reserves amount to several hundred years of supply at today’s rate of extraction, questions remain regarding the characterization and quantification of coal reserves as well as future rates of coal utilization. Chapter 3 describes coal resource and reserve assessments and addresses issues and concerns associated with these assessments.
The second stage of the coal fuel cycle is the mining and subsequent processing of coal from underground and surface mines, described in Chapter 4. Coal processing can include a variety of steps—crushing, screening, and wet or dry separations—to reduce the mineral matter (ash) content of coal prior to transport and use. Much western coal is surface mined from very thick (greater than 50 feet) seams of relatively clean coal and shipped after simple crushing and screening, whereas eastern coal—generally mined from thinner seams (less than 10 feet thick)—is characteristically cleaned prior to shipment.
The third stage of the fuel cycle is the transport of raw or processed coal, described in Chapter 5. Approximately two-thirds of coal production is moved by rail, with trucks, inland waterways, and multimodal transport accounting for the remaining third. One reason for the large market share for rail was the rapid growth in the 1990s of coal production from the Powder River Basin. More than 90 percent of this coal is transported by rail outside the state of origin, with more than 50 percent going to power plants east of the Mississippi River and to Texas. The chapter also includes a brief description of the distribution of coal-derived products to end users, dominated by the electric power transmission system, and discusses the potential future transport of CO2 captured in coal-fired power plants.
The fourth stage of the fuel cycle is the conversion of coal to other energy forms, described in Chapter 6. This stage is dominated by the combustion of coal for electric power generation, which accounted for 92 percent of U.S. coal use in 2005. Other major uses of coal are by the industrial sector for the production of coke (used in steel and other metals production processes) and as a boiler fuel to supply process heat and power. As well as a brief analysis of R&D issues associated with coal utilization, Chapter 6 also discusses environmental concerns associated with coal-fired power plants.
Chapter 7 summarizes future projections for coal production and use, notes two important societal issues—community impacts and workforce demographics—that cut across the coal fuel cycle, and presents an outline of current federal support for coal-related R&D. Chapter 7 also summarizes the findings and repeats the recommendations from earlier chapters for additional funding support of upstream R&D activities, and concludes with suggestions for improved coordination of R&D activities among federal agencies, coal-producing states, and the coal industry. As part of its analysis of existing and past coal-related R&D programs and their outputs, the committee used its collective knowledge to provide broad, but necessarily approximate, estimates of the funding levels that will be required to achieve the outcomes described in each recommendation.