There are four different types of coal. They are different because of how much heat energy they can produce. The types include,

Anthracite – This type of coal is used to make metals. It generates the most heat out of all coal.

Bituminous – This type makes up a large part of the coal found in America. It is around 100 to 300 million years old! It is used to produce electricity and is a key ingredient in creating iron and steel.

Subbituminous – This coal creates less heat energy than Bituminous and is around 100 million years old.

Lignite – This type of coal produces the lowest energy. It is a younger fossil fuel than the others. It is also flaky and moist, which doesn?t help it to burn as well.

Coal in the United States

The wonderful thing about coal is that you can use it in many different ways.

Electric Power
The majority of coal is used to generate electricity. This electricity helps to light your home and power your appliances! Power plants burn coal to create steam. That steam then moves special turbines to generate power.

There are many businesses that use coal to run their processes and factories. Paper companies for example, burn coal to create heat. Other industries like steel, use coal within their products.

Gas and Liquid
Other companies convert coal into gas or liquid and use it to make other products. The result is called, synthetic fuels or synfuels. These fuels are special. When they are burned, they do not create as much pollution.

There are many areas in America where you can find coal. However, 5 states are responsible for a large chunk of the country’s mining. These states include,

1. Wyoming
2. West Virginia
3. Kentucky
4. Illinois
5. Pennsylvania

Coal – Fast & Fun Facts

Today, coal is used in many different ways for many different reasons. The thing is, it?s actually been around forever! Did you know that coal helped to develop electricity in the 19th century? Keep reading to learn more fun facts about this ancient fuel.

  • Coal has been used in international trade for centuries. Even the Roman Empire traded other goods for coal!
  • It is the cheapest source of power fuel in the world. It?s even cheaper than petroleum and natural gas.
  • Over 90,000 people in the United States have jobs related to coal. These jobs include, mining, engineering, geology and more.
  • It carries the title of, ?Most Abundant Fossil Fuel in the World!?. There is more coal in the earth than oil and natural gas.
  • All four types of coal can be found and mined in Canada.

Coal and the Environment

In areas where coal is surface mined, the areas are forever changed. Since dynamite is often used, mountains, streams, and trees are destroyed. To help prevent extensive damage or pollution from entering water sources, the United States government has put strict laws into place. Mining processes need to be controlled. When the job is finished, the area must be restored as close to its original condition as possible.

Burning coal produces pollution that is harmful to both people and the environment. Over time, companies have invented different ways to reduce this problem. Clean Air acts and other government laws help to put these improvements in place.

Coal – Pros and Cons

There are many pros and cons to using coal to generate electricity and heat. Take a look at both lists below to see these pros and cons.


  • Coal is cheaper than many other fossil fuels.
  • There is a lot of coal all over the world, and much of it is easy to mine!
  • Can convert to a cleaner form in liquid or gas.


  • Coal is a non-renewable energy source. This means that eventually it will run out.
  • Surface Mining destroys areas of the environment.
  • Burning coal releases pollutants into the air.