Coal is used as fuel for power plants generating electricity, when heating structures and in the steel manufacturing process. Many important substances are also made from the by-products of burning coal, including those used in the chemical, paper, construction and pharmaceutical industries.
Coal is primarily used in modern times to boil water and produce steam, which is in turn used to spin generator turbines for electricity generation. Nearly two-thirds of the coal recovered is now used in coal-fired power plants around the world. Coal is also used in the steel manufacturing process, which utilizes coke, a by-product of burning coal. Some structures and industrial installations still use coal for heating the actual structure, though these are becoming quite rare. Most modern industrial uses for coal, outside of electricity production, involve large coal-fired furnaces.
Coal has been used throughout history for heating and cooking with evidence of such use dating back to Native American times and the Roman Empire. Coal is an abundant and widespread fossil fuel that is easier to recover and transport than volatile substances such as natural gas or petroleum products. These characteristics, and the ease with which deposits were located, helped coal fuel the industrial revolution. The future of coal is uncertain at the present time because coal is a nonrenewable resource and concerns surrounding emissions continue to grow.