Posted: 3 November 2000

A black or brown combustible material composed of carbon (C), various carbon compounds and other materials such as sulphur (S). The most abundant of the fossil fuels, it was formed through the accumulation of vegetable matter over millions of years in environments (e.g. swamps, deltas) which reduced the rate of decay of the organic material and allowed the preservation of the solar energy to absorbed by it when it was growing. When coal is burned, it is that energy which is released.