COAL FUEL PREPARATION AND STORAGE BASICS


Preparation
About half the coal presently mined in the United States is cleaned mechanically to remove impurities and supply a marketable product. Mechanical mining has increased the proportion of fine coal and noncoal minerals in the product.

At the preparation plant run-of-mine coal is usually given a preliminary size reduction with roll crushers or rotary breakers. Large or heavy impurities are then removed by hand picking or screening.

Tramp iron is usually removed by magnets. Before washing, the coal may be given a preliminary size fractionation by screening.

Nearly all preparation practices are based on density differences between coal and its associated impurities. Heavy-medium separators using magnetite or sand suspensions in water come closest to ideal gravity separation conditions. Mechanical devices include jigs, classifiers, washing tables, cyclones, and centrifuges.

Fine coal, less than 1⁄4 in (6.3 mm) is usually treated separately, and may be cleaned by froth flotation. Dewatering of the washed and sized coal may be accomplished by screening, centrifuging, or filtering, and finally, the fine coal may be heated to complete the drying.

Before shipment the coal may be dustproofed and freezeproofed with oil or salt. Removal of sulfur from coal is an important aspect of preparation because of the role of sulfur dioxide in air pollution.

Pyrite, the main inorganic sulfur mineral, is partly removed along with other minerals in conventional cleaning. Processes to improve pyrite removal are being developed. These include magnetic and electrostatic separation, chemical leaching, and specialized froth flotation.

Storage
Coal may heat spontaneously, with the likelihood of self-heating greatest among coals of lowest rank. The heating begins when freshly broken coal is exposed to air. The process accelerates with increase in temperature, and active burning will result if the heat from oxidation is not dissipated.

The finer sizes of coal, having more surface area per unit weight than the larger sizes, are more susceptible to spontaneous heating.

The prevention of spontaneous heating in storage poses a problem of minimizing oxidation and of dissipating any heat produced. Air may carry away heat, but it also brings oxygen to create more heat.

Spontaneous heating can be prevented or lessened by (1) storing coal underwater; (2) compressing the pile in layers, as with a road roller, to retard access of air; (3) storing large-size coal; (4) preventing any segregation of sizes in the pile; (5) storing in small piles; (6) keeping the storage pile as low as possible (6 ft is the limit for many coals); (7) keeping storage away from any external sources of heat; (8) avoiding any draft of air through the coal; (9) using older portions of the storage first and avoiding accumulations of old coal in corners. It is desirable to watch the temperature of the pile.

A thermometer inserted in an iron tube driven into the coal pile will reveal the temperature. When the coal reaches a temperature of 50°C (120°F), it should be moved.

Using water to put out a fire, although effective for the moment, may only delay the necessity of moving the coal. Furthermore, this may be dangerous because steam and coal can react at high temperatures to form carbon monoxide and hydrogen.

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