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Non-renewable energy

Fossil Fuels: Coal

Can coal provide our energy when the oil runs out?

Official figures for coal reserves imply that there is enough coal worldwide to provide fuel for power stations for 150-200 years. However these figures have been disputed - see News Flash right.

Additionally, coal is not without its own problems.

  • Carbon capture processes would be needed to enable coal fired power stations to operate without releasing greenhouse gases.
  • The world's transport systems are not able to use coal. It can be made into a synthetic oil, but this is expensive.
  • Coal can only be used if it can be dug up and moved to where it is needed. Unlike oil, it cannot flow through pipelines. It requires powerful mining equipment and a whole network of transport machinery, all of which require oil to function. So if oil becomes scarce and expensive, coal may become more pricey too.


Coal is the most polluting type of fossil fuel. As well as releasing carbon dioxide, the smoke from burning coal contains sulphur dioxide. When mixed with moisture in the air it can fall as acid rain. SO2 pollution from coal fired power stations is blamed for causing the death of many forests worldwide.

Next: Pollution and wealth


Giant coal scouring machine

Strip mining coal in Poland
Click to enlarge


How much of the energy in the coal actually gets used? Find out here


Conventional wisdom in the energy industry is that there is plenty of coal left. This is why some believe that coal will be the replacement fuel once oil runs out.

However, a recent report from Germany suggests that there is far less coal available than previously thought. Also, coal will follow the same "peak" effect as oil, when supply will no longer match demand. The report suggests that "peak coal" could come in as little as 17 years time.

The details are complicated, but you can find out more here:
American Scientist
Energy Watch Group

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14-09-15 14:01
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