Coal is a fossil fuel which means that it was formed from the geological remains of living organisms. In this case, plant matter sunk to the very bottom of swamplands where is was deprived of oxygen and subjected to intense heat and pressure. This process took millions of years to carry out which means that our supply of coal will eventually be exhausted. Steel is actually made using a derivative of bituminous coal. Read on as we go over what the steel industry may looking like without it…
What is steel?
In scientific terms, steel is an alloy. This is a metal that is made by combining two or more metallic elements in order to provide additional characteristics like strength, durability and corrosion resistance. As an alloy of iron and carbon, steel actually requires the use of a coal derivative known as ‘coking coal’ during its production. This provides the right amount of carbon necessary to harden the iron because pure iron cannot be strengthened through heat treatment.
How is steel traditionally made?
The first step towards making steel is smelting the mineral ore in order retrieve iron. This is done in a furnace that is heated to 1600°C which releases the metal in a form known as ‘pig iron’, named as such due to the shape of the ingots. They are incredibly brittle because they contain more carbon than desired. The iron is then combined with limestone (which collects impurities) and coking coal in a basic oxygen furnace and hot air is blown in via a nozzle. This causes the coking coal to burn, producing carbon monoxide gas that reacts with the molten iron in order to create the steel alloy we know and recognise. Afterwards, any impurities are drained away in a material known as ‘slag’.
Can steel be made without coal?
According to statistics, the world produces around 1.6 million tonnes of steel every year which is used in a variety of different industries This is an incredibly energy-intensive business which means that it may be difficult to make new steel once our supply of coal is depleted. After all, coal is a primary energy provider and there are concerns that alternatives like wind turbines will not be able to keep up with demand. In addition to this, coking coal is a made by heating bituminous coal in the absence of oxygen, and without this component it could be impossible to create new steel. Luckily, steel is can be reused and recycled which means that there is always an abundance of it available on the market.
Although the Pearson Fuels team don’t supply coking coal for the steel industry, we do stock a variety of different fuels in order to appeal to a wide residential consumer base. After all, bituminous coal may be a household favourite, however anthracite is a suitable alternative for those living in Smoke Control Zones. To find out more information, get in contact with the best coal merchants on the market today!