- Current section: Introduction
- Learning outcomes
- 1 The origins of coal
- 1.1 Introduction
- 1.2 The origins of coal
- 1.3 Coal-forming environments today
- 1.4 Coal-forming environments in the geological record
- 1.5 The physics and chemistry of coal formation
- 1.6 Impurities in coal
- 1.7 How old is coal?
- 2 Finding and extracting coal
- 2.1 Finding and extracting coal
- 2.2 Winning coal in former times
- 2.3 Exploring for coal
- 2.4 Modern mine planning
- 2.5 Surface mining
- 2.6 Underground mining
- 2.7 Geological problems in coal mines
- 3 Environmental aspects of coal mining
- 4 Global coal reserves
- 5 Coal production in the UK early in the 21st century
- 6 Summary
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Energy resources: Coal
During the Indistrial Revolution half of the world's coal came from Britain....
During the Indistrial Revolution half of the world's coal came from Britain. We still rely heavily on it today to meet our energy needs, but now we input more than we produce. Burning it introduces large amounts of gases into the atmosphere that harm the environment in a variety of ways. In this unit it will become apparent that the most appealing quality of coal is that there is plenty of it.
By the end of this unit you should be able to:
- explain how coal is formed;
- explain how coal is found and extracted by either surface or underground mines;
- discuss how geological problems and environmental issues surrounding extraction affect mining;
- explain the reasons for the decline in the UK’s coal industry.
Energy resources: Coal
There are many environmental reasons why coal is a rather undesirable source of energy. Burning it introduces large amounts of gases into the atmosphere that harm the enviironment in a variety of ways, as well as other, sollid waste products. Coal extraction leads to spoil heaps and mines that scar the landscape, land subsidence that affects roads and buildings, and in some cases water pollution.
With apparently so little going for it, why do we rely so much on coal to meet our energy needs? In this unit, it will become apparent that the most appealing quality of coal is that there is plenty of it. Coal is twice as important globally as any other fuel in generating electricity, and could remain so for the next 200 years. That is reassuring for a future where energy demands continue to increasde and when the alternatives to coal are currently looking less dependable. The downside is that continued burning of coal could have dire consequences for the environment inthe coming centuries, unless 'cleaner' ways can be found to harness energy from it.
This unit explores the basics: what coal is, how and where found, and how it is extracted at a variety of depths below the surface. Another important theme concerns the distribution of coal reserves and resources, and the control exerted on them by both economics and politics.
This unit is from our archive and is an adapted extract from Earth's physical resources: origin, use and environmental impact (S278) which is no longer taught by The Open University. If you want to study formally with us, you may wish to explore other courses we offer in.
This is an extract from an Open University course which is no longer available to new students. If you found this interesting you could explore more free Environmental Science course units or view the range of currently available OU Environmental Science courses.