Brown coal, also called lignite, is a type of coal used primarily as fuel for the production of electricity.
Like other fossil fuels, lignite consists of converted parts of plants. Fossil fuels are named the way they are because they consist of plants and animals that have been lying on the bottom of seas and lakes. Through millions of years of pressure and high temperatures, the remains have been compressed into coal, oil and natural gas. Even today, coal continues to form, but since it takes a very long time to form, we consume them at a rate that means that they will soon run out, and contribute strongly to the greenhouse effect along the way.
Carbon is divided into different ranks depending on how far the decomposition process has gone: between 65-84% carbon content, it counts as lignite or peat while between 84-91% counts as hard coal (also called anthracite). A concrete difference between lignite and hard coal is that lignite ignites more easily because the carbon content is lower while the hydrogen and oxygen levels are higher.
The by far biggest producers of lignite are Germany and China, followed by countries such as Russia, the United States and Australia.
In order for the earth’s average temperature to survive below the 2°C target, the majority of the world’s known coal reserves need to stay in the ground. The motivation to allow coal to stay in the soil would be its high impact on the greenhouse effect and the negative impact on the landscape of coal mines.
As with other fossil fuels, the environmental impact of the combustion of lignite is problematic as, in addition to carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides are released. Additionally, heavy metals such as mercury and cadmium are also let out.