The process of extracting a base metal from an ore, known as smelting, is an energy-intensive process. The most used fuel for iron ore smelting is coke. However, it is also used as a fuel in forges, stoves, and extraction of many valuable metals.
Coke is a tough yet porous grey-colored fuel made from coal by heating it in the absence of air. This process is known as destructive distillation, a process informally known as coking. Coke has lower levels of impurities and possesses a high carbon content. Coke may also be formed as a by-product of natural geologic processes.
A similar product is made from crude oil known as petroleum coke or petcoke.
The Processing of Coal
Coal needs to be processed once it has been extracted from the mine. The raw coal is cleared of impurities and other substances during coal processing using different physical processes, with or without any chemicals. However, a high amount of contaminants in the coal reduces its quality and heating value. As a result, lower-quality coal gets only a lower price in the market.
During the processing of coal, it is taken to a preparation plant to break into smaller pieces using a crusher. A conveyor belt is used to move the coal through the plant. Then it is cleaned or washed to remove the impurities like sulfur, ash, rock, and other substances. A vibratory screen separates the coal from ash and other contaminants. Likewise, a magnetic separator is used to remove iron from the coal. A cyclone plays the similar role of a vibratory screen to remove dust and other particles from the coal.
Finally, the coal is collected in storage bins, which can be taken to the market for trading or used for different purposes, such as power generation.
The Processing of Petroleum Coke
Petroleum coke is a by-product created during crude oil refining. While petcoke, which has higher levels of carbon, is helpful for smelting, power generation, or other purposes and often ends up as a waste product. But in most instances, the government prohibits its use as its higher carbon content creates undesirable combustion, leading to various environmental issues.
Hence, instead of conventional stockpiling, petcoke is converted to liquid fuels. This conversion is helpful for the safer disposal of petcoke and helps to meet increasing fuel demand. Although environmental concerns linger over the production and use of petcoke, its cost-effectiveness increases its demand.
Petcoke is cheaper to manufacture yet easily exported to developed nations where it can be used as a cheap fuel. Since there is a win-win exchange between importer and exporter, the production and distribution of petcoke are likely to continue in the future.
Processing is a Boon
Coal and petroleum coke processing are a boon for our energy-hungry world. It reduces carbon emissions and transportation costs per unit weight of coal. In addition, the processing of both fuels guarantees consistent heat value and improves plant efficiency.
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