World Coal Association

According to figures from the World Coal Institute, the total global hard coal production in 2007 was 5543Mt (million tonnes), and total brown coal/lignite production was 945Mt.

Brown coal production increased by 0.85% in 2007. Germany remains the world’s largest brown coal producer, with production increasing by around 2.3% in 2007. Brown coal production also increased in Australia, India, Indonesia, and Turkey.

Almost every country in the world has some coal reserves. At current production levels, proven coal reserves are estimated to last 133 years, in New Zealand alone we have enough coal reserves for some 1000 years. In contrast, proven oil and gas reserves are equivalent to around 42 and 60 years at current production levels respectively, with some 68% of oil and 67% of gas reserves concentrated in the Middle East and Russia.

In 2006, coal contributed approximately 26% of global primary energy needs and generated approximately 41% of the world's electricity. In 2006, coal generated 80% of electricity in Australia, 93% in Poland and South Africa (2005 figure), 78% in the People's Republic of China, 71% in Israel (2005 figure), 69% in Morocco and India (2005 figures), 59% in the Czech Republic, 58% in Greece, and 50% in the United States.

Approximately 13 percent (around 717 Mt) of total hard coal production is used by the steel industry - almost 70% of global steel production is directly dependent on coal feedstock.

As well as electricity generation and steel production, coal is also used in cement manufacturing, alumina refineries, paper manufacturers, and the chemical and pharmaceutical industries.

Refined coal tar is used in the manufacture of chemicals, such as creosote oil, naphthalene, and benzene. Ammonia gas recovered from coke ovens is used to manufacture ammonia salts, nitric acid and fertilisers.

Many products have coal or coal by-products as components: activated carbon used in water, air and kidney dialysis filters, aspirin, carbon fibre used in reinforcement in everything from mountain bikes to tennis rackets, dye, fabric (rayon and nylon), plastic, soap, and solvents.

Coal could also provide the key to a clean fuel of the future, Europe, Japan, the United States and New Zealand ( all have active hydrogen programmes which are experimenting with coal to produce hydrogen.

The future of coal

In their report, The Coal Resource: A Comprehensive Overview of Coal, (Chapter 6, Meeting Future Energy Demand, Pages 39-41, published 2005), the World Coal Institute summaries that over the next 30 years, it is estimated that global energy demand will increase by almost 60%. Two thirds of the increase will come from developing countries - by 2030 they will account for almost half of total energy demand. However, many of the world's poorest people will still be deprived of modern energy in 30 years’ time. Electrification rates in developing countries will rise from 66% in 2002 to 78% in 2030 but the total number of people without electricity will fall only slightly, from 1.6 billion to just under 1.4 billion in 2030 due to population growth."

During the past two years, the use of coal has grown at a faster rate than for any other fuel, rising by almost 7% in 2003. Demand in China grew by 15%, in Russia by 7%, in Japan by 5% and in the USA by 2.6%. Demand for coal and its vital role in the world's energy system is set to continue. Asian countries will see the most increase in the use of coal, with China and India alone accounting for 68% of the increase. Coal will continue to play a vital role in electricity generation worldwide - while it currently supplies 39% of the world's electricity, this figure will only drop one percentage point over the next three decades."