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Home > Alberta's Resource Inventory > Hydrocarbons > Coal > Coal Characteristics > What is Coal?

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What is Coal?

CoalCoal is a complex combination of materials, and the combination can greatly differ from one formation or deposit to another. These differences result from the varying types of vegetation from which the coal originated; the depths of burial, and the temperatures and pressures at those depths; as well as the length of time the coal has been forming in the deposit. The varying amount of minerals in a coal deposit may also have a significant effect on its properties and classification. In addition to carbon, coals contain hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen and varying amounts of sulphur. High-rank coals are high in carbon and heat value, but low in hydrogen and oxygen. Low-rank coals are low in carbon but high in hydrogen and oxygen content. Anthracite is the highest carbon content, followed by bituminous, sub-bituminous and lignite coal, which has the lowest carbon content. Sub-bituminous, bituminous metallurgical, and bituminous thermal coals are the three types that are produced in Alberta. Regardless of their rank, however, Alberta coals are comparatively low in sulphur, ranging from 0.2 to 0.7 percent.

Sub Bituminous Coal
The most abundant type of coal in Alberta is sub-bituminous coal, found east of the mountains. Although its heating value is lower than some other coals (it is better than lignite), it is useful in electricity generating stations. 

Bituminous Metallurgical Coal
Bituminous metallurgical coal has a higher heating value than lignite or sub-bituminous coal. Because of its higher heating value, it is used in making coke. Coke is in turn used in making iron and steel. Bituminous metallurgical coal is found in the mountain region.

Bituminous Thermal Coal
Like bituminous metallurgical coal, bituminous thermal coal also has a high heating value. This coal is found mostly in the foothills.


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