Coal

Coal is a fossil fuel accounting for around 40 per cent of total world power generation.1 Coal is primarily a mixture of carbon and hydrogen atoms, with very small amounts of sulphur (bound with carbon or iron) and other elements.

Australia provides around 30 per cent of the world coal trade.

In 2011, Australia was the world's largest exporter of metallurgical coal and the second largest exporter of thermal coal. Australia is also the fourth largest producer, and has the fifth largest resources of black coal in the world.

Australia's accessible economic demonstrated resources are sufficient to sustain current black coal production rates for nearly 100 years.2 Brown coal accessible economic resources are estimated to be able to sustain current brown coal production for over 500 years.2

Coal is Australia's largest energy export earner. In 2010–11, Australia exported 283 million tonnes (Mt) of metallurgical and thermal coal to world markets worth A$43.7 billion. Total coal (black, saleable) production in Australia in 2010–11 is estimated to have been 345 Mt. Over the medium term, total Australian metallurgical and thermal coal exports are forecast to increase by nearly 72 per cent: from 283 Mt in 2010–11 to 486 Mt, valued at $56.5 billion, in 2016–17.

The majority of Australia's metallurgical and thermal coal exports were exported to the Asian region in 2011. This leading position has grown over many years of coal trade, based on the quality of Australian coal resources and the ability of Australian industry to meet and respond to the needs of its customers.

In 2011, Australia's top four export markets for metallurgical coal were Japan (40.8 Mt), India (28.9 Mt), Republic of Korea (16.5 Mt) and China (13.7 Mt). Australia's top four export markets for thermal coal were Japan (65.4 Mt), the Republic of Korea (29.5 Mt), China (19.9) and Taiwan (19.1 Mt).

Australian brown coal (lignite) production, mainly from the Latrobe Valley in Victoria, was 68.75 Mt in 2009–10. Brown coal is used domestically in electricity production. Coal, both black and brown, accounted for over 75 per cent of Australian electricity generation in 2009–10.

Australian coal production and exports

Production

Australian
financial years
2008–09 2009–10 2010–11 2011–12 (f) 2012–13 (f) 2013–14 (f) 2014–15 (f) 2015–16 (f) 2016–17 (f)
Thermal coal 209.7 198.3 206.1 224.8 238.2 271.6 290.2 319.0 332.9
Metallurgical coal 130.0 163.0 146.0 152.0 169.0 180.0 195.0 213.0 222.0

Exports

Australian
financial years
2008–09 2009–10 2010–11 2011–12 (f) 2012–13 (f) 2013–14 (f) 2014–15 (f) 2015–16 (f) 2016–17 (f)
Thermal coal 136.4 135.0 143.3 162.6 173.1 206.6 225.2 254.0 267.9
Metallurgical coal 125.0 157.0 140.0 148.0 166.0 176.0 191.0 209.0 218.0
Total 261.4 292.0 283.3 310.6 339.1 382.6 416.2 463.0 485.9

Export Value (A$m, nominal)

Australian
financial years
2008–09 2009–10 2010–11 2011–12 (f) 2012–13 (f) 2013–14 (f) 2014–15 (f) 2015–16 (f) 2016–17 (f)
Thermal coal 17 885 11 886 13 956 17 846 17 641 19 943 20 390 21 635 21 604
Metallurgical coal 36 813 24 526 29 793 31 094 30 122 33 321 34 757 34 754 34 932
Total 54 698 36 412 43 749 48 940 47 763 53 264 55 147 56 389 56 536

Source: ABARE Australian Commodities March Quarter 2010 and BREE Resources and Energy Quarterly March quarter 2012. (f) forecast.

1IEA's Paper on Power Generation from Coal 2011—Ongoing Developments and Outlook
2Based on 2010 rate of production.

More information

For more information about Australia's coal resources, see the Geoscience Australia website.

For more information about mineral commodities in Australia see Australia's mineral commodities.

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