For a long time I have wondered why there was not an easy place to go to get a list of what all is in coal without having to know the periodic table by heart, have a degree in geology or understand energy industry techo speak. I understood (I thought) what was in a clump of the nasty dusty stuff BUT it was never easy to understand. This was purposely made worse by disengenious efforts by the industry to say, “it varies from sample to sample”. The implication was that there was just no way to tell.
Periodically (yes yes it’s a pun), I would find something like this:
Coal is largely composed of organic matter, but it is the inorganic matter in coal—minerals and trace elements— that have been cited as possible causes of health, environmental, and technological problems associated with the use of coal. Some trace elements in coal are naturally radioactive. These radioactive elements include uranium (U), thorium (Th), and their numerous decay products, including radium (Ra) and radon (Rn). Although these elements are less chemically toxic than other coal byproducts.
But even that little snippet should cause the casual reader to ask why have they been putting millions of tons of the above substances in our air, and why are they throwing that stuff away when it’s worth money? Sometimes big money? Those are good questions but you ain’t seen nothin yet.
So what is in coal besides carbon? When asked this question I usually say EVERYTHING. Think about it. Coal is nothing but rotted forests and shallow seas that were sealed over by geological upheavals of one sort or another. The geological upheavals puts pressure on the rotting vegetation and animals which hydrogenates the whole stinking mess into oil. If enough time passes, and the liquids solidify it turns into coal. So every element that was in that forest or in that shallow sea is in that coal or oil. I know this seems simple but really its what happens to dead things under heat and pressure.
People in the Coal and Oil Industry like to hide what is in oil and coal behind tons of gobbeldegook, jargon and hems and haws about sample size, type of coal and location. But that is because they want to stay in business (read: steal your resources and make huge profits) and they do not want you to know what they are throwing into your water and your air with gay abandoned.
This list is culled from the National Coal database for Illinois, so it is based on mostly bituminous coals and yes amounts of elements vary from coal sample to coal sample…But not as much as the normal person would assume. I have listed the elements in 3 tiers based roughly on the amounts present in the tested samples. The first tier is the Bulk of the makeup of coal that is not carbon, the second tier elements are usually referred to the Volatiles, and the third tier are what are usually referred to as Trace elements. We will come back to that issue of “trace” elements after the list.
Take your pick of 2 below for our science favorite (Sesame Street Music) – The Periodic Table!
Standard periodic table
Major Ingredients In Coal (besides carbon)
In Alphabetical Order the Slightly Rarer Ingredients
The Trace Elements
This is roughly 80 elements out of the current total number of 117, some of which either do not occur on earth, like irriduim, or do not occur in nature. Primitive Capitalist had excuses for all this waste, the elements were either to hard to retrieve, their was no one to tell them to do so, or even that this waste had no effect. Fact of the matter is that they were just ignorant and lazy. When someone would bring up curbing pollution, they would just dismiss it as a waste of money or too expensive. But in reality NOT throwing things away makes money. Everytime Corporations have been forced to curb a pollutent, they have made money off the process. All extraction is is an engineering problem and these days it is not even that much of a problem. Yet the Energy Companies still persist in making these kinds of claims and now they have come up with a new dangerous way not to do it.
This issue of what is in Coal is really important when it comes to Deep Well Injection of waste. More on that Tomorrow.