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Updated June 2024


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Highlights of 2023

Total production of marketable coal decreased by 15% in 2023.

Of all marketable coal produced in 2023,

  • 27% was subbituminous,
  • 67% was thermal bituminous, and
  • 6% was metallurgical bituminous.

About Coal

Coal is a combustible sedimentary rock with more than 50% carbon-rich organic matter. It also contains oxygen, hydrogen, sulphur, nitrogen, ash, and other constituents. Coal is found in many formations across central and southern Alberta, lower-energy-content coals in the plains region and higher energy content coals in the foothills and mountain regions.

Production of coal from mines is considered raw coal. Some coal, particularly coal from the mountain and foothills regions of Alberta, needs to be processed to clean coal before it is sent to market. Collectively, clean coal (usually sold internationally) and raw coal (usually sold within Alberta) are known as marketable coal.

Marketable Coal in Alberta

Companies in Alberta produce three types of marketable coal:

  • Subbituminous coal: This type is found across the plains region of Alberta and is suitable for domestic power production and heating. Subbituminous coal is mainly used to generate electricity and is expected to be adversely affected by the retirement and conversions of coal-fired power plants within Alberta over the forecast period.
  • Metallurgical bituminous coal: Commonly known as coking coal or low-to medium-volatile-ranked coal. This coal is from the mountain region and is exported after processing to be used for industrial applications, such as steel production.
  • Thermal bituminous coal: Known as steaming or high-volatile-ranked coal. Thermal bituminous coal is from the foothills region. It is primarily exported after processing and is used to fuel electricity generators in distant markets. The higher energy content and corresponding monetary value of Alberta’s thermal bituminous coal make it economical for long-distance transport.

Typically, subbituminous coal is burned without needing upgrading, whereas metallurgical and thermal coals are sent in raw form to a preparation plant. To get a higher energy content and economic value for clean coal, a preparation plant washes raw coal, filters out impurities, such as rocks and sediment, and crushes the ore to specified sizes for easier handling.