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Study Concludes “Peak Coal” Will Occur Close to 2011

2 August 2010

A multi-Hubbert analysis of coal production by Tadeusz Patzek at The University of Texas at Austin and Gregory Croft at the University of California, Berkeley concludes that the global peak of coal production from existing coalfields will occur close to the year 2011. The HHV of global production is likely to peak in 2011 at 160 EJ/y, and the peak carbon emissions from coal burning will also peak in 2011 at 4.0 Gt C (15 Gt CO2) per year, according to the study.

After 2011, the production rates of coal and CO2 decline, reaching 1990 levels by the year 2037, and reaching 50% of the peak value in the year 2047. It is unlikely that future mines will reverse the trend predicted in this business-as-usual (BAU) scenario, according to the study, which was published in the journal Energy. (The accompanying online supporting materials provide the analysis of production by country.)

The most important conclusion of this paper is that the peak of global coal production from the existing coalfields is imminent, and coal production from these areas will fall by 50% in the next 40 years. The CO2 emissions from burning this coal will also decline by 50%. Thus, current focus on carbon capture and geological sequestration may be misplaced. Instead, the global community should be devoting its attention to conservation and increasing efficiency of electrical power generation from coal.

...We repeat again that immediate upgrades of the existing electrical coal-fired power stations to new, ultra supercritical steam turbines that deliver electrical efficiencies of ca. 50% are urgently needed. The authors do not suggest that new coal-fired power plants be constructed, unless they are to replace less-efficient existing coal-fired plants. The goal should be to increase efficiency rather than capacity.

—Patzek and Croft

The paper provides a physical model of historical and future production of coal worldwide. The model demonstrates that despite enormous coal deposits globally, coal production rates will decline because the deposits show increasing inaccessibility and decreasing coal seam thickness, according to the research.

Other findings of the study include:

  • The estimated CO2 emissions from global coal production will decrease by 50% by the year 2050.
  • Between the years 2011 and 2050, the average rate of decline of CO2 emissions from the peak is 2% per year, and this decline increases to 4% per year thereafter.
  • It may make sense to have carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) to alleviate the highest CO2 emissions between now and the year 2020 or so.

Given the imminence of the global coal production peak, a better alternative would be to gradually replace the existing electrical power generation blocks with the new ultra supercritical steam blocks (steam temperatures of 620-700 °C, and pressures of 220-250 bars), whose electrical efficiency is close to 50%, compared with the ~35% efficiency currently realized. This replacement might ultimately lower current CO2 emissions from coal-fired power stations by 15/35-40% for the same amount of electricity.

—Patzek and Croft

In the paper, Patzek and Croft developed a base-case scenario for global coal production based on the physical multi-cycle Hubbert analysis of historical production data. They treated areas with large resources but little production history, such as Alaska and the Russian Far East, as sensitivities on top of this base case, producing an additional 125 Gt of coal. They then compared their findings with 40 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) scenarios in the Special Report on Emissions Scenarios (SRES) Report. The Patzek and Croft resulting base-case is significantly below 36 of the 40 carbon emission scenarios from the IPCC.

Between the years 1990 and 2011 all but two of the IPCC scenarios are at or below the actual world coal production and emissions. In contrast, after 2011, most of the IPCC predictions increase unrealistically in a variety of exponential ways. Thirty-six out of 40 of these scenarios deviate significantly upwards from our base-case, up to a factor of 100...In particular, 2 IPCC scenarios peak in the year 1990, 3 in 2020, 3 in 2030, 3 in 2040, 13 in 2050, while in the 16 remaining scenarios coal production simply grows exponentially until the year 2100.

Because IPCC did not rank its forty scenarios on purpose, the 16 nonphysical outliers, and 4 other scenarios, 8 were given de facto a weight equal to the more realistic lowest scenarios. The policy makers tend to focus on the most extreme outcomes, and the outliers have gained prominence as inputs to the subsequent climate models. The real problem 40 years from 2009 will be an insufficient supply of fossil energy, not its overabundance, as the IPCC economists would have it.

—Patzek and Croft

Because their study is a multi-cyclic Hubbert analysis, the authors noted, the possibility of future cycles that are not reflected in the historical data must be considered. The base-case in the study includes all coal-producing regions with any significant production history. New mines in existing coalfields should be part of existing Hubbert cycles and thus are part of the base-case.

However, new cycles could occur if a technological breakthrough allowed mining of coal from very thin seams or at much greater depths, or if non-producing coal districts become important producers.

The current paradigms of a highly-integrated global economy and seamless resource substitution will fail in a severely energy constrained world. A new territory is being charted by all, thus close attention must be paid to what the physical world reveals about energy conservation and production.

...In view of the imminent difficulties with the coal supply, a lasting increase of natural gas production in the United States is of utmost importance.

—Patzek and Croft


  • Tadeusz W. Patzek and Gregory D. Croft (2010) A global coal production forecast with multi-Hubbert cycle analysis. Energy Volume 35, Issue 8, Pages 3109-3122 doi: 10.1016/

August 2, 2010 in Coal | Permalink | Comments (47) | TrackBack (0)


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With Peak Oil and Peak NG behind us + Peak Coal coming soon, the world growing population will consuming more energy. It may be the right time to seriously consider other more sustainable energy sources.

The world will not be short of energy. A combination of cleaner nuclear, solar, wind ++ could (will have to) progressively replace all traditional fossil polluting sources over the next 50 years or so.

Thank Jimmy Carter for putting us in this situation. If he hadn't killed the nuclear industry, we wouldn't be so reliant on coal for electricity still.

More professional Cassandra duckspeak.

Key word destroying this whole thesis is "existing coal fields".

We have more than 100 nuclear power plants. I think Three Mile Island had more to do with people's apprehension than did President Carter.

There's a lot of coalfields that closed prematurely for econimic and political reasons. Conspiracy suggests that global warming was invented in the UK to wipe out the mining industry.

If too much focus is given to electric propulsion at the expense of sustainably sourced drop-in liquid hydorcabon fuel replacements, its a sure bet that demand will rise for coal to be converted to synthetic fuels (if its not dug for all that extra electricity for electric vehicles). People wish to have something that gives a sufficient range for the few roadtrips. Not something that runs out after a few miles.

This sounds like a sensible and serious study to me

and to respond stupidly to the stupid post of Stan Peterson, I prefer intelligent words of a doomer than the stupids words of a cornucopian

Oil is irreplaceable as a transport fuel. Energy used for uranium mining and transport and the massive construction requirements of nuclear power plants must come from somewhere. A simple transfer from fossil fuels to nuclear and renewables is not possible. Are you going to build nuclear powered trucks and freight trains? We have to reduce the overall amount of energy used in the economy, something no one wants to hear.

As for peak coal, the cornucopians always miss the point that the easiest and most profitable reserves are mined first. New technology helps but sooner or later you get to the point when the energy required to extract the coal is so great that it's no longer profitable. At the rate we are burning through coal reserves it's not surprising we're getting to that point sooner rather than later.

Coal companies were allowed to blow off mountain tops and dump the rubble into the streams to fill the 1000s of coal cars going to power plants every day. Peak coal does not seem like a far fetched concept.

If we hit peak coal in the US in 2011, it will not be because we have run out of accessible coal. It will be because it is easier to site natural gas fired turbines which are also cheaper to build and run at a higher efficiency. We will probably hit peak oil and gas for the same reason that we hit peak horses a century ago. Something will come along that is cheaper and more effective. Unfortunately, I do no believe that India or China will hit peak coal consumption for some time -- certainly not next year.

It will not be easy to make electric long haul trucks but electric trains only require overcoming the cost of string the wire.

“Existing Mines” that’s all I needed to see. As for easy resources being extracted first this is true, but there is a law in mineralogy for a doubling in price the mineable resource increases by an order of magnitude. This is an axiom proven time and time again with all minerals of which coal is one. Doubling the mine gate price of coal will increase the extractable reserves by 10 fold, this says nothing of using underground coal gasification to access the 85% of coal to deep to mine with current technologies but is known to be in place by Geologists. The USA has 1.6 Trillion tons of coal in place that 85% is accessible by UCG technologies going the FT route to liquids 1 ton = 1 barrel of gasoil, petrol, and JP8 with the political will we have over a trillion barrel equivalent sitting under the American west and Appalachia sadly the cult of Social Justice will for ever ban the use of these resources so fortuitously provided under our lands.

Texas has enough mineable lignite to run our whole power industry for over 100 years if we went 100% lignite, a couple of scientists at UTA go Mavericks! Have a process that can produce light sweet syncrude from lignite at $28 a barrel its past the prototype stage and moving to pre-production now. They are using a micro-channel reactors to keep the sizing small and modular it looks to be a real winner. Scaled up the UTA process would make Texas independent for liquid fuels we would replace all our imports with homemade syncrude. The current Peak Oil, Coal, Gas is a political problem not a lack of resources in place or lack of technologies needed to exploit those resources economically.

Texas should tell the feds to bugger off and just move towards energy independence anyways the 10th amendment gives the states the ultimate say in all powers not enumerated in article one and two that whole all powers are reserved for the states or the people thing the feds seem to be ignoring. It’s high time a state with the means to back up a threat of come and stop us with force if you dare take our enumerated sovereignty back from the Feds. 1 million fed troops vs 15 million armed very angry Texans who know the land, the people, are adapted to the heat its 108.5 degrees right now could you run 2+ miles in that kind of heat without dieing? I can in full BDU’s and with 40lbs of gear, us Texas know all about the deadly natural hazards that Texas has to offer against an invading army that has no clue the mess there getting in to this does end well for the feds. This is not 1860 we have the heavy industry this time around. Hitler didn’t invade Switzerland for the same reason. China has said they would never invade America because of “a person behind every blade of grass” is often said Texas is the most armed of all the states, if Texas had the will to leave we could not be kept from doing so even with force.

What it boils down to is the consent of the governed it’s a natural right for people to consent to their form and structure of government. Anyone who does not recognize the right of people to consent to be governed and dictate the terms of said govt are statist totalitarians and have to be eliminated from this planet if by force then so be it. Jefferson was right the tree of liberty must be watered from time to time with the blood of tyrants and patriots. When we Texans no longer consent nothing will stop the outcome that follows. Govts do not change willing but at the point of a spear this is why we have the 2nd admendment so when the consent of the people is revoked we have the tools to implement the change the people demand.

there is a law in mineralogy for a doubling in price the mineable resource increases by an order of magnitude.

Actually it's that the "mineability" of a resource increases. And if that resource is finite it means you get to the end of it faster.

We are getting to that end faster every day.

Ai_vin that is true but the resources on this planet are huge, 11 trillion original barrels of conventional oil in place of which 20% is the global average recovery rate. Tertiary methods are pushing that average up some fields are yielding 70% OBIP we have fields in AL that I work on that are 65%+ recovery using supercritical CO2 flooding , coal the USA has 1.6 Trillion tones in known reserves that is 85% is technically usable, we have 1.2 billion tones of oil shale.

This planet is awash in hydrocarbons we have yet to look at the poles or in the really deep waters of the oceans that cover 70% of the surface. This says nothing of methane hydrates that dwarf all other carbon fuels the Russians have had a productive hydrate well for 40 years, Canada just successfully tested a hydrate well as did the Japanese the magnitude of hydrates is so large that we could use a few percentage points of our O2 supply if we burned it all. Not ppm I’m talking part per hundred. This planet will never run out of hydrocarbons are some point the cost and efforts to get them will exceed the point where alternatives are cheaper thus ending there dominance, that day will come its not here yet not even close. Given current technologies at $200 a barrel another 4 trillion barrels can come out the ground possibly 8 that’s hundreds of years of energy. Fusion should be economical by then certainly fast breed reactors, and engineered geothermal.

The alternative now are just not up to par currently wind needs natural gas back up for 70% of its rated load since winds uptime is only 30% of rated name plate capacity. Solar does not have technologies that’s economically competitive. Unless nanosolar lives up to the hype but then its only for day use and only for utilities they don’t do residential. Geothermal well that’s another story if deep rock drilling could be made cheap the geothermal potential is in exojoules for North America, using fossil fuels is that just basic economics. Only subsidies keep solar/wind afloat. Yea I know fossil gets subsidies too but not even close to the per kilowatt hour rate that solar and wind does. Don’t take my word for it the CATO institute is well known for there expertise and unbiased analysis

Peak Oil, Peak Coal, Peak Beer...has anyone calculated when Peak Peak will happen? That is, when will we hit the peak of people waving their hands and predicting the 'peak' of this that and the other, and can look forward to this nonsense tailing off to nothing?

Fossil fuels have taken more than 100 million years to create and we have used half of them in 100 years. Reasonable people know that nothing is infinite. The closest we have a 3 billion years of sunlight and that is why renewable energy is being examined.

TXGeologist, you may be right about Texas lignite, but Texas wind can supply about 160% of total US electric energy use (it increases to more than 200% at 100 meters) without mining a thing. And if you combine Texas with S. Dakota and Kansas, you get rid of a lot of the variability in the resource. Last, many of our current and future uses for electricity (air conditioning, water heating, electric vehicles) lend themselves very nicely to storing energy for hours (cars, hot water) to weeks (ice for A/C). Small changes in the way we do things can pay big dividends.

All nations must reduce population to avoid mutual annihilation by war and famine. Conversion of fossil use to cleaner NG, new nuke and sustainable alternatives is already underway. Liquid fuels from biomass and FT must replace fossils for remaining heavy lifting.

We are on the right path. Energy is ubiquitous in the universe and vacuum. Continued stalling of population mitigation and alternative energy WILL result in disruptive technology ending the issue. What's it gonna be??


I don't think many people are against using wind energy in our nation's energy mix. We should most definitely continue our trend of wind development, but we also need to include base load plants (nuclear, solar thermal, and hydro) as well as peaking power plants (natural gas and hydro) to have an effective electrical grid.

I don't think that this whole 'peak coal' theory is probably incredibly worrisome or even true. If the US used nuclear reprocessing like France, nuclear could be cheaper than coal. We wouldn't even be discussing fine particle pollution, sulfur dioxide emissions, or black lung if this were the case..

The best use of fossil fuels is to develop renewable resources. There is leverage, there is gain. If we have another 50 years of easy fossil fuels, would we rather use them up as fast as we can or use them for renewable energy resources that will take us much farther out in time? I know which I would chose.

Well said SJC. How can the majority be convinced that (currently lower cost) fossil fuels should be used to build wind turbines, solar panel and other sustainable energy plants and should not necessarily be used to drive around in 4-ton gas guzzlers? Human nature (an specially us) have been taught to use/eat the lowest hanging fruit to minimize efforts and maximize profit regardless of environment and other secondary effects.

That may not change unless some laws or regulation make it profitable for producers and users. That's our nature.

The implication is "we will just go to war for oil". This has never been said, but I think that it has been implied more than once. We have to stop that insanity NOW. NO way is going to war for oil ever going to make any sense at any time for any reason.


Only subsidies keep solar/wind afloat. Yea I know fossil gets subsidies too but not even close to the per kilowatt hour rate that solar and wind does.

It’s a familiar refrain: "Renewable energy won’t look as enticing after government subsidies are removed."

Are we continue to fund extended unemployment benefits to the tune of tens to hundreds of billions of dollars, one year after another?

Or are we going to invest in green and renewable energy infrastructure so that we can employ more people and get them off the the unemployment benefits?

Modern computer and robotic technologies and globalism with out-sourcing of jobs overseas have permanently eliminated millions of jobs. Even the postal workers are feeling the pinch from email. Telephone receptionists are being replaced by computer answering machine. So are stenographers and transcripters being replaced by voice-recognition computer. Car workers are being replaced by robots in welding and painting.

South of US border, drug gangs and criminal gangs are coming from the desperation of increasing lack of employment opportunities.

The most humane way to solve environmental and social problems together is to have a massive deployment of labor-intensive renewable energy collectors and infrastructures. Moving toward H2 and synthetic biomethane and moving away from coal mines, oil wells etc...

Next step: Massive recyling of everything made...clean up the environment...millions of more jobs opportunities.

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