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Coal Age: Serving the Needs of the Coal Mining and Processing Industry

Thanks to the resilience of the American coal industry, robust international demand, and the convenience and relatively low cost of the fuel, the future of coal mining in the United States remains bright. For nearly 100 years, Coal Age has been the magazine that readers can trust for guidance and insight on this important industry. It remains the most widely read and most respected magazine in the industry.

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Coal Remains A Formidable Business

In 2015, the U.S. mined nearly 900 million tons of coal. While production is expected to decline in 2016, coal will remain a vital part of the energy mix in the U.S. and around the world for the foreseeable future. The supply and demand fundamentals for power generators are in a state of transition. After growing modestly year-after-year, U.S. electricity demand has reached a plateau with a low-growth economy. Meanwhile, vast amounts of low-cost natural gas have entered the market reducing coal’s market share as a baseload fuel for power generation from nearly 42% to about one-third. The bulk of the U.S. electricity supply is expected to remain divided between three groups: coal (33%), natural gas (33%) and nuclear power (20%).

The world mined and burned roughly 6 billion metric tons (mt) of coal in 2016. A total of 10 countries mine a significant amount of coal. China remains the world’s largest coal miner and consumer, with total production reaching 3.5 billion mt of coal in 2016. India will burn more than 600 million tons to provide power for 100 million people. Australia will export more than 400 million tons to world markets. Colombia, Indonesia, Russia and South Africa are also significant coal producers.

In addition to power generation, coal is also used as an ingredient to make steel or it’s converted to coke to make steel. Prices for coking dropped significant about three years ago and they are now starting to see a modest recovery. Because of the quality and tight specifications, coking coals fetch a premium price of $75-$100/ton compared to $35-$45/ton. More than one-half of Australia’s export coal is destined for Chinese steel mills. Also, metallurgical coal operations in the eastern U.S. ship coal domestically to steel mills and they also export these coals to European and Latin American steel mills.

The three biggest concerns for the coal industry are: safety, operational efficiency and environmental stewardship. Mining coal, whether it be from underground or surface mining operations, has inherent risks. On average, over the course of the last 25 years, the coal business has lowered its fatality and injury rate significantly. With lower prices and soft market conditions, these miners are looking for any means to improve profit margins by lowering costs, which usually equates to economies of scale and technology improvements.