Coal is a combustible black or brownish-black sedimentary rock, formed as rock strata called coal seams. Coal is mostly carbon with variable amounts of other elements; chiefly hydrogen, sulfur, oxygen, and nitrogen. Coal is formed if dead plant matter decays into peat and over millions of years the heat and pressure of deep burial converts the peat into coal. Vast deposits of coal originates in former wetlands (called coal forests) that covered much of the Earth's tropical land areas during the late Carboniferous (Pennsylvanian) and Permian times.

As a fossil fuel burned for heat, coal supplies about a quarter of the world's primary energy and two-fifths of its electricity. Some iron and steel making and other industrial processes burn coal.

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