How is coal processed?
Generally coal does not require a great deal of processing. Most coal preparation or coal benefaction involves separating the coal from impurities such as rock and dirt, and grading the coal into various size fractions using floatation or mechanical techniques.
How is coal transported?
Thermal coal used by Canadian electric utilities comes mostly from nearby "mine-mouth" operations, requiring little or no transportation. But exporting metallurgical and thermal coal from Canada involves rail transportation over long distances.
Coal is the number one commodity carried by rail in Canada. In 2002, railway companies transported just under 37 million tonnes of coal. Coal is transported either 1,200 kilometres from mines in British Columbia and Alberta to the B.C. West Coast for shipment worldwide or 2,300 kilometres to Thunder Bay, Ontario, for shipment to southern Ontario or the United States.
The coal industry works with railways and shipping terminals to continually improve the efficiency of coal transportation systems. One important development has been the unit train. Consisting of up to 125 rail cars, unit trains are designed to be lightweight. Unit trains use less fuel and can be loaded with nearly 14,000 tonnes of coal in less than four hours. They can travel from southeastern B.C. to the West Coast and back in four days, or make the return trip from Thunder Bay in less than six days. This train system, one of the most efficient in the world, helps to control the industry’s transportation costs.
How is coal marketed?
Approximately half of Canada’s total coal production is exported to the Pacific Rim, Europe and South America. The other half is used domestically, primarily for generating electricity as described in the accompanying table.
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