Brown coal is a typ of coal that is also known as lignite. It is used as a fuel to produce electricity. As a matter of fact, it stands for a third of the entire worlds electricity demand. The burning of coal releases both greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, and toxics, such as mercury. Therefore, the burning of the material also makes it the largest polluter on earth.
Brown coal & fossil fuels
Brown coal is a type of fossil fuel. This “family” of fuels are named fossil fuels since they are made from dead plants and animals. In other words, fossils are the remains of ancient organisms. This could for instance be the bones of a dead animal. Fossil fuels are remains of ancient organisms that have ended up below the surface of oceans, also known as sediments. Through a process of millions of years of pressure and high temperatures, these sediments are eventually compressed into coal, oil and natural gas. The mentioned facts mean that new coal continues to be formed today. However, since the process takes an unimaginable amount of time and the human demand of fossil fuels is too great, the sources are bound to run out.
More so, it is a well known fact that the burning of fossil fuels contribute to global warming. As mentioned, brown coal is the worlds largest source of greenhouse gas emissions.
Different types of coal
Coal is divided into different ranks. These categories depend on the decomposition process of the coal, which basically means how long the coal has been underground. For example, about a 65-84 % content of carbon counts as lignite or peat. While between 84-91 % is categorised as hard coal. A specific difference between lignite and hard coal is that lignite catches fire more easily. This is because the carbon content is lower while the amount of hydrogen and oxygen are higher.
Global use of brown coal
Germany and China are the largest producers of brown coal in the world. Other significant nations are Russia, the US and Australia. The production continues despite the contribution that it has to climate change. It is commonly know that the goals of the Paris agreement, of staying below 2 degrees of warming, requires that the majority of the world’s fossil fuels remain in the ground.
Other toxins from brown coal
Finally, the burning of brown coal has other destructive effects, besides releasing carbon dioxide. It also releases sulfur dioxide and nitrogen. As well as heavy metals such as mercury and cadmium. For example mercury is toxic to both humans and the environment.