Coal mining is the process of extracting coal from the ground. Coal is valued for its energy content, and, since the 1880s, has been widely used to generate electricity. Steel and cement industries use coal as a fuel for extraction of iron from iron ore and for cement production.
Coal mining has had many developments over the recent years, from the early days of men tunnelling, digging and manually extracting the coal on carts, to large open cut and long wall mines. Mining at this scale requires the use of draglines, trucks, conveyors, hydraulic jacks and shearers.
The most economical method of coal extraction from coal seams depends on the depth and quality of the seams, and the geology and environmental factors. Coal mining processes are differentiated by whether they operate on the surface or underground. Many coals extracted from both surface and underground mines require washing in a coal preparation plant. Technical and economic feasibility are evaluated based on the following: regional geological conditions; overburden characteristics; coal seam continuity, thickness, structure, quality, and depth; strength of materials above and below the seam for roof and floor conditions; topography (especially altitude and slope); climate; land ownership as it affects the availability of land for mining and access; surface drainage patterns; ground water conditions; availability of labor and materials; coal purchaser requirements in terms of tonnage, quality, and destination; and capital investment requirements.
Surface mining and deep underground mining are the two basic methods of mining. The choice of mining method depends primarily on depth, density, overburden and thickness of the coal seam; seams relatively close to the surface, at depths less than approximately 55 m, are usually surface mined.