I got tired of coal

in STEMGeeks8 days ago

Hello Hello!!! I am back! And I think I’m gonna keep up this pace of writing every other day or so since I’ve been trying to look for labs that are actually much closer to my house.

Other than job hunting, I was also planning to finish a few drawings I was working on, but then I remembered that someone actually appreciated and looked forward to my scientist side so here it is! 😃

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Chemist Hanzell Without coffee yet

For today, I thought about the sample I had to analyze in the previous laboratory I worked for. I was actually in the minerals division and we handled ores, fertilizers and coal. After much thinking, I think I’ll start off with coal since Everyone has this huge misconception about it only being used for supplying energy, when really, it has just as much industrial and residential use as ores or fertilizer.

So coal. Coal is a decayed matter. Usually from ancient plants or animals. Fossil fuel, in short. It’s a type of non renewable energy source (as what we’re taught in schools) and if we’re being honest, it’s really inexpensive yet land feuds and the claims over reserves persist and that’s why it affects everything when coal prices move.

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Coal samples that get sent to the lab

Anyways, in most cases, it IS used as a power source, especially for big countries and first world countries (The US alone, around 23% of its electricity is derived from coal (2019 survey)). Or countries that have a coal deposit somewhere AND has the means to process that coal into energy (power plants). But then, what people don’t know is that it has many more uses such as metal production. Yes, coal is used for making metals that we use in construction. It’s also used for cement production. The key ingredient for cement is usually a byproduct of coal. It’s also the source of your LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) and is often further processed into other chemicals like methanol, ammonia and urea. Those which are either used in the lab or are mixed into the fertilizers that the agricultural sector uses.

To further familiarize you guys with coal, I think it’s best to talk about the different types of coal or ranks it has. I believe they refer to it as ranks because of the vitrinite reflectance (measure of the incident light reflected from the surface of a polished vitrinite (I believe this is a crystal as well, not sure, we never had to rank the coal that came in the lab). So this is based on Optical microscopy. Aside from that, rank is also based on moisture content. Moisture is what we use to identify coal ranks in the lab since it’s more reliable for us.

The highest ranked coal is called Anthracite. “Hard coal” is its secondary name. It’s ranked the highest because of the extremely low volatile matter present in its constitution, as well as the % carbon. It has about 86-97% carbon. For us analysts, this is actually the easiest sample we can have… unless it was derived from ferrous pyrite, then you’ll have a case of magnetic coal on your plate. But then, if you consider that magnetic property, and the high heat value/calorific value (and high combustibility) it makes it highly ideal for metal production (mostly gold, platinum, silver. The ones used for tech fabrication) since a lot of metals melt at higher temperatures and the slow burning of this specific coal makes it ideal for continuous smelting. It’s also good to keep in mind that the fire this coal produces is one of the purest (Combustion is usually complete and sulfur content is low so there’s little need to consider environmental impact). Sadly, it’s so hard to come by this kind of coal. I believe the biggest deposits of this are in the middle east, africa and some places in central europe.

coal-anthracite-380.jpg
Shiny anthracite
Source: https://geology.com/rocks/coal.shtml

Next, you have your Bituminous coal coming in second. This is what they refer to as “Soft coal”. This coal rank has about 45-86% carbon and it would take approximately 1oo-300 million years to form this. Based on my experience, this type of coal was always sent to us in powders because after analysis, it’s immediately sent to power plants for energy production. Yup! This is the one they use for energy production because its heat value/calorific value is on par with anthracite, but then, it’s also used for producing gas (Hydrogen, Ammonia and LPG because of its high volatile matter content). That is upon burning the powders, but because of that high volatile matter content, it either turns to coke (mixed in cement or is used to produce ammonia gas) or to asphalt, both which are used for construction (and both which I already tested in a different lab I worked in)

coal-380.jpg
Highly cleaved and leyered sedimentary Bituminous coal
Source: https://geology.com/rocks/coal.shtml

Sub Bituminous coals have no other name, but their carbon content is around 35-45%. This is the main energy producer, and one of the biggest air pollutants because of the high volatile matter content, nitrogen content, and sulfur content. It’s relatively young coal since it only takes 100 million years to form this, so you can see why the contaminants are still considerably high for this coal rank. Despite the contaminant content, it’s still widely used for energy production and for cement production since its ashing is relatively high. In some literature I’ve read before, in my old workplace, This Coal rank is counted as a sub-rank since it’s usually interchanged with bituminous coal and lignite. What I found interesting about this rank though, is that it’s one of the most chemically modified coal, and that modification is often to enhance the energy output once it gets processed.

Last on the list is Lignite (though peat is considerably lower ranked, but most surveyors and geologists don’t consider it a rank anymore). Lignite is brown coal and the youngest coal. It also has the highest moisture and contaminant content, the lowest heat value and the lowest energy output. Despite this though, it’s still used in the energy sector. I’m pretty much against it though because this coal is the biggest greenhouse gas contributor. And the last time I handled this kind of coal in the lab, there were chunks of animal and plant matter in it, and it was so gross to have to remove those one by one.
I believe some countries wrote about how drying lignite first before using it for energy production has lessened the pollutant output, but still, it doesn’t really remove the fact that pollutants are still being emitted and that is a big no for me.

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High moisture Lignite
Source: https://geology.com/rocks/coal.shtml

Stuff I used to use for coal analysis before

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Coal room. this is where the Bomb calorimeter, sulfur analyzer, CHN content analyzer is placed cuz they need to be in cold temperatures

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Coal ovens/my valentine's date this 2022

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Coal crucibles for moisture/moisture dish

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Coal crucible for volatile matter. This one is the Nickel-Chromium one but we also have the platinum crucibles.

That's all from me today~~!!! Thank you for taking the time to go through my extremely nerdy discussion of coaland its ranks

Sources:
Applied Petrology

https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-08-045051-3.00001-4
Fuel Flexible Energy Generation, 2016
https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-1-78242-378-2.00002-X
Plant Engineer’s Handbook, 2001
https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-075067328-0/50023-9
Materials for Ultra-Supercritical and advanced Ultra-supercritical Power plants, 2017
https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-08-100552-1.00001-4
Low-Rank Coals for Power generation, Fuel and chemical production
https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-08-100552-1.00001-4

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 7 days ago 

On a scale from 1 to 10, how much fun are you having?

!discovery 41

Fun in what sense?

 7 days ago 

In job satisfaction.

I'd say 8 because I enjoyed the constantly exploding samples but I hated that the samples they bring in always comes in overwhelming numbers

Yay! 🤗
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Your job is really cool! But how do you go to work without coffee?

Valentines day? Is that day not in February for you in the PH?

I spent today laying out woodchips to put carbon back into the soil here.

You might find this video really cool!

I actually have coffee while waiting for the equipment to warm up and to calibrate since that takes about 40 minutes to 1 hour, plenty of time for coffee.
And that valentine's Day was the recent valentine's since I didn't have a date, I dated my samples 😂🤣

Wood chips in soil? Are you composting? Or are you doing the soil sequestering like in the vids too? I'm not familiar with the process of that, actually because soil rehabilitation methods here involve metal leaching then compost dumping tho that produces a lot of natural gas

Yup, you did that, you just made coal sound cool.

I'm glad I spotted your artwork the other day. Can never have too many resident chemists. Welcome to Hive.

It's always been cool-
Because all the analysis types it has always involves explosions 😅😅 and idk, it always sounds like there's war in the coal room whenever there's coal

Absolutely awesome writing. THIS is what I wanted, thank you :-)

But, as an elderly nerd myself, I have a question...

In the UK, there are many preserved railway lines that run steam trains but many have stopped running because the 'special' coal they need is expensive and only imported in small quantities. I could Google the reasons and trawl through endless crap to get the answer but why bother when Hive has you!

TIA ;-)

Yeah, that's anthracite that they call special coal and that's so hard to get. Like we've only ever experienced handling that once or twice in a span of 6 months and the lots they come in are so few, so you can tell that it's hard to find reserves of that worldwide. If I recall on coal history, steam engines did experiment with bituminous coal and sub bituminous but there's just way too much soot and the burning is much much shorter. I think the steam trains still running on coal use high-grade bituminous coal because it's pretty close to anthracite quality

Ahhhhh thank you! That's why its so expensive. We must have obviously had loads of this under the UK until they closed all the hundreds of mines down in the late 80s and early 90s! Now we have just 2 working coal mines left.

The best experiment I ever did at school was heating a lump of coal in a test tube until it produced coal gas! (What a good memory I have, that was an awfully long time ago!)

I think so because most Europe and UK coal that ever visited the lab were all such good quality ones 🥲🥲 and the moisture was so low so the correction for each analysis was so minimal, it made my life easy

Oh you guys got to heat coal? That's cool OwO our lab was mostly for industrial applications

This was at school, in the 80s, long before health and safety. We had a bunsen burner, a test tube with a lump of coal in the bottom and we heated it. Eventually the gases coming off would catch alight and it was like a jet engine. A bit smelly but anything involving flames is good in my book :-) Before we had nice clean North Sea Gas, this is how we made all our gas in the UK, from the coking plants. The pollution around where I lived, in a very big mining area was horrendous back then!

Ahh I wasn't even born at this time 🤣
It must've been cool to see coal combusting in just a test tube because the analysis I have has like... A double layer of bullet proof glass? For safety reasons or extra dense metal/ceramic containers
I remember my old profs telling me how they used to make bombs in the lab because my uni became a military shelter that taught all chemical engineering students and chemistry students how to prepare for war (because I think it was from people power and continued practice after ww2).


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Ohh I didn't know you could share that on twitter

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