Management of Natural Resources

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09 Coal and Petroleum



Coal and petroleum are called fossil fuels. They are formed from the remains of living organisms.



  • Coal is a black hard rock.
  • It is flammable and so is considered to be a solid fossil fuel.
  • It is a complex mixture of compounds of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen, and some free carbon.
  • About 69-95% is carbon. Small amounts of nitrogen and sulphur compounds are also present in coal.
  • A lot of heat is produced during the burning of coal which makes it a good fuel.
  • Coal is formed from remains of plants that existed millions of years ago in the tropical regions of the earth and got buried in the soil due to natural processes such as flooding.
  • Due to conditions of high temperature and pressure, the dead vegetation got converted into coal, known as canonization.
  • When coal is subjected to destructive distillation (by heating strongly in the absence of air coke is formed.
  • Coke is a better fuel than coal because it produced more heat (than an equal mass of coal), and it does not produce smoke while burning.


Types of Coal


The various types of coal depending on the carbon content and ignition rate are:

  • Peat: The carbon content in peat is less than 60%. It is a heterogeneous mixture of partially decomposed organic matter accumulated in a water-saturated environment in the absence of oxygen. Peat is highly absorbent towards fuel.
  • Lignite: It has a carbon content of nearly 60% – 70% and is the lowest rank of coal in terms of carbon content and efficiency. Peat gets transformed into a rock forming lignite. It is mainly used for electric power
  • Bituminous: The carbon content of bituminous coal ranges from 77-87%. The process of organic metamorphism takes place when lignite is subjected to high temperature and pressure. The oxygen and hydrogen content of the matter decrease and so the carbon content increases. It is used as a fuel in steam-electric power generation and for heat and power applications in manufacturing industries.
  • Anthracite: It has a carbon content of 87% or more and is the highest quality of coal.. It is hard and glossy in nature. It has the highest heating value. It is mainly used for residential and commercial purposes.



Uses of Coal:-

  • Coal is used as a fuel for heating purposes in homes and in industry.
  • Coal is used as a fuel in thermal power plants for generating electricity.
  • Coal is used to make coke. And this coke is then used as a reducing agent in the extraction of metals.
  • Coal is used in the manufacture of fuel gases like coal gas.
  • Coal is used in the manufacturing of petrol and synthetic natural gas.



Petroleum occurs as a yellow to brown liquid in geological formations below the Earth’s surface. It consists of 93-97% Carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, and sulphur. Petroleum is formed from the remains of zooplanktons and algae at the lake or sea bottoms. Such remains upon mixing with sediments got buried in the absence of oxygen as they settled further into the sea or lake bed, they got subjected to high temperature and pressure. The organic matter changed to a waxy material known as kerogen and then with more heat, into liquid and gaseous hydrocarbons. When the hydrocarbons are subjected to high temperature and pressure, petroleum is formed.


The crude oil petroleum is a complex mixture of several solid, liquid and gaseous hydrocarbons mixed with water, salt and earth particles. The fractional distillation of petroleum gives us the following fractions which can be used as fuels: Petroleum gas, Petrol (or Gasoline), Diesel, Kerosene and Fuel oil and also asphalt and other chemical reagents.



Steps to reduce the consumption of coal and petroleum

  • Switch off the lights, fans, television and other electrical appliances when not needed. This will save a lot of electricity.
  • Use energy efficient electrical appliances to save electricity. This can be done by using compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFL).
  • Use stairs to climb at least up to three floors of a building instead of taking a lift. This will save electricity.
  • Pressure cookers should be used for cooking food to save fuels like kerosene and LPG.
  • Good quality stove should be used to burn fuels like kerosene and cooking gas (LPG) so as to obtain maximum heat.
  • Solar cookers should be used to cook food whenever possible.
  • The use of biogas as domestic fuel should be encouraged in rural areas.
  • Bicycles should be used for covering short distance to save precious fuel like petrol (which is used in cars, scooters and motorcycles).
  • Public transport system (local bus and train service) in the cities should be improved so that people do not commute in their personal vehicles. This will save a lot of petrol and diesel.
  • Fuel efficient engines of motor vehicles should be designed to reduce the consumption of petrol and diesel.

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