About Metallurgical Coal

Metallurgical coal is high-quality black coal primarily used to make coke which is used in the iron and steel making process.

Metallurgical coal can be broken up into two main categories: coking coal and PCI (pulverized coal injection), which is used in the steel industry, as opposed to the lower grade thermal coal used to generate electricity in power plants. It comes in three coking coal categories: hard coking, soft coking, and semi-soft coking. PCI coal is treated as a separate product.

Where is it found?

Metallurgical coal is produced in relatively few countries, with much of it consumed in the country where it is produced. The exception for this is in Australia and Canada where the majority is exported. The world's largest metallurgical coal reserves are in China, however, Australia, Canada, and the USA together make up more than 90% of the seaborne metallurgical coal market, and account for 23% of total global volumes.

End-use products

Almost three-quarters of the metallurgical coal produced around the world is used in the iron and steel industry, with the remainder being mostly used in the smelting of other metal materials, such as zinc. Coke is formed by heating metallurgical coal in an oven at temperatures of more than 1,000 degrees. The coking process fuses together all the fixed carbon and residual ash, with the volatile components of the coal (water, hydrocarbons, coal tar) being driven off. The coke is then fed into the blast furnace where it acts as a reducing agent and converts iron ore into molten iron (pig iron). The pig iron is then fed into a blast oxygen furnace where it is turned into crude steel.

High-quality metallurgical coal has low impurity levels (ash) and strong caking properties: the ability of coal to be softened, liquefied, and resolidified into hard and porous lumps that is strong enough to resist the weight of overburden in the blast furnace. PCI coal is crushed into a fine powder and injected directly into blast furnaces as a replacement for coke in the production of pig iron. PCI coals are high-energy and carbon content coals.