Coal is formed from the remains of vegetation millions of years ago (hence the name “fossil fuel”). Since coal is formed from plant material is contains carbon which is where most of the energy comes from when fuel is burned. As layers of vegetation built up over time millions of years ago ocean and other water sources washed over it depositing sand and minerals to bury the vegetation. As rocks formed it squeezed the water from the layers of vegetation. As the dried material was pushed further down in the earth, the subsequent heat from being closer to the earth’s core caused it to turn to coal.
Most of the coal we use today is formed from decomposed plant matter that lived approximately 300 million years ago. When these plants died, they turned into peat, which means that they must have died in a marshy area, since the formation of peat is dependent on the presence of water. In fact, the plants might have been killed by rising water levels. The peat was then covered with layers upon layers of sediment carried in by water, and as the sediments built up, the increased pressure on the peat squeezed out all the water and heated the peat up. The combination of pressure, heat and time eventually converted the peat into coal. The greater the pressure and the heat, the more dense and hard the coal becomes. The hardest coal is called anthracite, and this is considered the highest quality coal. Softer coal, known as Bituminous coal, is much more abunant and is use frequently as fuel.
Layers of plant matter build up at the bottom of a body of water. The plant matter becomes covered in mud or acidic water, protecting it from oxidation and biodegrading. The compression on the plant matter forms coal over long periods of time.
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