Brown coal is a type of coal that is also known as lignite. It is used as a fuel to produce electricity. Today, it meets about a third of the world’s electricity demand. This fact is concerning as burning coal releases large amounts of greenhouse gases and toxins, such as carbon dioxide and mercury. Furthermore, the industry is one of the most polluting sectors in the world.
Brown coal & fossil fuels
Brown coal is a fossil fuel made from dead plants and animals. In other words, fossils are the remains of ancient organisms. This origin could, for instance, be the bones of a dead animal. These remains have ended below the surface of oceans, also known as sediments. Eventually, through millions of years of pressure and high temperatures, these sediments get compressed into coal, oil and natural gas. The process continues to occur today. However, since the process takes millions of years and the human demand for fossil fuels is so great, the sources are bound to run out. Moreover, it is a well-known fact that burning fossil fuels contributes to global warming. As mentioned, brown coal is one of the world’s largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions.
Different types of coal
Coal has different ranks. These categories depend on the decomposition process of the coal, which means how long the coal has been underground. For example, about 65-84 % of carbon content counts as lignite or peat. In comparison, between 84-91 % is hard coal. A specific difference between lignite and hard coal is that lignite catches fire more easily. This quality is because the carbon content is lower while the amount of hydrogen and oxygen is 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. More so, brown coal production continues despite its apparent contribution to climate change. To reach the goals of the Paris Agreement, such as staying below 2 degrees of warming, scientist state that the world’s fossil fuels need to remain in the ground.
Finally, burning brown coal has other destructive effects besides releasing carbon dioxide. It also releases sulfur dioxide and nitrogen. More so, heavy metals like mercury and cadmium. For example, mercury is toxic to both humans and the environment.