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Thermal Coal vs. Metallurgical Coal: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Harlon Moss || Published on January 24, 2024
Thermal coal is primarily used for energy generation, while metallurgical coal is used in steel production.

Key Differences

Thermal coal, also known as steam coal, is mainly utilized for electricity generation due to its high burn rate. Metallurgical coal, on the other hand, is used in steel production, playing a crucial role in the blast furnace process where it serves as a reducing agent and heat source.
The main characteristic of thermal coal is its lower carbon content and higher moisture level, making it less efficient for high-temperature applications. Metallurgical coal, also known as coking coal, is distinguished by its higher carbon content and lower impurities, essential for producing high-grade steel.
Thermal coal is mined globally and has a larger market due to the widespread need for electricity. Metallurgical coal is less abundant and more expensive, reflecting its specialized use in steel manufacturing.
The combustion of thermal coal produces more carbon dioxide and other pollutants compared to metallurgical coal. This difference emphasizes the environmental impacts of thermal coal, particularly in terms of greenhouse gas emissions.
In terms of market dynamics, thermal coal prices are generally influenced by energy demand and supply, whereas metallurgical coal prices are closely linked to the global steel industry's health and demand.

Comparison Chart

Primary Use

Used for electricity generation
Used for steel production

Carbon Content

Lower carbon content
Higher carbon content

Moisture and Impurities

Higher moisture, more impurities
Lower moisture, fewer impurities

Environmental Impact

Higher pollution and CO2 emissions
Relatively lower emissions

Market Dynamics

Prices influenced by energy demand and supply
Prices linked to global steel industry demand

Thermal Coal and Metallurgical Coal Definitions

Thermal Coal

Thermal coal is abundant and widely used globally.
Global energy demands are significantly met by thermal coal.

Metallurgical Coal

Metallurgical coal is also known as coking coal.
Coking coal, or metallurgical coal, is a key ingredient in steelmaking.

Thermal Coal

Thermal coal is less expensive than metallurgical coal.
Due to its affordability, thermal coal remains a common energy source.

Metallurgical Coal

Metallurgical coal produces coke when heated.
When heated in the absence of air, metallurgical coal turns into coke.

Thermal Coal

Thermal coal has a higher moisture content.
Thermal coal's moisture content affects its combustion efficiency.

Metallurgical Coal

Metallurgical coal has a higher carbon content.
The high carbon content of metallurgical coal makes it ideal for steel production.

Thermal Coal

Thermal coal has a lower burn temperature.
Thermal coal is unsuitable for applications requiring high temperatures.

Metallurgical Coal

Metallurgical coal is essential for steel production.
Steel plants require metallurgical coal for their blast furnaces.

Thermal Coal

Thermal coal is used for power generation.
The power plant consumes large quantities of thermal coal.

Metallurgical Coal

Metallurgical coal is less abundant than thermal coal.
Due to its scarcity, metallurgical coal is more expensive.


Can thermal coal be used in steel production?

No, its properties make it unsuitable for steel production.

What distinguishes metallurgical coal?

Metallurgical coal, high in carbon, is used for steel production.

Is thermal coal environmentally friendly?

No, its combustion releases significant pollutants and CO2.

What is thermal coal used for?

Thermal coal is primarily used for electricity generation.

Can the steel industry function without metallurgical coal?

Currently, it's challenging due to the lack of equally effective alternatives.

Is thermal coal mining widespread?

Yes, it's mined globally due to high demand for electricity.

What makes metallurgical coal unique?

Its ability to turn into coke under high temperatures without air.

Is metallurgical coal more expensive than thermal coal?

Yes, due to its specialized use and relative scarcity.

What is the main environmental concern with thermal coal?

Its high greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution.

How does the market affect metallurgical coal prices?

Prices fluctuate based on global steel industry demand.

How does metallurgical coal contribute to steelmaking?

It's converted into coke, a necessary element in the steelmaking process.

What's a key feature of metallurgical coal?

It has a high carbon content and low impurities, ideal for producing coke.

Is metallurgical coal mining as widespread as thermal coal mining?

No, it's less widespread due to its specific use and scarcity.

Are there alternatives to thermal coal for energy?

Yes, renewable sources like solar and wind are alternatives.

Are there cleaner alternatives to thermal coal for power?

Yes, natural gas and renewable energy sources are cleaner alternatives.

Is research into alternative steelmaking methods affecting metallurgical coal?

Yes, efforts to find cleaner methods could reduce dependence on metallurgical coal.

What is a major drawback of using thermal coal?

It's a major contributor to global warming and air pollution.

How does thermal coal affect air quality?

Burning thermal coal releases pollutants that degrade air quality.

Why is metallurgical coal crucial in steelmaking?

It produces coke, necessary for iron ore reduction in blast furnaces.

What's a future challenge for thermal coal?

Transitioning to cleaner energy sources due to environmental concerns.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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