Coal

ST98

This section provides an overview for coal:

Coal is a combustible sedimentary rock with greater than 50 per cent organic matter. Coal occurs in many formations across central and southern Alberta, with lower-energy-content coals in the plains region and higher-energy-content coals in the foothills and mountain regions.

Production of coal from mines is called raw coal. Some coal, particularly that from the mountain and foothills regions of Alberta, needs to be processed before it is marketed; this processed coal is referred to as clean coal. Clean coal (normally sold internationally) and raw coal from the plains region (normally sold within Alberta) are called marketable coal.

Alberta produces three types of marketable coal: subbituminous, metallurgical bituminous (commonly known as coking coal), and thermal bituminous (also referred to as steaming coal). Subbituminous coal is found across the plains region of the province and is suitable for power production and domestic heating; low- and medium-volatile ranked bituminous coals are located in the mountain region and are typically used for metallurgical purposes after processing; and high-volatile ranked bituminous coal is mainly located in the province’s foothills region and is generally used as high-grade thermal coal after processing.

Subbituminous coal is mainly used to generate electricity in Alberta and is expected to be adversely affected by emerging environmental standards. Metallurgical bituminous coal is exported and used for industrial applications, such as steel production. Thermal bituminous coal is primarily exported and used to fuel electricity generators in distant markets. The higher calorific content of Alberta’s thermal bituminous coal makes it possible to economically transport the coal over long distances.

While subbituminous coal is burned without any form of upgrading, both types of export coal are sent in raw form to a preparation plant, whose output is referred to as clean coal. On average, about 65 per cent of raw metallurgical bituminous coal and less than 50 per cent of raw thermal bituminous coal is recovered as clean coal in Alberta. Subbituminous raw coal and both types of clean bituminous coal are collectively known as marketable coal.