Building modern societies

Alongside its vital role in electricity generation, coal is crucial for building modern infrastructure such as transport systems and high-rise buildings, supporting urbanisation and global economic development.

Coal has a significant role to play in building modern and sustainable societies. It is an essential resource for meeting the challenges facing the modern world. It plays a major role in delivering electricity across the globe, is fundamental in the creation of steel and concrete, and provides energy for transportation. Coal mining is also critical contributor to many economies, especially in developing nations where mining’s contributions enable them to grow stronger and tackle the dual challenges of poverty and development.

Developing society’s infrastructure

Economic development involves the increased use of highly energy intensive materials, such as steel, cement, glass and aluminium. These materials are necessary for the construction and development of transport, energy, housing and water management infrastructure. Coal is the most widely used source of energy in energy-intensive industries and is important in the development of modern infrastructure in growing economies.

Energy for modern life

Access to energy is critical to sustainable development - to building stronger communities with hospitals and schools. It supports business and industry so that they can deliver sustainable employment and economic growth. Ensuring access to electricity and supporting economic growth is, in turn, essential to support human development. Without this, modern society cannot develop or function effectively.


  • Coal in steel production
  • Coal in sustainable societies
  • Further information
  • Sustainable development news

Investing in sustainable and resilient a pre-requisite for achieving many of our goals."
 UN Addis Ababa Action Agenda 2015

Coal in steel production

Steel is an essential material for modern life. Manufacturing steel delivers the goods and services that our societies need – healthcare, telecommunications, improved agricultural practices, better transport networks, clean water and access to reliable and affordable energy. It is fundamental to a more sustainable world, helping to build lighter, more efficient vehicles, new highly efficient power stations and in the construction of smart electrical grids. Steel is a critical component in the construction of transport infrastructure and high energy efficiency residential housing and commercial buildings.

Coal in steel production

Coking coal is an essential element in blast furnace steel production, making up 70% of global steel production (the remainder is produced from electric arc furnaces using scrap steel and a tiny share through open hearth). World crude steel production was 1,870 million tonnes (Mt) in 2019.

Steel also has a significant role in delivering renewable energy; 140 t of steel is required for an average 1.5–2.0 MWe turbine, although modern turbines can be more than double this size. For every 1 MW of wind capacity, around 103t of stainless steel and 20t of cast iron are required. Also, 402t of concrete are required for fixing the base of the tower to the ground. Steel and iron accounts for approximately 123t of material for each megawatt of wind capacity.

Coal in sustainable societies

Coal in cement production

Cement is the key ingredient in the production of concrete, an essential building material for society’s infrastructure around the world, second only to water in total volumes consumed annually. Cement is essential for building houses, bridges, roads, dams, harbours and airports.

Coal is used as an energy source in cement production to melt raw materials - limestone, silica, iron oxide and alumina. Kilns burn coal in the form of powder and consume around 200g of coal to produce one tonne of cement.

Coal in the production of transport materials

Coal is a key energy fuel in the production of aluminium – a non-ferrous metal known for its lightweight properties and widely used in cars, trains and airplanes to reduce the weight of these vehicles and their energy consumption. In fact, new cars in Europe use, on average, 132 kg of aluminium per car. Coal accounts for over 50% of the energy used to produce aluminium.

Coal in transport infrastructure

Energy intensive materials such as steel, cement and lime are used to build railroads, tunnels, bridges and roads. Coal, because of its relative affordability, is the most widely used source of energy in the manufacturing process of these materials.

Primary aluminium smelting consumption

Source: International Aluminium Institute, Primary Aluminium Smelting Power Consumption, 2017