Need For Coal

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, yet in 2017 we imported 57% of the coal we needed from oversees, primarily from Russia and the USA. In previous years it has been as high as more than 80 per cent. See motion in Parliament regarding Demand for Coal in UK, from June 2018.

The graphic below highlights the source of the coal needed in the UK and the changes in tonnage since 2016.


Coal is still used for electricity generation in the UK

In 2017 the UK coal fired power station fleet burnt around 14.5mte of coal. Coal usage figures in electricity generation fluctuate depending upon the weather conditions and demand.  During the so called “beast from the East” cold snap, in February 2018, electricity generated by the seven active coal fired power stations in Great Britain accounted for over a quarter of the total electricity produced each day that week.

The seven active coal fired power stations in Great Britain are West Burton, Eggborough, Aberthaw B, Fiddlers Ferry, Ratcliffe, Drax and Cottam.

Over the last decade, however around 9 million tonnes of coal per year has been needed in the UK for non-electricity generation purposes. Uses include, but are not limited to, the manufacture of iron, steel, cement, coke, chemicals patent fuel (smokeless briquettes) and carbon fibre products, as well as used in the production of food and beverages.

Source: Digest of UK Energy Statistics 2017, table 2.1.2, available at, see Excel spreadsheet

Steel Manufacture

Coal is an essential mineral in the production of steel. The process of creating steel is outlined below:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3.  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 tonne of crude steel. 

Cement Manufacture

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 tonne of cement. 

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 Colombia, Russia and the USA 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

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