IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Working Group III: Mitigation of Climate Change Coal and peat

Coal is the world’s most abundant fossil fuel and continues to be a vital resource in many countries (IEA, 2003e). In 2005, coal accounted for around 25% of total world energy consumption primarily in the electricity and industrial sectors (BP, 2005; US EIA, 2005; Enerdata, 2004). Global proven recoverable reserves of coal are about 22,000 EJ (BP, 2004; WEC, 2004b) with another 11,000 EJ of probable reserves and an estimated additional possible resource of 100,000 EJ for all types. Although coal deposits are widely distributed, over half of the world’s recoverable reserves are located in the US (27%), Russia (17%) and China (13%). India, Australia, South Africa, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and the former Yugoslavia account for an additional 33% (US DOE, 2005). Two thirds of the proven reserves are hard coal (anthracite and bituminous) and the remainder are sub-bituminous and lignite. Together these resources represent stores of over 12,800 GtCO2. Consumption was around 120 EJ/yr in 2005, which introduced approximately 9.2 GtCO2/yr into the atmosphere.

Peat (partially decayed plant matter together with minerals) has been used as a fuel for thousands of years, particularly in Northern Europe. In Finland, it provides 7% of electricity and 19% of district heating.


The demand for coal is expected to more than double by 2030 and the IEA has estimated that more than 4500 GW of new power plants (half in developing countries) will be required in this period (IEA, 2004a). The implementation of modern high-efficiency and clean utilization coal technologies is key to the development of economies if effects on society and environment are to be minimized (Section 4.5.4).

Most installed coal-fired electricity-generating plants are of a conventional subcritical pulverized fuel design, with typical efficiencies of about 35% for the more modern units. Supercritical steam plants are in commercial use in many developed countries and are being installed in greater numbers in developing countries such as China (Philibert and Podkanski, 2005). Current supercritical technologies employ steam temperatures of up to 600ºC and pressures of 280 bar delivering fuel to electricity-cycle efficiencies of about 42% (Moore, 2005). Conversion efficiencies of almost 50% are possible in the best supercritical plants, but are more costly (Equitech, 2005; IPCC, 2001; Danish Energy Authority, 2005). Improved efficiencies have reduced the amount of waste heat and CO2 that would otherwise have been emitted per unit of electricity generation.

Technologies have changed little since the TAR. Supercritical plants are now built to an international standard, however, and a CSIRO (2005) project is under way to investigate the production of ultra-clean coal that reduces ash below 0.25%, sulphur to low levels and, with combined-cycle direct-fired turbines, can reduce GHG emissions by 24% per kWh, compared with conventional coal power stations.

Gasifying coal prior to conversion to heat reduces the emissions of sulphur, nitrogen oxides, and mercury, resulting in a much cleaner fuel while reducing the cost of capturing CO2 emissions from the flue gas where that is conducted. Continued development of conventional combustion integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) systems is expected to further reduce emissions.

Coal-to-liquids (CTL) is well understood and regaining interest, but will increase GHG emissions significantly without CCS (Section 4.3.6). Liquefaction can be performed by direct solvent extraction and hydrogenation of the resulting liquid at up to 67% efficiency (DTI, 1999) or indirectly by gasification then producing liquids by Fischer-Tropsch catalytic synthesis as in the three SASOL plants in South Africa. These produce 0.15 Mbbl/day of synthetic diesel fuel (80%) plus naphtha (20%) at 37–50% thermal efficiency. Lower-quality coals would reduce the thermal efficiency whereas co-production with electricity and heat (at a 1:8 ratio) could increase it and reduce the liquid fuel costs by around 10%.

Production costs of CTL appear competitive when crude oil is around 35–45 US$/bbl, assuming a coal price of 1 US$/GJ. Converting lignite at 0.50 US$/GJ close to the mine could compete with production costs of about 30 US$/bbl. The CTL process is less sensitive to feedstock prices than the gas-to-liquids (GTL) process, but the capital costs are much higher (IEA, 2005e). An 80,000 barrel per day CTL installation would cost about 5 billion US$ and would need at least 2–4 Gt of coal reserves available to be viable.