Frequently Asked Questions about coal










How is coal related to medicine?

Coal accounts for 20% of all US energy use and is the major source of fuel used in the production of electricity, its derivatives (things that come from or are obtained from coal) serve as raw materials in manufacturing.  Many coal derivatives are produced indirectly by the destructive distillation of coal. The destructive distillation process takes place in the absence of oxygen (within an airtight oven) that prevents the coal from burning.  The remaining material, coke, is nearly pure carbon.  It is the most widely used coal derivative and is burned by mills to change ore into pure iron that is needed to make steel.  Some of the gases produced during the distillation process can be refined to form ammonia, coal tar, and light oil.  Manufacturer's can use these products to make a variety of other products.

The main derivatives of coal through the distillation process are coke, gas, tar, light oil and chemicals.  Medicine is derived from the tar acids such as salicylic acid, nitro phenol and picric acid.  Some medicines are also obtained from benzol which comes from light oil.

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