Why do we still mine coal? Isn’t it yesterday’s fuel?
We mine it because the UK still needs coal to manufacture steel & cement. It creates a lot less CO2 if we mine coal here in the UK rather than import it from hundreds/thousands of miles away in Russia & the USA. #minelocal
• Lord Henley, the then Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, said in the House of Lords, on 2 May 2019: “However, it is not coal for energy consumption but coking coal for the production of steel. At this stage, we have no other way of producing steel without using coal. [It is not possible to manufacture steel using hydrogen at scale yet and electric fired blast furnaces can only be used to recycle steel]. The alternative would be to import [coal] across the seas from other, possibly rather dubious, parts of the world. I think it is better to take it out of the mines in that mining area”. Lords Hansard, 2 May 2019, col 1109, https://hansard.parliament.uk/lords/2019-05-02/debates/E78F2663-7606-497F-95C3-7218F4F6D092/ReducingGreenhouseGasEmissions
THERE IS DEMAND FOR COAL IN THE UK FOR STEEL & CEMENT MANUFACTURE
Why import coal when we can mine our own coal?
• Coal is a valuable mineral resource that is used for a variety of purposes in the UK including the manufacture of steel, cement, carbon fibre and agriculture. The graphic below highlights the source of the coal needed in the UK and the changes in tonnage since 2016.
• Even if the remaining seven UK coal fired power stations (Aberthaw B; West Burton; Drax; Fiddler’s Ferry; Ratcliffe; Uskmouth & Kilroot in Northern Ireland) were closed today there is still a five to six million tonnes demand for coal in the UK to manufacture steel, cement and for other industrial processes and markets
• In 2018 around six million tonnes of coal was used to generate electricity in UK coal fired power stations, and around five million tonnes was used for industrial uses, such as steel, cement and food manufacture
• In 2018 the UK used 11.8 million tonnes of coal. 36.8% of that was imported from Russia
• The greenhouse gas emissions generated by the transportation of these imports, from Russia to UK customers, are between five and seven times higher than transporting coal mined in the UK
• Increasing imports of coal simply ‘off-shores’ the UK’s environmental responsibilities without the significant local economic and employment opportunities and environmental enhancements that indigenous coal production deliver
It makes environmental, economic and social sense to produce the coal that the UK continues to need for a range of essential industrial uses such as steel and cement manufacture by mining it here in the UK. The UK consumed 11.8 million tonnes coal in 2018 (DUKES figures), of which 36.8% was imported from Russia - the largest international supplier
The associated greenhouse gas emissions generated by the transportation of these imports, from Russia to UK customers, are between five and seven times higher than transporting coal mined in the UK. Increasing imports of coal simply 'off-shores' the UK's environmental responsibilities without the significant local economic and employment opportunities and environmental enhancements that indigenous coal production deliver.
Coal is an essential mineral in the production of steel. The process of creating steel is outlined below:
- Coking coal is firstly converted to coke by driving off impurities to leave almost pure carbon, which is done by heating the coking coal to around 1000-1100ºC in the absence of oxygen.
- The coke is then added to a blast furnace with pellet, iron ore, sintered ore and limestone to produce the molten iron needed to produce the steel.
- The iron is then mixed with steel scrap (less than 30%) and small amounts of flux and added to a basic oxygen furnace, which produces liquid steel.
One tonne of coal is needed to produce 1.25 tonnes of crude steel.
Coal is used as an energy source in cement production.
Cement is made by combining limestone, silica, iron oxide and alumina in a high temperature kiln, often fuelled by coal, to a temperature of about 1450°C. This transforms the into a substance known as clinker, which is mixed with gypsum to create cement.
One tonne of coal is needed to produce 30 tonnes of cement.
Heritage railways are worth £400m to the British economy and are an important source of employment and skills training, particularly in rural areas.
An estimated 130,000 tonnes of coal is used to heat homes in the UK. As such the the household market is Britain’s major consumer of sized, lump coal, that is the same size and variety of coal burnt in steam locomotives, traction engines, steam ships and most other steam-powered vehicles and machines. Heritage railways in the UK consume an estimated 26,000 tonnes per year, while the preservation industry as a whole burns 35,000 tonnes.
Therefore the UK heritage railway market is reliant upon the domestic household market for its supply of sized, lump coal. If the sale of traditional coal for household use is phased out, coal suppliers and merchants have warned that the comparatively minimal demand from
the preservation industry alone will not be enough to sustain their business.
For more information about this issue please clink here. NB this Special Report for Steam Railway magazine, by Thomas Bright, is reproduced here by kind and express permission of the Steam Railway magazine editor, Nick Brodrick. We are very grateful for this permission.
Surface mine development
The development of new surface coal mines is important to support many British industries. By mining our own coal we:
- Increase the security of supply of power by reducing reliance on foreign countries such as Russia, the USA and Colombia for imported fuel
- Help keep consumer bills low
- Create jobs in the UK
- Help the balance of trade deficit
- Provide valuable tax receipts and business rates to national and local government
- Reduce the distance coal has to travel, thereby saving carbon in transportation
- Ensure it is mined in a safe manner to the highest environmental standards. Coal mined in the likes of Russia and Colombia is mined under lower environmental standards than in the UK
- Support local businesses who provide support services to surface mines
- Keep money and skills within the UK