Updated June 2021
Within this section
Highlights of 2020
Total production of marketable coal decreased by 24.8 per cent in 2020, with subbituminous coal responsible for the decline.
- 54.5 per cent was subbituminous,
- 38.7 per cent was thermal bituminous, and
- 6.8 per cent was metallurgical bituminous.
Coal is a combustible sedimentary rock with greater than 50 per cent carbon-rich organic matter. It also contains oxygen, hydrogen, sulphur, nitrogen, and ash, as well as a few other constituents. Coal is found in many formations across central and southern Alberta. Lower-energy-content coals are in the plains region. Higher-energy-content coals are in the foothills and mountain regions.
Production of coal from mines is considered raw coal. Some coal, particularly from the mountain and foothills regions of Alberta, needs to be processed before it is marketed. This processed coal is defined as clean coal. Both clean coal (normally sold internationally) and raw coal from the plains region (normally sold within Alberta) are known as marketable coal.
Marketable Coal in Alberta
Companies in Alberta produce three types of marketable coal: subbituminous, metallurgical bituminous (commonly known as coking or low- to medium-volatile ranked coal), and thermal bituminous (also called steaming or high-volatile ranked coal).
- Subbituminous coal: This type is found across the plains region of Alberta and is suitable for power production and domestic heating. Subbituminous coal is mainly used to generate electricity in Alberta and is expected to be adversely affected by the retirement and conversions of coal-fired power plants within the province over the forecast period.
- Metallurgical bituminous coal: Metallurgical bituminous coal, from the mountain region, is exported after processing and is used for industrial applications, such as steel production.
- Thermal bituminous coal: Bituminous coal, from the foothills region, is primarily exported after processing and is used to fuel electricity generators in distant markets. The higher energy content and corresponding monetary value of Alberta’s thermal bituminous coal make it possible to economically transport the coal over long distances.
While subbituminous coal is typically burned without any form of upgrading, both metallurgical and thermal coal are sent in raw form to a preparation plant. To get a higher energy content and economic value for clean coal, a preparation plant washes raw coal, filters out impurities such as rocks and other sediment, and crushes the ore to specified sizes for easier handling. 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.