Carnegie Mellon University
Coal Resources

The following coal resouces provide background information and suggested links for data in global energy, economics, market trends, and frequently asked questions (FAQ).  Compiled and assessed by:  Yutong Guo, Pui Leelasvatanakij, Michelle Mann, Ashish Sreedhar, and Shashank Sripad (2017 updates provided by Coral Keller)

This web link gives the properties of coal, including carbon content, volatile matter, calorific value (heat content) and moisture content. These attributes are fundamentally used to identify and rank coal. In addition, it gives a pictorial representation on how different types of coal are formed and their physical appearance. The site also has additional information detailing the various mining processes in use today.

This web link documents the usage of coal and world coal consumption broken down by industrial sector. The various types of coal and rankings are specified for various applications and quantified against the percentage of coal world reserves in 2010. Importantly, the coal consumption in the U.S. is arranged by 4 business sectors and accounts for carbon emissions as compared to other fuels (natural gas and petroleum).  Moreover, the author utilizes information of coal use in other regions from both primary (i.e., IEA, AIE, DOE) and secondary sources (i.e., BP). It provides useful information on models being applied to project coal usage and availability for future years.

This web link provides comprehensive terminology and quantitative numbers of coal reserves and resources. The figure of total resources is depicted based on the geology (Earth’s crust layer) measurement and economic assessment of exploration technologies. The source is Ground Truth Trekking, a nonprofit founded in 2007 that claims to give readers the "ground truth" of everything from mine proposals to climate change, through observation and conversation with locals combined with "researched truth," using researchers’ scientific backgrounds to create comprehensive and accurate articles on key issues across the state of Alaska.  

This 2012 article is focused on economic issues in relation to coal while disregarding environmental impacts. The author explains the economic benefits of using coal, advocating the fact that the reserves for coal are large while the production and processing is less cumbersome when compared to other sources of energy. It goes on to compare the price of coal showing that it is more affordable for developing countries and also more stable. To conclude, it compares oil with coal and answers a few questions associated with utilizing oil and coal.

This report was made by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) at the request of Congressman Lamar Smith, Chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology.  This report details the impacts of the Clean Power Plan on various sectors of the energy industry. The report also entails an assessment of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) emission reduction targets and how it could affect the future of coal fired power plants. The report makes estimates using a reference case built on EIA's National Energy Modeling System (NEMS). Projections on coal plant retirements as a function of fluctuations in the natural gas markets are presented. (Page 47)

The EIA has modelled various possible case scenarios for the fuel mix used to generate electricity, considering the EPA’s Clean Power Plan (CPP) and the changes in the Oil & Gas market. This model employs data for electricity generation from 1990 to 2015 and using EIA’s analysis of the CPP, it makes forecasts through the year 2040. Data regarding the resources that make a gain in generation share with the decline in coal share to the fuel mix under different scenarios are graphically illustrated and plotted.

This article compiles various reports that talk about the alarming levels of CO2 in relation to global coal usage. This article presents data showing the hazardous effects of increased coal consumption as well as the share of US contribution to global CO2 emissions. The feasibility of Clean Coal technologies and their current state of implementation are examined. The importance of Carbon Capture and Storage is explained along with recommendations for making them economically viable.

Based the reserves we have coal should continue to be available for at least a hundred years. Depending on new discoveries and technologies, coal reserves may grow. For more exact numbers by region, see the sources below: Coal slide pack (PPT) under the energy sectors section   PDF’s at the bottom of the page

Around 3700 million tonnes were produced and consumed in 2016. Both production and consumption of coal has been leveling off and declining in some regions during recent years. To see the exact numbers and trends over time, access the following links:  Coal printed report (PDF) under the energy sectors section

Coal is mostly used for electricity, but is also utilized for steel and cement production. The links provided below have useful information on coal uses as well as explanations on how coal is used for different applications:  [pages 19-25]

Coal is heat that has been compressed over thousands of years. Depending on the location and time spent underground, coal properties will vary in terms of energy content and usefulness. Coal must be mined, processed and transported before implementation, usually as combustion for electricity generation. The links provided below provide more information on coal basics:

The price of coal varies by type and location. It tends to cost around $50 dollar per short ton. These sources have coal prices in different locations over time.

The conventional pulverized coal combustion plant has efficiency of more than 33%.  This resource link talks about the different cycles that are being researched to improve coal conversion to electricity efficiency even further:

Right now the most promising technologies are Carbon Capture and Storage and Integrated Gasification Combined Cycles. One primary example of Carbon Capture and Storage is capturing CO2 emissions resulting from coal combustion and utilizing geological formations to store CO2 underground. Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle is where coal is converted to a pressurized synthetic gas and used to power a combustion turbine with excess heat used to help power a nearby steam turbine. Both concepts currently suffer a variety of technological, environmental and/or economic barriers that require additional research and testing. The links provided below give more in depth explanations of these technologies:

The effects from coal via pollution, health problems and external costs make coal significantly more expensive. These costs can be so pronounced as to make coal, in spite of its relatively cheap costs, to be less desirable than other fuels. More information regarding these costs analyses can be accessed at the following links:


Countries are investing in clean coal technologies or trying to find ways to replace coal. To learn about current policies in the United States, Europe, China and India, access the following links: [page 3] [Slides 15-18]