The Role of Chemistry in History

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Introduction to Coal

April 22nd, 2008 · 10 Comments ·

Introduction to Coal | Coal as a Fuel|Coal Affects History| Coal Mining and Effects| Environmental Effects| History Affects Coal|References|


Coal is a fossil fuel formed from plant remains that were trapped in mud and therefore not oxidized. It is technically a sedimentary rock with a chemical structure similar to that of a polymer. Its structure varies based on the age of the coal and therefore the amount of pressure applied to it over time. The main types of coal are listed below from youngest:

·         Peat (technically a precursor to coal)

·         Lignite

·         Sub-bituminous coal

·         Bituminous coal

·         Anthracite (pictured below)

·         Graphite


The structure of coal varies by type and even sometimes within a given age group. However, the typical coal structure consists of numerous aromatic rings of five or six carbons bonded with principally hydrogen, nitrogen, sulfur, and oxygen atoms. Nitrogen, hydrogen, and sulfur are responsible for the majority of coal’s chemical properties.



The nitrogen and oxygen atoms in coal result in a readily combustible structure which has made coal a popular fuel and source of heat throughout history. Coal was first mined as fuel as far back as 10,000 years ago in China and today is the primary fuel implemented in the production of electricity worldwide. During the last three hundred years, coal played an important role in the technological advances, culture, and the global economy. In the present day coal is a center of controversy; coal mining is notorious for the risks involved and the associated social woes. Additionally, burning coal produces greenhouse gases and is therefore, a contributing factor to global warming. However, political activism and chemical research have done much to alleviate these concerns and coal continues to be an important and improved source of fuel in the twenty first century.


Tags: Coal