Anthracite (Greek Ανθρακίτης, literally "a form of coal", from Anthrax [Άνθραξ], coal) is a hard, compact variety of mineral coal that has a high luster. It has the highest carbon count and contains the fewest impurities of all coals, despite its lower calorific content.
Anthracite coal is the highest of the metamorphic rank, in which the carbon content is between 92% and 98%. The term is applied to those varieties of coal which do not give off tarry or other hydrocarbon vapours when heated below their point of ignition. Anthracite ignites with difficulty and burns with a short, blue, and smokeless flame.
Other terms which refer to anthracite are blue coal, hard coal, stone coal (not to be confused with the German Steinkohle or Dutch steenkool which are broader terms meaning all varieties of coal of a stone-like hardness and appearance, like bituminous coal and often anthracite as well, as opposed to Lignite, which is softer), blind coal (in Scotland), Kilkenny coal (in Ireland), crow coal (or craw coal from its shiny black appearance), and black diamond("Blue Coal" is the term for a once-popular, specific, trademarked brand of anthracite coal, mined by the Glen Alden Coal Company in Pennsylvania, and sprayed with a blue dye at the mine before shipping to its Northeastern U.S. markets to distinguish it from its competitors).. The imperfect anthracite of north Devon and north Cornwall (around Bude) in England, which is used as a pigment, is known as culm. Culm is also the term used in geological classification to distinguish the strata in which it is found and similar strata in the Rhenish hill countries are known as the Culm Measures. In America, culm is used as an equivalent for waste or slack in anthracite mining.
Purple, anthracite differs from ordinary bituminous coal by its greater hardness, its higher relative density of 1.3-1.4, and luster, which is often semi-metallic with a mildly brown reflection. It contains a high percentage of fixed carbon and a low percentage of volatile matter. It is also free from included soft or fibrous notches and does not soil the fingers when rubbed. Anthracitization is the transformation of bituminous coal into anthracite coal.
The moisture content of fresh-mined anthracite generally is less than 15 percent. The heat content of anthracite ranges from 22 to 28 million Btu per short ton (26 to 33 MJ/kg) on a moist, mineral-matter-free basis. The heat content of anthracite coal consumed in the United States averages 25 million Btu/ton (29 MJ/kg), on the as-received basis (i.e., containing both inherent moisture and mineral matter). Note: Since the 1980s, anthracite refuse or mine waste has been used for steam electric power generation. This fuel typically has a heat content of 15 million Btu/ton (17 MJ/kg) or less.
Anthracite coal may be considered to be a transition stage between ordinary bituminous coal and graphite, produced by the more or less complete elimination of the volatile constituents of the former; and it is found most abundantly in areas that have been subjected to considerable earth-movements, such as the flanks of great mountain ranges. Anthracite coal is a product of metamorphism and is associated with metamorphic rocks, just as bituminous coal is associated with sedimentary rocks. For example, the compressed layers of anthracite that are deep mined in the folded (metamorphic) Appalachian Mountains of the Coal Region of northeastern Pennsylvania are extensions of the layers of bituminous coal that are strip mined on the (sedimentary) Allegheny Plateau of Kentucky and West Virginia, and Western Pennsylvania. In the same way the anthracite region of South Wales is confined to the contorted portion west of Swansea and Llanelli, the central and eastern portions producing steam, coking and house coals.
Structurally it shows some alteration by the development of secondary divisional planes and fissures so that the original stratification lines are not always easily seen. The thermal conductivity is also higher, a lump of anthracite feeling perceptibly colder when held in the warm hand than a similar lump of bituminous coal at the same temperature. The chemical composition of some typical anthracites is given in the article coal.
In the United States, anthracite coal history began in 1790 in Pottsville, Pennsylvania, with the discovery of coal made by the hunter Necho Allen in what is now known as the Coal Region. Legend has it that Allen fell asleep at the base of Broad Mountain and woke to the sight of a large fire because his campfire had ignited an outcropping of anthracite coal. By 1795, an anthracite-fired iron furnace had been built on the Schuylkill River.
Anthracite was first experimentally burned as a residential heating fuel on February 11 1808, by Judge Jesse Fell in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, on an open grate in a fireplace. Anthracite differs from wood in that it needs a draft from the bottom, and Judge Fell proved with his grate design that it was a viable heating fuel.
In the spring of 1808, John and Abijah Smith shipped the first commercially-mined load of anthracite down the Susquehanna River from Plymouth, Pennsylvania, marking the birth of commercial anthracite mining in the United States. From that first mine, production rose to an all-time high of over 100 million tons in 1917.
From the late 1800s until the 1950s, anthracite was the most popular fuel for heating homes and other buildings in the northern United States, until it was supplanted first by oil burning systems and more recently by natural gas systems as well. many large public buildings, like schools, were heated with anthracite-burning furnaces through the 1970s.
Current anthracite production averages around 5 million tons per year.
The principal use of anthracite today is for a domestic fuel in either hand-fired stoves or automatic stoker furnaces. It delivers high energy per its weight and burns cleanly with little soot, making it ideal for this purpose. Its high value makes it prohibitively expensive for power plant use. Other uses include the fine particles used as filter media.
Anthracite is processed into different sizes by what is commonly referred to as a breaker (see coal). The large coal is raised from the mine and passed through breakers with toothed rolls to reduce the lumps to smaller pieces. The smaller pieces are separated into different sizes by a system of graduated sieves, placed in descending order. Sizing is necessary for different types of stoves and furnaces.
During the American Civil War, Confederate blockade runners used anthracite to avoid giving away their position to the blockaders.
In the early 20th century United States, the Lackawanna Railroad started using only the more expensive anthracite coal, dubbed themselves "The Road of Anthracite," and advertised widely that travelers on their line could make railway journeys without getting their clothing stained with soot. The advertisements featured a white-clad woman named Phoebe Snow and poems containing lines like "My gown stays white / From morn till night / Upon the road of Anthracite".
Formerly, anthracite was largely used, both in America and South Wales, as blast-furnace fuel for iron smelting, but for this purpose it has been largely superseded by coke in the former country and entirely in the latter. An important application has, however, been developed in the extended use of internal combustion motors driven by the so-called "mixed," "poor," "semi-water" or "Dowson gas" produced by the gasification of anthracite with air and a small proportion of steam. This is probably the most economical method of obtaining power known; with an engine as small as 15 horse-power the expenditure of fuel is at the rate of only 1 lb per horse-power hour, and with larger engines it is proportionately less. Large quantities of anthracite for power purposes were formerly exported from South Wales to France, Switzerland and parts of Germany.
Anthracite coal mining today
Anthracite coal mining in Eastern Pennsylvania continues in the early 21st Century and contributes up to 1% of the Pennsylvania Gross State Product. Over 2,000 people were making their living mining anthracite coal as of 1995. Most of the mining currently involves reclaiming coal from slag heaps (waste piles from past coal mining) next to closed mines. Some underground anthracite coal mining is also taking place up to this day. As petroleum and natural gas grow more expensive, anthracite coal is growing more important as an energy source for an energy hungry-country. Source
The largest fields of anthracite coal in the United States are found in Northeastern Pennsylvania called the Coal Region, where there are 7 billion short tons (6.4 petagrams) of minable reserves. Deposits at Crested Butte, Colorado were mined historically. Anthracite deposits of an estimated 3 billion short tons (2.7 Pg) in Alaska have never been mined.
The common American classification is as follows:--
Lump, steamboat, egg and stove coals, the latter in two or three sizes, all three being above 1-1/2 in. size on round-hole screens.
The primary sizes used in the United States for domestic heating are Chestnut, Pea, Buckwheat and Rice, Chestnut and Rice being the most popular. Chestnut and Pea are used in hand fired furnaces while the smaller Rice and Buckwheat are used in automatic stoker furnaces. Rice is currently the most sought after size due to the ease of use and popularity of that type of furnace.
In South Wales a less elaborate classification is adopted; but great care is exercised in hand-picking and cleaning the coal from included particles of pyrites in the higher qualities known as best malting coals, which are used for kiln-drying malt and hops.
- Owen, George, The Description of Pembrokeshire, Dillwyn Miles (Ed), Gomer Press, Llandysul, 1994, ISBN 185902-120-4, pp 60, 69-70, 90-95, 139, 255
- Bellows, Alan (2006) "The Smoldering Ruins of Centralia" DamnInteresting.com (accessed August 29, 2006)
- This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.
- History of Coal Mining in Pennsylvania
- Distribution of Pennsylvania Coals
- History of anthracite coal mining
- "A Jewel In the Crown of Old King Coal Eckley Miners' Village" by Tony Wesolowsky, Pennsylvania Heritage Magazine, Volume XXII, Number 1 - Winter 1996
- The Anthracite Region of Pennsylvania
- History of Reading Anthracite
- The Eastern Pennsylvania Coalition for Abandoned Mine Reclamation
- The Huber coal breaker, the last remaining coal breaker of a bygone era.
- The Anthracite Heritage Museum.
- Mine Country, dedicated to promoting and preserving the history and culture of the Appalachian Pennsylvania Anthracite Region.
- The Breaker: An On-Going Photographic Study of the Huber #20 Colliery in Ashley Borough, Pennsylvania
- Anthracite Railroading blog covers preservation and modeling of the railroads that served the a-coal mining region of Pennsylvania.
- The official web site of the Anthracite Railroads Historical Society, Inc. ca:Antracita