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Part 1: Seeking a stable and beneficial energy mix

Published by
World Coal,

Coal is the most abundant of fossil fuels. Coal supplies about a third of energy used worldwide, and plays an important role in a variety of sectors, including power generation, iron and steel production, cement manufacturing and as a liquid fuel. The majority of coal is either used in power generation which utilises thermal coal or lignite, or in iron and steel production which uses metallurgical coal.

South America

South America is known for its proven recoverable reserves. At end-2017, Brazil’s proven reserves were 6596 million t; reserves from Colombia (the world’s fifth largest exporter of coal) totalled 4881 million t; and Venezuela’s total reserves reached 731 million t. Also last year, Colombia’s coal production totalled 61.4 million toe, while Brazil produced 3 million toe and Venezuela’s production totalled 0.7 million toe.1


Colombia’s vast coal resources are located in the north and west of the country. Data on ‘measured reserves’, published in 2004 by the Instituto Colombiano de Geología y Minería (Ingeominas), Ministerio de Minas y Energía, indicated a total of 7064 million t, of which the Cerrejón Norte, Central and Sur fields in the department of La Guajira accounted for 56% and fields in the department of Cesar for 29%. In this report, the World Energy Council (WEC) Member Committee for Colombia noted proved recoverable reserves of 6508 million t based on the Ingeominas end-2003 measured reserves, adjusted for cumulative coal production in 2004 - 2011, inclusive. ‘Indicated reserves’ quoted by Ingeominas in the aforementioned publication were 4572 million t, whilst ‘inferred’ tonnages were 4237 million and ‘hypothetical’ resources 1120 million. The ‘indicated’ and ‘inferred’ levels were reported by the Member Committee under the headings of ‘probable’ and ‘possible’, respectively.

The development of Colombian coal for export has centred on the Cerrejón deposits, which are located in the Guajira Peninsula in the far north, about 100 km inland from the Caribbean coast. The coal is found in the northern portion of a basin formed by the Cesar and Rancheria rivers; the deposit has been divided by the Government into the North, Central and South Zones.

In 2017, Colombian coal exports totalled 89.44 million t; Cerrejón North remains one of the world’s largest export mines.2

Colombia is the world’s ninth largest producer of hard coals, based on 2016 data.3 The country was also reported to be the fifth largest exporter of coal during 2017.4


The US Geological Survey previously stated that Colombia is the largest coal producer in South America and has the largest reserves in the region. 

In Colombia, the state owns all hydrocarbon reserves and private companies operate coal mines under concession contracts with the state.


Brazil has considerable reserves of sub-bituminous coal, which are mostly located in the southern states of Rio Grande do Sul, Santa Catarina and Paraná.

The Brazilian WEC Member Committee previously reported that the remaining proved amount of sub-bituminous coal in place was 6640 million t. The same source assessed Brazil’s proved recoverable reserves to be 6630 million t. This is higher than in the last report.

According to the WEC, the maximum depth of the deposits is 870 m, whilst the minimum seam thickness is 0.5 m. It is estimated that 21% of the stated level of proved recoverable reserves could be exploited through opencast mining.

The WEC Member Committee quoted additional discovered amounts of coal in place at lower levels of confidence as approximately 10.8 billion t, classified as ‘probable’ and more than 6.5 billion t as ‘possible’. It had also estimated that a further amount of around 8.3 billion t of coal is recoverable from undiscovered resources.

Almost all of Brazil’s current coal output is classified as thermal coal, of which more than 85% is used as power plant fuel and the remainder in industrial plants. Virtually all of Brazil’s metallurgical coal is imported; approximately 70% is used as input for coke production.

In Brazil, coal’s share in the energy mix is about 5%; only approximately 1.3% of this is used in electricity generation. The main uses of coal are in the steel industry and for power generation. Brazilian coal is considered to be low quality, with high ash content and low carbon content, which makes its use outside the coal deposit regions unviable.

In 2010, Brazil consumed around 20 million t of coal, of which 14.2 million t was imported. Of this 20 million t, 4.4 million t (22%) was used in electricity generation and the remainder was used in industry.



The Argentinian WEC Member Committee previously reported proven amounts in place of 752 million t of sub-bituminous coal and 7350 million t of lignite, which are found in two main deposits: Río Coyle with some 5 billion t in place; and the middle course of the Río Santa Cruz, with 2.35 billion t. Both these deposits lie in the Río Leona formation. The only proved reserves reported are 500 million t of sub-bituminous. Undiscovered coal of this rank that are estimated to be in place amounts to 300 million t, of which 100 million is regarded as recoverable.

The Rio Turbio deposit reportedly concentrates 99% of the country's coal reserves.

The WEC has reported that coal output from the Río Turbio mine is approximately 300 000 tpy and is used for electricity generation. 

A 240 MW coal-fired power plant was constructed adjacent to the mine and entered into service in 2015. It is Argentina's first plant to be powered purely by coal.

According to the Argentinian Member Committee, this development required a quadrupling of Rio Turbio’s output.





Claudia Cronenbold from the World Energy Council. 


This article first appeared in World Coal November/December. To read this and much more, register to receive a copy here.


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