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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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I don't think it is robots, but low wage people being used as robots. When you can pay a Vietnamese person $1 an hour to glue together NIKE shoes that sell for $100 a pair, you do not need automation.

critta writes:

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.

Actually, the construction requirements for nuclear power plants are not particularly massive, in relative terms. The concrete and steel requirements for even a conventional light water nuclear plant are roughly 10% of those of the largest and most efficient wind turbines, on the basis of kilowatt-hours delivered per year.

The high cost of nuclear plants arises from labor and procedural issues that have little to do with the actual energy and material inputs to the project. There is a huge disparity between what it currently costs to build a nuclear plant and what it theoretically could (and arguably should) cost. That creates an enormus profit opportunity for any country that can develop the industrial infrastructure and technology to build nuclear plants at something closer to cost implied by their energy and material inputs.

Guess what country is racing ahead to exploit that opportunity? Hint: it ain't the U.S. of A.

It is interesting to follow the fierce discussion about this topic. However, this time I will not participate. Instead, I have a suggestion: Why don´t we just sit down and wait. If all the coal reserves were about to last for 500 years, this is not an option but if we only have to wait until next year, I recommend you to be patient, since we will have the answer very soon...


Gulf I was about oil and Gulf II was about oil, without regard to the claims made about the supposed WMD. I don't want another oil war, that is all I am saying.

Outsourcing to low-paid overseas labor is what I referred to as "Globalism". Globalims is enhanced by advances in telecommunication and efficient transportation.

And yet, modern workers are also further squeezed by industrial automation (robots), office automation (computers answering device and voice recognition devices, etc.) This a fact of life whether you recognize it or not.

We cannot fight progress and move backward. However, we can take advantage of all the modern advancements AND to provide jobs at the same time, by planning for a sustainable environment and energy future. I invite you to consider our potentially exciting future and what wonders it will bring, IF we plan for it wisely.

The concrete and steel requirements for even a conventional light water nuclear plant are roughly 10% of those of the largest and most efficient wind turbines,

I can't say anything for sure about wind vs nuke steel requirements but I've heard statements like this for concrete before and it's based on cherrypicking: Based on a poorly sited turbine. The concrete requirements are not for turbines but for the ground you place them in. A turbine on deep, soft soil needs lots of concrete but if bedrock is close it needs little to none. Sometimes you need neither concrete nor bedrock, for example the Horns Rev wind farm; was built offshore on a shallow area of glacial and sea deposits of sand. And all they did was drive steel pipes into the sand with a piledriver.


We could dig ditches with shovels to create jobs when a back hoe would do it more effectively with fewer people. Automation has brought us a better quality of life, instead of digging with shovels, we are designing, engineering and manufacturing back hoes.

The idea is to get us to a higher value use of our time because we are smarter. There should be no end to those opportunities unless you throw in cheap labor. With cheap labor you don't need to automate, you have cheap slaves. Every time the minimum wages goes up, McDonalds automates more. This is an old business school observation that applies here.

Auto MFG's use welding and painting robots because the work quality is of higher quality and uniformity than human welder or painter. Likewise, the electronic engine control chips inside a car or an aircraft can control the engine much better than a typical human engineer can do.

The result of more automation and computerization will mean fewer and fewer job opportunities for human beings anywhere in the world. More unemployment will cause more and more CHEAP LABOR. It's the law of supply and demand. Just go South of the US border and this problem is very apparent.

Now, would you rather have youths entering the work force get paid meager wages digging with shovels for a living, or would you rather have them join the drug gangs to rob, kidnap people for ransom, extorsion, and assinate another human being for $50 USD? If and when the US gov. go bankrupt and can no longer pay out unemployment benefits, expect the current problem South of the US border to go North.

Or, would you rather they would be employed to build and maintain renewal energy collectors for a more decent wages? Build H2 and BEV charging infrastructure. Offer tax incentives and credit for those who utilize those renewable energy collectors that are made in the USA...Less money used to import oil will mean more money circulating in the US economy.

I would like to return to the original topic of the article.

If you are interested in the full picture of all fossil resources, you should look at this recent presentation from the Uppsala University in Sweden:

According to slide 127 of the presentation, peak coal would occur much later than 2011. However, the report containing these data is yet to be published in a scientific journal.

South of US border, drug gangs and criminal gangs are coming from the desperation of increasing lack of employment opportunities.
You mean, increasing profits from drugs.
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.
This doesn't work for those who are e.g. illiterate and can't read equipment manuals. Ending low-skill immigration is far more important than anything done on the jobs end.


Employment follows the "trickle-down-effect." The skilled workers earn good money, then spend it on other activities that will not required skilled labor. The whole society will benefit. Illegal immigration is being addressed right now, by much stronger enforcement at local and state levels. Paper is now required when applying for driver licences and applying for jobs. Illegals are no longer treated at county public health facilities. Eventually, the number will go down.

We need to raise the bridge, not lower the river. Mexico has NO mandatory education, you will not get an educated population with policies like that. Going backward to doing things manually is insane. We need to move forward with education and real value added jobs. Especially when the developing world is developing and wants more goods and services at lower prices.

Agree with you, SJC. Limit welfare support to only 1 child per family. Mandatory birth control for everyone under gov. support or benefit of any kinds. Give tax break of >3% per child for family with more than 1-2 children. Those whose professions are in demand get paid more and will want to have more children to reduce the tax burden. Those who make less income due to having a career in less demand, or making no money will have fewer children to reduce living expenses. After a few generations, the society will have more employable people in response to the changing nature of the job market.

China has a more draconian measure of one child per family policy. However, those who are well off can pay a stiff fine to have more than one child. Having more children is a status symbol in China right now. In the future, China will increase their proportion of elite citizens while still keeping the population under control.

Selective birth control is the key to a sustainable social future.

Engineer-Poet you are right, most people myself included are not against wind power or solar, but they cannot be our sole source of energy and we cannot economically run our transportation class 8 trucks, cars, airplanes, ships et al. on those sources of power even for the individual consumer EV tech is just not economically competitive and probably wont be for another decade. We need every economical energy source now not tens of years later.

I would argue that oil is way too valuable from a petrochemical point of view to just burn it. Medicines, plastics, fertilizers, the innumerable and ubiquitous products that make modern life possible almost all root in petrochemicals. I have a standing 100 buck bet with my employees if they can walk into a room in the USA and find me a product that was not made with or of, the energy used to process it, grown with, harvested by, transported by, packaged in, or some how touched by a petrochemical or fossil fuel product I will give them a $100 gas card :) yes I'm cold like that and a day off with pay. Not a single person has EVER found me a commercial product that was 100% fossil fuel free anywhere along its supply / distribution chain. don't see many ox carts in a modern American city.

The simple truth is that access to cheap energy is directly proportional to the standard of living we can have at a given cost. Notice the cost part. Doubling the cost of fuels and electricity in this country would only affect the bottom 70% of the population’s life style as the richer people would just pay more to live the same. Petrol could be $10 a gallon and if I wanted to take my boat out and rip through 50 gallons on a lake day with my girlfriends I wouldn’t even blink it’s such a small portion of my disposable income. I also wont be sweating when its 108 outside my home is still at 72, but to someone earning 30K a year doubling energy costs would be devastating, they would be sweating and the inflationary pressure from the increased transportation and manufacturing cost would drastically increase the cost of goods and services further hurting the bottom 70%.

If energy cost “necessarily have to skyrocket” this means no new employees get hired and my existing ones will be working longer hours there contracted per job not by hours for less money and be happy just to have a job. The unintended affect of this would be that the small business people who have disposable income drive the economy and taking away job creating capital hurts the bottom group even more, as most Americans are employee by small companies of 100 or less. Given current data 80% of new private sector jobs are from companies of 5 years of younger and smaller than 100 employees. Arbitrarily spiking energy cost which is the very life blood of small companies is economic suicide. Hurting your entrepreneurial class only spreads misery to the lower classes. The elites will always be such insulated from the mess they create. Want to truly be progressive tax a accumulated YEARLY WEALTH TAX of 5% on all net worths & assests of American citizens world wide of over 20 million this cap effectively eliminates small businesses see how fast the that is shot down by the cabal of the elites on both sides of the spectrum left or right.


most people myself included are not against wind power or solar
And I'm firmly pro-nuclear, so there.
but they cannot be our sole source of energy and we cannot economically run our transportation class 8 trucks, cars, airplanes, ships et al. on those sources of power
BTW, there's an example of a run-on sentence.  That should have had a period right after "power".

Your mind is stuck inside the BAU box (the "BAUX"?). You can't conceive of a system that doesn't rely on OTR heavy trucks, even though they were few and far between just 50 years ago. But we still move more freight tonnage by rail than by road. A great many rail rights-of-way no longer have rail on them, but they've not been built on and could be restored. Rail inherently uses about 1/3 as much fuel per ton-mile as a truck, but all rail mileage can be electrified and eliminate liquid fuel entirely (as well as local air pollution and engine noise).

Short-haul trucking is also being electrified. Smith makes electric delivery trucks, and Balqon is making electric drayage trucks for the port of Los Angeles. That handles the distance from railhead to loading dock. If e.g. bus routes are replaced by electric trolleys, heavy dual-mode trucks might share those rails and grab overhead power to extend their range. Dual use of inter-urban rail might work too.

even for the individual consumer EV tech is just not economically competitive and probably wont be for another decade. We need every economical energy source now not tens of years later.
The Leaf is quite competitive for some users, and would be for many more if the full cost of gasoline was billed at the pump.

Hi TX,
Appreciate your heart-felt input.
High energy costs will hurt the poor, but it needs not be that way if we plan ahead properly. On the other hand, if we don't plan now, energy cost for sure will skyrocket someday, and what's left of the economy will be dead beyond recognition.

Planning for energy sustainability will call for increase energy efficiency and development of renewable energy. This can be done by announcing way ahead of time the gradually-increasing taxation on fossil fuels, in the time frame of 10-20 years. This will not hurt the poor at this moment. Yet, this will spur massive investments in renewable energy deployment RIGHT NOW! That will help employ more of the poor RIGHT NOW, and will lift the economy out of the recession. With ramming up production of renewable energy in the next 20-year time frame, the renewable energy technology will be perfected year after year and will soon be cost competitive with the cost of fossil fuel at the present time.

With renewable energy taking over more and more of fossil fuel energy, there will no longer be energy crises nor economic disasters coming from the disruption in fossil fuel energy supply.

Peak coal soon would be good. Permanent worldwide monotonic increase in coal prices is the wake-up call we need to take action.

Oil is too valuable to burn, and coal is too dangerous to burn. Climate change deniers need to sit down, shut up, and get out of the way of adults trying to prevent disaster.

Cheap energy is like cheap labor, you become dependent on it. If you no longer have either, you look for better ways.

TX Geologist,

You have the same problem as I do, as a scientist, arguing with the gentlemen posting here, who know no science. But religiously have been converted to the doomster neo-Fire-and-Brimstone. In their nouveau religious ecstasy, they parrot the nonsense and drivel produced by the cloacal cavities of the totalitarian left, that real science is wrong, rationality is wrong, marxist junk-science, and American guilt is the only Truth,and all is relative.

They are completely incapable of understanding your point that the measure of wealth is the amount of energy that a society can command per capita. And at what price.

The price of course is a measure of what is feasible to do and what is not. So they see no reason and don't understand why the raising the cost of harnessed energy by an order of magnitude makes any difference.

You would think that after some 96 attempts in various countries over the 142 years since published the scientific Truths having failed 96 times in a row, without a single success, the drivel would have become questionable but for them it is not.

One such gentlemen actually complained that some early shoddy attempts at strip mining, long since corrected by law, still rules, so we cannot do anything. It is symptomatic proof of the inability to think rationally.

You or I could advance the scientific thesis that harnessing Wind and Sun distorts the Earth's natural cycles much more. They really have been brain-laundered to think that both are perfect, suffering no Original sin. Removing some energy that Mother Gaia uses to equalize temperatures must inevitably lead to localized higher and lower temperature extremes. Increasing the Albedo increases the net Energy absorbed by the Earth, which must lead to higher temperatures. They are incapable of understanding that. Obviously, measurement of both effects is the only way to establish the dimensions of such dangers, if dangers they be, but I fear they don't comprehend that necessity either.

People with a clue (unlike Stan & Co.) discount Tex because we have caught him spouting BS one time too many. It's very ironic (albeit in character) for Stan to label him as a "scientist", given his disrespect for basics like factual correctness.

Sodium sulphur fuel cells could be invented and tested in a few days if necessary as they are just a modification of sodium sulphur batteries. Fuel stations could then just pump in liquid sodium and sulphur into lorry fuel tanks and pump out the liquid products for regeneration. This process is well suited for railroad locomotives. The sodium and sulphur can be regenerated at night with cheap excess nuclear power. ..HG..

Stan is TX, you will find them (him) in a shack in the woods with a net connection.

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