Metallurgical coal, also known as coking coal, is a low sulfur, low ash, and low phosphorus grade of coal. It is used to produce high-grade coke, which is an important reactant for manufacturing of primary steel in the blast furnace process. Metallurgical coal can be easily distinguished from thermal coal due to its caking ability and carbon content. Metallurgical coal produces a strong, low-density coke, when it is heated in the absence of air, which softens on heating, and the volatile components, present in the coal, evaporate and flow out through pores. The resulting coke swells upon cooling and becomes larger in volume.
Demand for metallurgical coal is coupled the demand for steel. On an average, about 630 kg of coke is required to produce 1 ton of steel. Metallurgical coal is a vital reactant in the traditional basic oxygen furnace (BOF) steelmaking process. As such, its re-pricing is affecting steelmaking economics globally. Moreover, developing economies such as India, China, and Indonesia have substantially contributed in the rising demand for metallurgical coal across the globe. China is the largest producer and consumer of coking coal across the globe and produced about 804 million metric tons in 2015. Prices for metallurgical coal opened at US$ 78 per metric ton in January, 2016 and rose up to US$ 307 per metric ton by the end of 2016. This increase in price is primarily due to supply deficit, as demand for metallurgical coal has been stable. Therefore, to sustain the required supply of metallurgical coal, companies across the globe are reopening a few closed mines. Furthermore, current producers will now have to compete with new metallurgical coal suppliers across the globe, who had previously exited from the market owing to the low prices of metallurgical coal but have re-entered the market with the expectation that coal prices will stabilize. Therefore, the metallurgical coal market is anticipated to expand in the coming years.
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The metallurgical coal market can be segmented based on coal grade and region. In terms of coal grade, the market can be divided into hard coking coals (HCC), semi-soft coking coal (SSCC), and pulverized coal injection (PCI) coal. Hard coking coals cost higher as compared to semi-soft coking coals as they have better coking properties. Pulverized injection coal is not categorized as a coking coal; however, it is used as a source of energy in the steel making process.
Based on region, the metallurgical coal market can be segregated into North America, Europe, Asia Pacific, Middle East & Africa, and Latin America. Asia Pacific dominated the market in 2016 and this trend is anticipated to continue during the forecast period. China dominated the global metallurgical coal market in 2016. Most of the coal mining companies in China are controlled by the government. Falling demand of metallurgical coal since 2012 till 2014 has resulted in the drop in its prices. As a result, in February, 2015, the Government of China implemented a top-down approach to decrease the congestion in the domestic coal mining industry. It ordered its coal mining companies to reduce their annual production by 9% or 500 million metric tons (MMTs), between 2019 and 2022. Furthermore, the government transferred 500 MMTs of coal mining capacity from smaller coal mining companies to larger coal mining companies to consolidate the production. However, due to the increase in coal prices, government of China has relaxed some rules in its supply reduction policy. This is anticipated to increase the demand for metallurgical coal during the forecast period.
Key players operating in the global metallurgical coal market include Indika Energy, Rio Tinto, Arch Coal Inc., BHP Billiton, Teck, Xstrata, and Anglo America.