Coal is a benchmark of Australia’s economy, and it is forecast to remain so well into the future. The history of coal, its use, and coal mining in Australia is rich and dates to well before the earliest years of European colonisation. The future of coal mining is assured well into the future.
What is Coal?
Coal is a non-renewable fossil fuel that was formed in the earth over hundreds of millions of years. It derives from sedimentary rock formed by the remains of ancient organisms and organic plant matter. This matter decomposed very slowly and created peat bogs, which in turn transformed into coal when subjected to extremely high levels of pressure and heat.
Coal is formed into underground “seams” or “beds”, and these can be as large as 1500 kilometres long and 30 metres thick.
Coal is rich in carbon and hydrocarbons; it is combustible and can be burned as a fuel and used to generate electrical power.
Coal in Australia – a Historical Snapshot
Coal deposits in Australia are estimated to be between 15 million to 225 million years old. Before the birth of the mining industry, Indigenous Australians used coal. The Awabakal People of the Newcastle and Central Coast (NSW) areas have used coal for food preparation and fire for thousands of years; what is now Lake Macquarie was referred to as “the place of coal” by the Awabakal People.
European settlers “discovered” the huge deposit of black coal for themselves in the Newcastle area in 1791. By the turn of the century, the mining and export of coal had commenced from the port of Newcastle and were soon thriving. These activities were intrinsic to the progress of the European settlement in Australia and the country’s ongoing prosperity.
More black coal seams were soon discovered by the new settlers, including in the Ipswich area (Qld) in 1825, Cape Paterson (Vic) in 1826, and Irwin River (WA) in 1846.
In the almost two and a half centuries since 1791, more than nine million tonnes of black coal have been mined in Australia for domestic use and export purposes.
Global Coal Supplies – Australia’s Contribution
Australia is a major contributor to the world’s overall coal supplies. We currently provide 6% of black coal globally. In the three months to July 2021, coal exports from Australia surged by 26% compared with the previous quarter.
Coal is Australia’s second-largest export commodity (after iron ore). The only countries that produce more coal annually are China, India, and Indonesia, and the strong price of Australian thermal and metallurgical coal reflects the robust demand for this high-quality product.
Australian coal supports and underpins our overall national economy. The mining industry provides:
- Domestic income
- Export income
- Local employment
- Capital investment opportunities
Australia’s Uses for Coal
In 2021, coal is Australia’s largest energy resource. Its use represents 80% of the nation’s overall energy needs and the majority of our electricity is produced in coal-fired power stations.
The primary use of coal in Australia is for electricity generation. Coal is also used to produce coke (a porous fuel with few impurities, this is the solid residue remaining after certain types of coal are heated in the absence of air), which is used to make steel. Coke production by-products include coal gas, coal tar, light oils, and ammonia.
Black coal and the byproducts of its processing have several other important uses:
- iron production
- cement manufacturing
- food processing
- paper manufacturing
- alumina refinery
- other metallurgical applications
- foam manufacture
- carbon fibre production
- tar production
- pharmaceutical production
- petroleum-based (synthetic) fuel production
The Future of Australia’s Coal Mining Industry
Resources industry experts predict that global demand for Australian coal will continue to grow well beyond 2030 – in other words, the future of coal in Australia is assured. Consumption of coal and demand for the Australian product is estimated to grow in the coming years, particularly in China, South Korea, and India.
The Australian coal mining industry is committed to continuing to meet the demand for Australian coal internationally, providing local employment opportunities, and further boosting our nation’s economy. Coal generates billions of dollars for federal and state governments (in the form of taxes and royalties) and the coal mining industry employs more than fifty thousand Australians.
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PIMS Group is a leader in the Australian coal mining industry. We deliver unrivalled mining services and solutions and are committed to maintaining our exceptional reputation for the highest quality standards in human workforce, equipment, training, and workplace health and safety for the mining sector.
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