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Metallurgical Coal Impacts Our Daily Lives

What is Metallurgical Coal? 

Metallurgical coal, which is also known as coking coal, is used to make steel.  While there are varying qualities of metallurgical coal, generally its high energy rate and low moisture content make it suitable for the process of making coke, which is a primary fuel in the process of making steel.  Coal that is used to generate electricity is called thermal, or steam, coal.  It differs from metallurgical coal in that its energy rate is lower and its moisture rate is higher – making it suitable to produce steam for power generation.  Most metallurgical coal produced in the U.S. is found in Appalachian basins. When you think of metallurgical coal, think of steel. 

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How is metallurgical coal used to make steel? 

Metallurgical coal has a higher energy rate and low moisture content.  It is placed in an oven and heated to roughly 2000°F in the absence of oxygen.  As the oven is heated the coal begins to melt and its volatile matter (such as hydrogen, nitrogen, and sulfur) is removed.  The product that remains is called coke, which is roughly 90% carbon, hard, and very strong compared to coal.  Coke is used to melt the iron ore needed to make steel.

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How does met coal impact our lives? 

When you drive over a bridge, you see the benefit of metallurgical coal.  When you load your family into your automobile, you experience the value of metallurgical coal.  And when you use common products like kitchen appliances, all of these were made possible by metallurgical coal.  Metallurgical coal is a part of our everyday lives.

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How much metallurgical coal is produced each year? 

In 2019 there was approximately 70 million tons of metallurgical coal produced in the U.S.  MCPA members account for one-third of the total U.S. production on average. Roughly one-third of metallurgical coal produced in the U.S. is used domestically (U.S. and Canada) and two-thirds are exported.  The top four export destinations are Brazil, Japan, Europe, and India.

Coal barge floating down the Ohio river.

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