Coal takes thousands to milions of years to form in nature. The coal that we use today was formed thousands to millions of years ago as decaying vegetation and animals were pressurized as they were buried into the earth.
Coal is formed when peat is altered physically and chemically. Peat is an accumulation of partially vegetation matter. The process is known as “coalification”. During this process, peat goes through several changes due to bacterial decay, compaction, heat, and time. Peat deposits typically form in waterlogged environments where plant debris has accumulated.
In order for peat to become coal it must be buried by sediment. The burial of the peat causes it to compact and much of the water is squeezed out of it. Elements are dispersed as the compaction continues with the addition of heat and the peat deposit becomes more and more carbon-rich and thus coal is formed.
The stages of this trend proceed from plant debris through peat, lignite, sub-bituminous coal, bituminous coal, anthracite coal, to graphite (a pure carbon mineral).
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