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Coal Power

Coal is a solid fossil fuel that forms from ancient swamps and is currently the source of most electricity.

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How a Coal Power Plant Works

How a Coal Power Plant Works

Credit: Tennessee Valley Authority
Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Coal_fired_power_plant_diagram.svg
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

Coal is dirty; but relatively cheap and, so far, plentiful. Coal power is here to stay – at least for the foreseeable future.

Why It Matters

  • Coal supplies half of the world’s electricity. Coal supplies most of the electricity in China and its use there is growing. It is also used as a source of heat in many Chinese cities. 
  • Credit: Kai Hendry
    Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/hendry/140068929/
    License: CC BY-NC 3.0

    Coal bricks that are used to heat homes in Beijing [Figure2]

  • Coal power plants convert the energy stored in coal into usable electricity.
  • A coal power plant must be near a water source. River water runs into a coal plant and exits out the plant in a open loop.
  • Liquid water goes to steam and then back again in a closed-loop.

Show What You Know

With the links below, learn more about coal power plants. Then answer the following questions.

  1. Why is the coal powdered before it is mixed with air and burned? Be sure you say the same thing in normal English words.
  2. Describe the process by which the chemical energy in coal is converted into the mechanical energy in steam.
  3. What is the purpose of converting the energy from the coal into steam?
  4. How is an open loop cycle different from a closed loop cycle?
  5. Why does river water get heated by the power plant? What purpose does that serve for the power plant?
  6. What is the pollutant that goes into the water at the plant?

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Image Attributions

  1. [1]^ Credit: Tennessee Valley Authority; Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Coal_fired_power_plant_diagram.svg; License: CC BY-NC 3.0
  2. [2]^ Credit: Kai Hendry; Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/hendry/140068929/; License: CC BY-NC 3.0

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