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Classification and Rank of Coal

a diagram illustrates classification and rank of coal: Peat, Lignite, sub-bituminous, bituminous, anthracite based on burial pressure, heat and time

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The kinds of coal, in increasing order of alteration, are lignite (brown coal--immature), sub-bituminous, bituminous, and anthracite (mature). Coal starts off as peat. After a considerable amount of time, heat, and burial pressure, it is metamorphosed from peat to lignite. Lignite is considered to be "immature" coal at this stage of development because it is still somewhat light in color and it remains soft. As time passes, lignite increases in maturity by becoming darker and harder and is then classified as sub-bituminous coal. As this process of burial and alteration continues, more chemical and physical changes occur and a the coal is classified as bituminous. At this point the coal is dark and hard. Anthracite is the last of the classifications, and this terminology is used when the coal has reached ultimate maturation. Anthracite coal is very hard and shiny.

The degree of alteration (or metamorphism) that occurs as a coal matures from peat to anthracite is referred to as the "rank" of the coal. Low-rank coals include lignite and sub-bituminous coals. These coals have a lower energy content because they have a low carbon content. They are lighter (earthier) and have higher moisture levels. As time, heat, and burial pressure all increase, the rank does as well. High-rank coals, including bituminous and anthracite coals, contain more carbon than lower-rank coals which results in a much higher energy content. They have a more vitreous (shiny) appearance and lower moisture content then lower-rank coals.


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