Over the last couple years, coal use in the US has fallen, as more companies are instead choosing to dig for natural gas. However, coal mining in the Midwest is only increasing: this year, coal production has risen by 8%, and natural gas output has decreased by 8%.
While the US’s 2012 coal production declined by 7% from 2011 — Wyoming’s Power River Basin and the Central Appalachia mines getting hit the most — coal production in the Illinois Basin, comprised of southern Illinois, Indiana, and western Kentucky, is on the rise. Coal manufacturing in the Illinois Basin grew by 10% in 2012 and is set to continue growing over the next several years, overtaking Central Appalachia’s output for the first time.
Mining in the Midwest is generally low-cost: Illinois Basin coal is much more attainable and thicker than Central Appalachia coal, and costs half as much to mine. Yet, the Midwest has long been disregarded for coal mining, since the area’s coal contains high volumes of sulfur. That’s changing, as new equipment, called scrubbers, eliminate the sulfur, which allows Midwestern coal to meet emissions standards. Adding to the low-cost nature of the Illinois Basin is the fact that a majority of the miners are nonunion – only 6% belong to the United Mine Workers of America.
Illinois mines are anticipated to manufacture 56 million tons of coal, a 70% increase from 2010′s 33 million tons. In comparison, West Virginia mines are anticipated to decline from 92 million tons in 2010 to 79 million tons in 2013, a 14% decrease.
Type and quantity of coal used for power production will vary depending upon mining, combustion and treatment of post-combustion coal using gas technologies, such as scrubbing, storage or subsequent processing. Furthermore, geographical region of mining, transportation and utilization will also impact coal utilization.
Nonetheless coal will remain a dominant source of fossil fuel for global production of electricity for the foreseeable future.
Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan
May 19, 2013
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