So WHAT exactly is coal? Where does it come from? And how do we get electrical power from it? It was recently at work when I found out the answers to these questions and it literally blew my mind. Here is the fascinating story revealing the magic of coal.

The solid end-product Coal, is created due to millions of years of decomposition of natural matter: Living plants retain energy from the sun via photosynthesis, which directly transforms solar energy to plant matter that animals then consume to convert that energy again. This energy is now stored in their bodies.  These organic materials (plant and animal matter) accumulate over thousands and hundreds of years and are compressed naturally by sediment, storing it within the earth’s crust and slowly transforming it into hard black solids.

Coal itself takes millions of years to form, but when it is burned at the power plant the stored energy can be released in moments, providing us with electricity. Coal is known to not be a renewable resource, as it is limited and can’t be replaced post excavation.  Producing the goods aka electricity, involves burning the coal to create steam, which is then piped at extreme pressure over a turbine that rotates, producing the electricity that runs the world.

The following is a summary of how coal is processed into electricity:

  1. Coal is first mined then transported to a power plant;
  2. Burning the coal is the next step and this transforms the water in the boiler pipes to steam;
  3. Afterwards the steam travels through the pipes until it reaches the turbine;
  4. The steam then spins the turbine blades;
  5. The spinning blades turn a shaft that is connected to the generator;
  6. In the generator, big magnets spin close to coils of wire;
  7. When this happens, electrical current is produced in the wires;
  8. Then the electricity goes out to the world.

What are some of the negative environmental impacts that processing coal has? Well you see, the popularity of coal is mostly because it is highly cost effective.  93% of the sulphur dioxide and 80% of the nitrogen oxide emissions generated in the earth’s atmosphere is solely due to the establishment and uses of coal power plants. Coal emissions tamper with the nature of rain and also cause urban smog, which in turn contributes to global climate change.  Coal plants are also a major source of airborne emissions of mercury, a toxic heavy metal.