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Coal facts

Coal is an organically derived material. It is formed from the remains of decayed plant material compacted into a solid through millions of years of chemical changes under pressure and heat. Its rich carbon content gives coal most of its energy content. When coal is burned in the presence of air or oxygen, heat energy is released.

This energy can then be converted to other forms of useful energy. Primary applications for coal are thermal (e.g., electricity generation) and metallurgical (e.g., coking or steelmaking coal).

Key facts

  • The main use of coal is electricity generation
  • Coal is also a key ingredient in the manufacturing of steel and cement
  • Canada's coal production in 2019 was 57 million tonnes
  • Canada exported 37 million tonnes of coal and imported 8 million tonnes in 2019
  • Canada is the world's fourth largest exporter of metallurgical coal, after Australia, the United States and Russia
  • Alberta and British Columbia produced 85% of Canada's coal.
  • In 2018, the Government of Canada announced final regulations to phase-out traditional coal-fired electricity by 2030.

Learn more about coal

Coal industry

In 2017, coal made up 27% of the world's energy supply. In Canada, many parts of the nation have abundant low-cost, domestic coal, while other regions have easy access to an international supply.

The Canadian coal industry produces coal for use in metallurgical applications (e.g., coking or steelmaking) and thermal applications (e.g., electricity generation).

Nearly half of the coal produced in Canada is thermal and half is metallurgical. Some power-generating companies not only use coal for electricity generation but also own coal mines or are involved in coal production themselves. Other companies generate electricity from purchased coal.

International context

Global coal production in 2018 is estimated at 7.6 billion tonnes, increasing by 241 million tonnes from 2017. The top 5 producing countries accounted for 76% of the world's coal production.

World coal production, 2008–2018

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This bar chart shows the world's annual coal production from 2008 to 2018. Production in 2008 was 6.7 billion tonnes. It peaked in 2013 at 8.1 billion tonnes, and leveled at 7.6 billion tonnes in 2018.

Find out how Canada’s coal ranks on an international scale:

World Production
World coal production, 2018
Rank Country Million tonnes Percentage of total
1 China 3,337 44%
2 India 762 10%
3 United States 685 9%
4 Indonesia 549 7%
5 Australia 483 6%
13 Canada 57 1%
- Other countries 1,720 23%
- Total 7,591 100%
World exports
World exports, 2018
Rank Country Million tonnes Percentage of total
1 Indonesia 439 31%
2 Australia 382 27%
3 Russia 210 15%
4 United States 105 7%
5 Colombia 82 6%
7 Canada 37 3%
- Other countries 165   12%
- Total 1,420 100%
World imports
World imports, 2018
Rank Country Million tonnes Percentage of total
1 China 281 20%
2 India 223 16%
3 Japan 184 13%
4 South Korea 136 10%
5 Chinese Taipei 67 5%
27 Canada 8 1%
- Other countries 493 34%
- Total 1,392 100%
World proved reserves
World proven reserves, 2018
Rank Country Million tonnes Percentage of total
1 United States 249,537 23%
2 Russia 162,166 15%
3 Australia 149,079 14%
4 China 141,595 13%
5 India 105,931 10%
16 Canada 6,582 1%
- Other countries 255,000 23%
- Total 1,069,636 100%

Trade

Canada's imports of coal imports have trended downwards for over a decade, while exports have held steady. Canada exports about half of its production. The majority of Canada's coal exports go to Asia, which is still a significant consumer.

Canadian coal trade, 2005–2019

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From 2005 to 2013, coal exports increased from 28 million tonnes to almost 40 million tonnes before levelling to approximately 30 million tonnes between 2015 and 2017. Coal imports decreased from 21 million tonnes in 2005 to 7.6 million tonnes in 2018.

In 2019, Canada exported 36.5 million tonnes of coal around the world and imported nearly 8 million tonnes of coal, mostly from the United States. Exports to the United States accounted for 2% of Canadian coal exports, and represented 12% of total United States coal imports.

Canada's exports are primarily metallurgical coal (95% in 2019).

Canadian exports and imports of coal (2019)

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In 2019, Canadian exports of coal were valued at 7.1 billion dollars. The major destinations for those exports were South Korea (25%), Japan (23%), India (14%) and China (13%). Approximately two percent of Canada's coal exports are to the United States, representing 12% of U.S. coal imports. As for Canadian coal imports, 73% come from the United States. Nearly half of all imports are used for the manufacturing of steel, the rest is for electricity generation.

Uses

Coal is used for electricity generation, the manufacturing of steel and cement, and various industrial and residential applications. Canada produced 57 Mt of coal in 2019, of which 53% is metallurgical coal used for steel manufacturing and 47% thermal coal used for electricity.

In Canada, 7.4% of electricity is generated with coal. Electricity generation consumed 26 Mt in 2018, a 49% decrease from 50.7 Mt in 2008.

With the phasing out of coal-fired electricity by the Government of Canada, energy produced by coal will be eliminated by 2030. That said, coal will continue to be used for metallurgical processes.

Global coal demand by sector, 2017

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This circular chart shows the major global sources of demand for coal in percentages in 2017. The largest share of coal was used in electricity generation and heating (67%), followed by iron and steel industries (17%), the chemicals industry (5%), cement manufacturing (4%), and other sectors (8%).

Canadian production

Canadian production of coal remained steady at 57 million tonnes in 2019.

Canadian coal production, 2009–2019

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This bar chart shows Canada's annual mine production of coal from 2009 to 2019. Production was 66 million tonnes in 2009, followed by some period peaks until 2014, when production began trending downwards. Production in 2019 stayed flat from 2018 at 57 million tons.

Coal production
by province, 2019

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Canada produced 57 megatonnes of coal in 2019. Production by province is as follows: British Columbia 48%, Alberta 35%, Saskatchewan 16%, and Nova Scotia at 1%.

Coal fired generating capacityFootnote * by province, 2019

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Canada has a coal-fired electricity generating capacity of 8,801 MW in 2019 (excluding temporarily deactivated capacity). Alberta has the largest proportion of coal-fired generating capacity at 65%, and is followed by Saskatchewan (17%) and Nova Scotia (12%).

Coal used for electricity generation

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Electricity generation consumed 26 Mt in 2018, a 49% decrease from 50.7 Mt in 2008.

Prices

After a peak in 2011, global prices for metallurgical coal started on a downward trajectory until the latter part of 2016, when it peaked at US$273 at the end of November. Since then, the prices have been declining, and have levelled at an average of US$175 per tonne in 2019. Globally, thermal coal prices experienced a similar trend.

Australia, Colombia and South Africa are globally recognized as the three terminal markets that determine global thermal coal prices. Coal prices fluctuate with global economic conditions, and recent price increases have occurred in conjunction with temporary mine disruptions in Australia and mine production curtailments in China.

Global coal prices, 2009–2019

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This graph represents the monthly coal prices (USD) from 2009 to 2019

Find out more about minerals and metals facts

Notes and sources

Numbers may not add to totals due to rounding.

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