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Energy resources: Coal

Introduction

Unit image

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 subject area [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] .

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