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Braunkohle als Hausbrand.jpg
A lignite stockpile (above) and a lignite briquette

Lignite, often referred to as brown coal, [1] is a soft, brown, combustible, sedimentary rock formed from naturally compressed peat. It is considered the lowest rank of coal due to its relatively low heat content. It has a carbon content around 60–70 percent. [1] It is mined all around the world, is used almost exclusively as a fuel for steam-electric power generation, and is the coal which is most harmful to health. [2]

Combustion high-temperature exothermic redox chemical reaction between a fuel (the reductant) and an oxidant, usually atmospheric oxygen, that produces oxidized in a mixture termed as smoke

Combustion, or burning, is a high-temperature exothermic redox chemical reaction between a fuel and an oxidant, usually atmospheric oxygen, that produces oxidized, often gaseous products, in a mixture termed as smoke. Combustion in a fire produces a flame, and the heat produced can make combustion self-sustaining. Combustion is often a complicated sequence of elementary radical reactions. Solid fuels, such as wood and coal, first undergo endothermic pyrolysis to produce gaseous fuels whose combustion then supplies the heat required to produce more of them. Combustion is often hot enough that incandescent light in the form of either glowing or a flame is produced. A simple example can be seen in the combustion of hydrogen and oxygen into water vapor, a reaction commonly used to fuel rocket engines. This reaction releases 242 kJ/mol of heat and reduces the enthalpy accordingly :

Sedimentary rock Rock formed by the deposition and subsequent cementation of material

Sedimentary rocks are types of rock that are formed by the accumulation or deposition of small particules and subsequent cementation of mineral or organic particles on the floor of oceans or other bodies of water at the Earth's surface. Sedimentation is the collective name for processes that cause these particles to settle in place. The particles that form a sedimentary rock are called sediment, and may be composed of geological detritus (minerals) or biological detritus. Before being deposited, the geological detritus was formed by weathering and erosion from the source area, and then transported to the place of deposition by water, wind, ice, mass movement or glaciers, which are called agents of denudation. Biological detritus was formed by bodies and parts of dead aquatic organisms, as well as their fecal mass, suspended in water and slowly piling up on the floor of water bodies. Sedimentation may also occur as dissolved minerals precipitate from water solution.

Peat accumulation of partially decayed vegetation

Peat, also known as turf, is an accumulation of partially decayed vegetation or organic matter. It is unique to natural areas called peatlands, bogs, mires, moors, or muskegs. The peatland ecosystem is the most efficient carbon sink on the planet, because peatland plants capture CO2 naturally released from the peat, maintaining an equilibrium. In natural peatlands, the "annual rate of biomass production is greater than the rate of decomposition", but it takes "thousands of years for peatlands to develop the deposits of 1.5 to 2.3 m [4.9 to 7.5 ft], which is the average depth of the boreal [northern] peatlands". Sphagnum moss, also called peat moss, is one of the most common components in peat, although many other plants can contribute. The biological features of Sphagnum mosses act to create a habitat aiding peat formation, a phenomenon termed 'habitat manipulation'. Soils consisting primarily of peat are known as histosols. Peat forms in wetland conditions, where flooding or stagnant water obstructs the flow of oxygen from the atmosphere, slowing the rate of decomposition.



Lignite mining, western North Dakota, US (c. 1945) Lignite mining in Western North Dakota.jpg
Lignite mining, western North Dakota, US (c. 1945)

Lignite is brownish-black in color and has a carbon content around 60–70 percent, a high inherent moisture content sometimes as high as 75 percent, [1] and an ash content ranging from 6–19 percent compared with 6–12 percent for bituminous coal. [3]

Bituminous coal collective term for higher quality coal

Bituminous coal or black coal is a relatively soft coal containing a tarlike substance called bitumen or asphalt. It is of higher quality than lignite coal but of poorer quality than anthracite. Formation is usually the result of high pressure being exerted on lignite. Its coloration can be black or sometimes dark brown; often there are well-defined bands of bright and dull material within the seams. These distinctive sequences, which are classified according to either "dull, bright-banded" or "bright, dull-banded", is how bituminous coals are stratigraphically identified.

Strip mining lignite at Tagebau Garzweiler in Germany Garzweiler surface mine, October 2018, -01.jpg
Strip mining lignite at Tagebau Garzweiler in Germany

The energy content of lignite ranges from 10 to 20 MJ/kg (9–17 million BTU per short ton) on a moist, mineral-matter-free basis. The energy content of lignite consumed in the United States averages 15 MJ/kg (13 million BTU/ton), on the as-received basis (i.e., containing both inherent moisture and mineral matter). The energy content of lignite consumed in Victoria, Australia, averages 8.4 MJ/kg (7.3 million BTU/ton).

The British thermal unit is a traditional unit of heat; it is defined as the amount of heat required to raise the temperature of one pound of water by one degree Fahrenheit. It is also part of the United States customary units. Its counterpart in the metric system is the calorie, which is defined as the amount of heat required to raise the temperature of one gram of water by one degree Celsius. Heat is now known to be equivalent to energy, for which the SI unit is the joule; one BTU is about 1055 joules. While units of heat are often supplanted by energy units in scientific work, they are still used in many fields. As examples, in the United States the price of natural gas is quoted in dollars per million BTUs.

The short ton is a unit of mass equal to 2,000 pounds-mass. The unit is most commonly used in the United States where it is known simply as the ton.

Lignite has a high content of volatile matter which makes it easier to convert into gas and liquid petroleum products than higher-ranking coals. Unfortunately, its high moisture content and susceptibility to spontaneous combustion can cause problems in transportation and storage. It is now known that efficient processes which remove latent moisture locked within the structure of brown coal will relegate the risk of spontaneous combustion to the same level as black coal, transform the calorific value of brown coal to a black coal equivalent fuel, and significantly reduce the emissions profile of 'densified' brown coal to a level similar to or better than most black coals. [4] However, removing the moisture increases the cost of the final lignite fuel.

Spontaneous combustion

Spontaneous combustion or spontaneous ignition is a type of combustion which occurs by self-heating, followed by thermal runaway and finally, autoignition.

Black coal equivalent (BCE) is an export coal product derived from the Coldry Process, a patented coal upgrading technology operated by Environmental Clean Technologies Limited, in Victoria, Australia. The Coldry Process is applied to brown coal (lignite) with a typical moisture content of 60 per cent by weight and transforms the coal into a densified coal product of equal or better calorific value to typical export quality black coal, with less ash and sulfur content. Black coal equivalent derived from brown coal is ostensibly a 'cleaner' burning coal fuel than most black coals.


Layer of lignite for mining in Lom CSA, Czech Republic Lom CSA Most Czech Republic 2016 7.jpg
Layer of lignite for mining in Lom ČSA, Czech Republic

Because of its low energy density and typically high moisture content, brown coal is inefficient to transport and is not traded extensively on the world market compared with higher coal grades. It is often burned in power stations near the mines, such as in Australia's Latrobe Valley and Luminant's Monticello plant in Texas. Primarily because of latent high moisture content and low energy density of brown coal, carbon dioxide emissions from traditional brown-coal-fired plants are generally much higher per megawatt generated than for comparable black-coal plants, with the world's highest-emitting plant being Hazelwood Power Station [5] until its closure in March 2017. [6] The operation of traditional brown-coal plants, particularly in combination with strip mining, can be politically contentious due to environmental concerns. [7] [8]

Energy density is the amount of energy stored in a given system or region of space per unit volume. Colloquially it may also be used for energy per unit mass, though the accurate term for this is specific energy. Often only the useful or extractable energy is measured, which is to say that inaccessible energy is ignored. In cosmological and other general relativistic contexts, however, the energy densities considered are those that correspond to the elements of the stress–energy tensor and therefore do include mass energy as well as energy densities associated with the pressures described in the next paragraph.

Latrobe Valley Region in Victoria, Australia

The Latrobe Valley is an inland geographical district and urban area of the Gippsland region in the state of Victoria, Australia. The district lies east of the Melbourne and nestled between the Strzelecki Ranges to the south and the Baw Baw Ranges, part of the Great Dividing Range, to the north. Mount Baw Baw is the highest peak to the north of the Latrobe Valley, due north of Moe. The highest peak to the south is Mt Tassie, south of Traralgon.


Luminant is a Texas-based electric utility. It is a wholly owned subsidiary of Energy Future Holdings Corporation. Luminant's operations include electricity generation and wholesaling, mining, construction, and development. The company has capacity for the generation of 18,300 megawatts (MW) of electricity in 20 power plants spread across Texas, of which 2,300 MW come from nuclear power generated at the company's Comanche Peak Nuclear Power Plant, 5,800 MW from coal-fired power plants, and the remainder from natural gas-fired plants. Luminant is also a major purchaser of wind power.

In 2014, about 12 percent of Germany's energy and, specifically, 27 percent of Germany's electricity came from lignite power plants, [9] while in 2014 in Greece, lignite provided about 50 percent of its power needs.

Energy in Germany is sourced predominantly by fossil fuels, followed by nuclear power, biomass, wind, hydro and solar.

Energy in Greece

Energy production in Greece is dominated by the state owned Public Power Corporation. In 2009 DEI supplied for 85.6% of all electric energy demand in Greece, while the number fell to 77.3% in 2010. Almost half (48%) of DEI's power output is generated using lignite, a drop from the 51.6% in 2009.

An environmentally beneficial use of lignite can be found in its use in cultivation and distribution of biological control microbes that suppress plant disease causing microbes. The carbon enriches the organic matter in the soil while the biological control microbes provide an alternative to chemical pesticides. [10]

Reaction with quaternary amine forms a product called amine-treated lignite (ATL), which is used in drilling mud to reduce fluid loss during drilling.


Pendant in lignite (jet) from the Magdalenian culture Pendeloque en lignite Marsoulas MHNT.PRE.2012.0.6.95.jpg
Pendant in lignite (jet) from the Magdalenian culture

Lignite begins as an accumulation of partially decayed plant material, or peat. Burial by other sediments results in increasing temperature, depending on the local geothermal gradient and tectonic setting, and increasing pressure. This causes compaction of the material and loss of some of the water and volatile matter (primarily methane and carbon dioxide). This process, called coalification, concentrates the carbon content, and thus the heat content, of the material. Deeper burial and the passage of time result in further expulsion of moisture and volatile matter, eventually transforming the material into higher-rank coals such as bituminous and anthracite coal. [11]

Lignite deposits are typically younger than higher-ranked coals, with the majority of them having formed during the Tertiary period.



The Latrobe Valley in Victoria, Australia, contains estimated reserves of some 65 billion tonnes of brown coal. [12] The deposit is equivalent to 25 percent of known world reserves. The coal seams are up to 100 metres thick, with multiple coal seams often giving virtually continuous brown coal thickness of up to 230 metres. Seams are covered by very little overburden (10 to 20 metres). [12]


Lignite can be separated into two types. The first is xyloid lignite or fossil wood and the second form is the compact lignite or perfect lignite.

Although xyloid lignite may sometimes have the tenacity and the appearance of ordinary wood, it can be seen that the combustible woody tissue has experienced a great modification. It is reducible to a fine powder by trituration, and if submitted to the action of a weak solution of potash, it yields a considerable quantity of humic acid. [13] Leonardite is an oxidized form of lignite, which also contains high levels of humic acid. [14]

Jet is a hardened, gem-like form of lignite used in various types of jewelry.


Lignite mined in millions of metric tons
Country or territory1970198019902000201020112012201320142015
Flag of East Germany.svg  East Germany 261258.1280 [lower-alpha 1] [lower-alpha 1] [lower-alpha 1] [lower-alpha 1] [lower-alpha 1] [lower-alpha 1] [lower-alpha 1]
Flag of Germany.svg  Germany 108 [lower-alpha 2] 129.9 [lower-alpha 2] 107.6 [lower-alpha 2] 167.7169176.5185.4183178.2178.1
Flag of the People's Republic of China.svg  China 24.345.547.7125.3136.3145147145140
Flag of Russia.svg  Russia 145 [lower-alpha 3] 141 [lower-alpha 3] 137.3 [lower-alpha 3] 87.876.176.477.9737073.2
Flag of Kazakhstan.svg  Kazakhstan [lower-alpha 4] [lower-alpha 4] [lower-alpha 4]
Flag of Uzbekistan.svg  Uzbekistan [lower-alpha 4] [lower-alpha 4] [lower-alpha 4]
Flag of the United States.svg  United States 542.879.977.671.073.671.670.172.164.7
Flag of Poland.svg  Poland 36.967.659.556.562.864.36663.963.1
Flag of Turkey.svg  Turkey 14.544.460.970.072.568.157.562.650.4
Flag of Australia (converted).svg  Australia 32.94667.368.866.769.159.958.063.0
Flag of Greece.svg  Greece 23.251.963.956.558.761.8544846
Flag of India.svg  India 514.124.237.742.343.54547.243.9
Flag of Indonesia.svg  Indonesia 40.051.360.
Flag of the Czech Republic.svg  Czechoslovakia 828771 [lower-alpha 5] [lower-alpha 5] [lower-alpha 5] [lower-alpha 5] [lower-alpha 5] [lower-alpha 5] [lower-alpha 5]
Flag of the Czech Republic.svg  Czech Republic [lower-alpha 6] [lower-alpha 6] [lower-alpha 6] 50.143.846.643.54038.338.3
Flag of Slovakia.svg  Slovakia [lower-alpha 6] [lower-alpha 6] [lower-alpha 6]
Flag of Yugoslavia (1946-1992).svg  Yugoslavia 33.764.1 [lower-alpha 7] [lower-alpha 7] [lower-alpha 7] [lower-alpha 7] [lower-alpha 7] [lower-alpha 7] [lower-alpha 7]
Flag of Serbia.svg  Serbia [lower-alpha 8] [lower-alpha 8] [lower-alpha 8] 35.5 [lower-alpha 9] 37.840.63840.129.737.3
Flag of Kosovo.svg  Kosovo [lower-alpha 8] [lower-alpha 8] [lower-alpha 8] [lower-alpha 10] 8.7 [lower-alpha 11] 9 [lower-alpha 11] 8.7 [lower-alpha 11] 8.2 [lower-alpha 11] 7.2 [lower-alpha 11] 8.2 [lower-alpha 11]
Flag of North Macedonia.svg  North Macedonia [lower-alpha 8] [lower-alpha 8] [lower-alpha 8]
Flag of Bosnia and Herzegovina.svg  Bosnia and Herzegovina [lower-alpha 8] [lower-alpha 8] [lower-alpha 8] 3.4117.
Flag of Slovenia.svg  Slovenia [lower-alpha 8] [lower-alpha 8] [lower-alpha 8] 3.744.14
Flag of Montenegro.svg  Montenegro [lower-alpha 8] [lower-alpha 8] [lower-alpha 8] [lower-alpha 10] 1.922
Flag of Romania.svg  Romania 26.533.72931.135.534.124.723.625.2
Flag of Bulgaria.svg  Bulgaria 3031.526.329.437.132.526.531.335.9
Flag of Albania.svg  Albania 1.42.13014920
Flag of Thailand.svg  Thailand 1.512.417.818.321.318.318.11815.2
Flag of Mongolia.svg  Mongolia
Flag of Canada (Pantone).svg  Canada 69.411.
Flag of Hungary.svg  Hungary 22.617.3149.
Flag of North Korea.svg  North Korea 1010.
Source: World Coal Association [15]  · U.S. Energy Information Administration [16]  · BGR Energiestudie 2016 [17]  ·1970 data from World Coal (1987) [18]

no data available

  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 East Germany became a part of Germany as a result of German reunification in 1990.
  2. 1 2 3 Data prior to 2000 are for West Germany only.
  3. 1 2 3 Data prior to 2000 represent the Soviet Union.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Country was a part of the Soviet Union during this time.
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Czechoslovakia dissolved in 1993.
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Country was a part of Czechoslovakia during this time.
  7. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Yugoslavia broke up in a process that concluded in 1992.
  8. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 Country was a part of Yugoslavia during this time.
  9. 2000 data is for Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
  10. 1 2 Country was a part of Federal Republic of Yugoslavia during this time.
  11. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Albanians unilaterally declared independence from Serbia, but the country it is not member of UN and its status is heavily disputed.

See also

Related Research Articles

Coal A combustible sedimentary rock composed primarily of carbon

Coal is a combustible black or brownish-black sedimentary rock, formed as rock strata called coal seams. Coal is mostly carbon with variable amounts of other elements; chiefly hydrogen, sulfur, oxygen, and nitrogen. Coal is formed if dead plant matter decays into peat and over millions of years the heat and pressure of deep burial converts the peat into coal. Vast deposits of coal originates in former wetlands—called coal forests—that covered much of the Earth's tropical land areas during the late Carboniferous (Pennsylvanian) and Permian times.

Anthracite A hard, compact variety of coal that has a submetallic luster

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The heating value of a substance, usually a fuel or food, is the amount of heat released during the combustion of a specified amount of it.

Fossil fuel power station Facility that burns fossil fuels to produce electricity

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Sub-bituminous coal is a type of coal whose properties range from those of lignite to those of bituminous coal and are used primarily as fuel for steam-electric power generation.

Hazelwood Power Station coal-fired power station in Victoria, Australia

The Hazelwood Power Station is a decommissioned brown coal-fuelled thermal power station located in the Latrobe Valley of Victoria, Australia. Built between 1964 and 1971, the 1,600 megawatt capacity power station was made up of eight 200MW units, and supplied up to 25% of Victoria's base load electricity and more than 5% of Australia's total electricity demand. It was a 'subcritical' pulverized coal-fired boiler. The station was listed as the least carbon efficient power station in the OECD in a 2005 report by WWF Australia, making it one of the most polluting power stations in the world. At 1.56 tonnes of CO2 for each megawatt hour of electricity, it was 50% more polluting than the average black coal power station in New South Wales or Queensland. Hazelwood emitted 14% of Victoria's annual greenhouse gas emissions and 3% of Australia's greenhouse gas emissions.

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Blast furnace gas

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Coal analysis techniques are specific analytical methods designed to measure the particular physical and chemical properties of coals. These methods are used primarily to determine the suitability of coal for coking, power generation or for iron ore smelting in the manufacture of steel.

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