Coal geology is a branch within the field of geology which is focused on the study of coal, a tremendously economically important rock found in several regions around the world. Coal is a highly abundant fossil fuel with a number of uses, making coal geologists critical to several industries, including the electricity generation industry and the steel milling industry. Professionals who work in the field of coal geology usually hold at least a master's degree in geology, with graduate work in the coal field.
The study of coal geology includes a wide variety of coal related topics, including how coal is formed, where it can be found, and how it can be used. Coal formation is of great interest because the process of formation can determine the geological composition of the coal, which in turn determines how the coal can be used and how valuable it is. Knowledge about how coal forms can help coal geologists find new deposits, determine the value of existing deposits, and contribute to general geological knowledge about the history of the Earth.
Many coal deposits have been identified around the world. It takes a coal geologist to analyze samples from a deposit to find out which minerals are present, and how useful the deposit may be. Coal geologists can also make predictions about the amount of coal available in the deposit and the amount of effort which may be required to extract it. The goal geologist can also work on issues like obtaining mineral rights, writing up formal reports for companies which want to sell or trade deposits, and showing government officials how a deposit will be used.
Coal geologists are also interested in uses and applications for coal, ranging from traditional coal-fired electrical plants to the development of so-called clean coal technology. The natural abundance of coal makes it an appealing source of energy, but concerns about emissions and pollution have led people to explore new ways to use coal, and alternatives to coal. For the coal geology community, showing that coal can be used effectively and safely in energy generation and other tasks is an important part of the job.
The study of coal geology is not just useful to the energy industry. Coal can be accompanied by deposits of other minerals of value, and it can also be important in terms of geologic history. Coal geologists may work for companies which handle a range of minerals, not just coal, and they can also work with more general geologists on projects which involve the mapping of geologic formations, the dating of such formations, and explorations of Earth's history.