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By Robert Rapier on Aug 20, 2013 with 12 responses

King Coal Gets Fatter, While The US Goes on a Diet


This is the 5th installment in a series that examines data from the recently released 2013 BP Statistical Review of World Energy. Next week’s installment will be on carbon dioxide emissions, and that will wrap up the series.

The previous posts were:

Today’s post delves into the global coal picture. The highlights are:

  • Global coal consumption reached an all-time high in 2012
  • China continues to dominate the global supply and demand picture in coal
  • Outside of China, coal consumption has been on the decline
  • The US has recently had the largest declines in coal consumption of any country in the world
  • Many European countries have experienced strong percentage gains in their coal consumption

Coal Consumption

But for China…

In 2012, global coal consumption increased by 101 million metric tons of oil equivalent (Mtoe) to an all-time global record of 3.7 billion tons of oil equivalent. (The use of “oil equivalents” standardizes the different grades of coal and also allows easy energy comparisons to other energy sources). This represents a doubling of global coal consumption in the past 20 years. To put the 2012 increase in perspective, global oil consumption last year only increased by 49 million tons of oil. Thus coal continues to be the fastest growing fossil fuel.

The global increase in coal consumption rests squarely with China. While the world as a whole saw an increase in coal consumption last year of 101.3 Mtoe, China’s increase alone was 112.5 Mtoe. India added another 27.7 Mtoe, but no other country experienced a consumption increase above 10 Mtoe. This means if not for China, the world would have seen coal consumption decrease by 11 Mtoe in 2012.

Global coal consumption has long been dominated by China. Just 20 years ago China’s share of coal consumption was only 17%, but in 2012, China consumed 50.2% of the world’s coal. The US was the second leading coal consumer last year at 11.7% of the world’s total, but Chinese and US coal consumption are headed in different directions.

Whereas China was the country that increased coal consumption by the most in 2012, the US was the country that decreased coal consumption by the most. US coal consumption fell by 58 Mtoe in 2012 to lead all countries.

The same trend holds true over the previous 5-year period. From 2007 to 2012, global coal consumption increased by 530 Mtoe. Coal consumption in China increased by 553 Mtoe during that period, which means that once more outside of China, world consumption of coal actually decreased over the past five years. The country leading that decrease was once again the US, which saw coal consumption decline by 136 Mtoe over the past five years. No other country in the world decreased their coal consumption by more than 10 Mtoe over the past 5 years. Canada was second behind the US with a 5-year decline in coal consumption of 9 Mtoe.

Rounding out the Top 5 behind China and the US, the top global consumers of coal in 2012 were India (8.0%), Japan (3.3%), and the Russian Federation (2.5%). Asia Pacific as a whole used 68.9% of the world’s coal in 2012, and non-OECD countries accounted for 71.8% of the world’s coal consumption.

The Top 2 global coal producers in 2012 were the same countries as the Top 2 global consumers. China produced 47.5% of the world’s coal in 2012, followed by the US (13.4%), Australia (6.3%), Indonesia (6.2%), and India (6.0%). Asia Pacific as a whole produces 67.8% of the world’s coal, and non-OECD countries account for 74.7% of the world’s coal production.

Interestingly, most of the countries that saw the sharpest percentage increases in coal consumption from 2011 to 2012 were in Europe. Portugal led all countries with a 31.4% increase in coal consumption in 2012, followed by Chile (25.1% increase), Spain (24.2% increase), the UK (24.0% increase), New Zealand (21.3% increase), and France (20.1% increase). Many of the countries experiencing sharp growth in their percentage of coal consumption are countries heavily associated with pushes to renewable energy, or that have a strong nuclear power portfolio (France). I am not suggesting that there is a cause and effect there, but it is interesting to me and worthy of future investigation.

If you look at trends over the past five years, most of the countries showing the strongest percentage decreases in coal consumption were European. These countries include Denmark (47.6% decrease), Finland (34.3% decrease), Austria (33.8% decrease), and Sweden (33.2% decrease). Iran was the only non-European country to make the Top 5 with a 33.0% decrease in coal consumption since 2007, while the US ranks 8th on the list with a 23.6% decrease.

But global coal consumption has increased by 16.6% over the past five years, because those increasing their coal consumption tend to use a lot of coal. The top percentage increases over the past five years were Argentina (157% increase, but still a small user overall), Chile (76.4% increase), Columbia (70.1% increase), Malaysia (62.0% increase), and Bangladesh (58.3% increase). Of the heavy users of coal, China saw their consumption climb by 41.9% while India’s was right behind them with a 41.8% increase.


In a nutshell, the challenge with coal is that the vast majority of coal is both produced and used by developing countries. Their production and consumption is growing, while that in developing countries is shrinking. The growth in production in developing countries has more than doubled over the past decade despite the fact that the marker price for Asian coal has more than tripled in the past 10 years.

In the final installment of this series, I will discuss carbon dioxide emissions. Given that coal has the highest associated carbon dioxide content per unit of energy among the fossil fuels, the trends there won’t come as a surprise.

Link to Original Article: King Coal Gets Fatter, While The US Goes on a Diet

By Robert Rapier. You can find me on TwitterLinkedIn, or Facebook.

  1. By Shiggity on August 20, 2013 at 9:15 pm

    Coal for electricity production is done growing in the 10+ year picture. India hit an infrastructure limit when they had the world’s largest blackout in 2012. This was primarily because their deficient rail system couldn’t handle the amount of coal needed to keep the lights on. China hit an environmental limit that the US hit in the late 1960s and then the EPA was created, even China’s all powerful government can’t keep it’s people going if they’re choking to death whenever they go outside. I don’t know much about the South American or Russian markets, but they are very small in comparison.

    We should be talking about solar pv here, because that is what is taking all of coal’s lunch. Malaysia, Indonesia, China, Bangladesh, Australia, Japan, and India all have VERY aggressive solar policies set in place. King coal is trying to keep it hush, but just look at the numbers. The European countries you mentioned aren’t really a fair comparison either, the differences in population make it apples and oranges.

    Another topic of conversation should be about coal to liquid fuel. As oil gets more expensive and we stop using coal for the grid, we’ll start using it for our vehicles / military.

    Nice post, I liked the attention to detail.

    • By TimC on August 21, 2013 at 1:55 pm

      “Another topic of conversation should be about coal to liquid fuel.”
      About that, Celanese just announced a collaboration with PetroChina to use their TCX technology to make fuel-grade ethanol from coal in China. This dovetails with China’s recent efforts to use coal-based methanol as a feedstock for production of DME, olefins, aldehydes, etc. The Chinese seem to understand, better than the US, the economic and strategic value of basing vital national industries on domestic resources, rather than imported oil.
      Coal price in the US is around $2.40/MMBTU, compared to WTI at about $19/MMBTU. But while we’re squeamish about the emissions involved with CTL, the Chinese are less so.

    • By spec9 on October 20, 2013 at 11:54 pm

      I believe India also has water resource limitations that make increasing coal burning difficult.

  2. By Forrest on August 21, 2013 at 8:29 am

    Coal is plentiful, 400yr supply in U.S.. Coal doesn’t require much processing, easily shipped, easy to store and requires low tech energy conversion. All very attractive to poor countries in rural areas. How could U.S. best impact environment per coal? Put head in sand as per the popular environmentalist strategy or supply solutions to make coal less and less destructive? We should invest in coal power solutions and claim the international market for low environmental impact coal. Keep the coal infrastructure alive for future solutions, meaning R&D and private sector motivations to such. Gasification technology promising as well as coal to ethanol processes. One private company has patented process to convert biofuel to coal substitute, The fuel has no EPA controlled pollution stream other than CO2 which registers low. The fuel can be mixed with coal to meet EPA goals. It appears to be a natural adjunct to the cellulosic ethanol process.

    • By shecky vegas on August 21, 2013 at 1:01 pm

      Forrest – I’m not sure what country you’re writing from, since your English is about as good as the average AT&T customer service rep.
      How about this? Scrap coal and use the same technology (and workers) to generate geo-thermal energy? Basically just digging holes in the ground. Only what you pull up in geo-thermal is steam, and with coal you pull up black lung syndrome, early deaths due to chemical exposure, and a worsening of the environment.
      Whaddaya think, chuckles?

    • By junkyardnut on April 13, 2016 at 1:13 pm

      Coal is better regulated than all our fireplaces and woodstoves that burn firewood!

  3. By Pieter Siegers on August 21, 2013 at 10:52 am

    King coal is among the biggest mistake of humanity. We don’t need the stuff. It kills a lot of people. It polluts. It stinks. Its efficiency is low. We should leave the stuff in the ground and concentrate on renewables and efficient energy storage systems. Renewables will push fossil fuel consumption downwards because they do allow for growth on the long run.
    For this article, I think to complete the picture coal exports should be included. For example now that the US is embracing NG it is exporting cheap coal. For me that sounds like the total picture of carbon consumption from a country should be its own consumption plus all exported fossil fuels, no matter where they are burned.
    Anyways, a global energy tax weighed by pollution factor for each energy source – including renewables – would drive the energy picture in the right direction.

    • By junkyardnut on April 13, 2016 at 1:12 pm

      Like firewood, we don’t need them, it stinks!

  4. By Jerry Unruh on August 28, 2013 at 9:07 am

    Robert: Can you hint at what sequestration process you are working on?

    • By Robert Rapier on August 28, 2013 at 1:09 pm

      Jerry, I will call you in a bit. Lots to discuss.

  5. By Greg Lowe on September 16, 2013 at 6:45 am

    New Zealand is not a country “associated with pushes to renewable energy”.

    The current government has cut CO2 reduction goals to 5% reduction by 2020 (from 1990), and is happy to achieve these goals using eastern european “hot air” credits, I believe these have already been purchased. The ETS introduced by a former government has been watered down, overallocation etc, and the price has collapsed.

    Wind and geothermal continue to progress as demand increases, but not at a rate that would see fossil generation need to be reduced. Business as usual here.

  6. By spec9 on October 20, 2013 at 11:51 pm

    The rest of the world should put a tax on Chinese manufactured goods until they reduce their coal usage. They are killing their own people and the atmosphere with that much coal burning.

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