Archaeological evidence has shown that the use of coal was commonplace by 3400 BC. Man was quick to discover that it produces more heat and energy per weight and volume than wood, therefore, it became essential for the smelting of iron and metalworking. At first, coal on or near the surface was used but deep mining soon became necessary. It was a widely traded commodity throughout Britain and Europe by the 2nd century AD.
It was coal that would be used to power the new steam engines that changed manufacturing forever and started what would become known as the Industrial revolution. This was because coal was a more energy efficient fuel than wood and it was cheaper to produce and transport. It was soon used in homes and factories to produce steam heat, as well as the steam engines in trains and ships. It truly was the natural resource that helped shape the world we now live in.
It was electricity that would see to the demise of the steam engine but it was coal that was used to heat the boilers and make steam that turned the turbines which spun the generators in electric production. Alternative power sources such as, electrical, oil and natural gas replaced coal for heating in most home and factories but even today coal is still a cost efficient way to produce electricity. It accounts for ¼ of electricity production and is expected to account for 1/3rd by 2020. As of today, no better material or alternative has been found in forging and smelting of metals. However, there is great pressure on industries today to find a less polluting energy sources than coal and petroleum for they have had a terrible impact on the environment and the atmosphere. Fortunately, cleaner ways to burn coal are being developed, ensuring its used well in the future.