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Supporting U.S. Coal Exports in the World Energy Market

With increasing global demand for energy and growing U.S. coal exports, the Department of Commerce’s Coal Team is ready to help exporters.

by Shannon Fraser

Because of energy questions on the minds of many Americans this summer, trade and energy specialists in the Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration (ITA) have been analyzing and addressing this timely topic under the auspices of the department’s Coal Team. Organized in December 2005, the Coal Team is a collaborative effort of several ITA units, including the Commercial Service’s Energy Team and the Manufacturing and Services unit’s Office of Energy and Environmental Industries.

An Important Natural Resource

Coal is a significant and vital resource in the U.S. energy market. Proven reserves of coal are predicted to be sufficient to meet current domestic demand for more than 250 years at current usage rates. Already, coal provides 52 percent, or approximately 2 trillion kilowatt hours, of U.S. domestic energy needs. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, coal production in the United States reached a record level of 1.1 billion short tons in 2005. Coal consumption increases were most marked in the electric power sector, with growth of 2.2 percent over 2004.

Expanding Export Markets

The worldwide growth in demand for energy has brought a corresponding growth in coal exports from the United States. In 2005, total U.S. coal exports rose for the third consecutive year, totaling 49.9 million short tons, which is an increase of 4.1 percent over 2004. During that same period, the average price per ton increased 24 percent to $67.10. Important markets for U.S. coal exports include Canada and Western Europe, with significant growth reported in Romania and the Netherlands, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

A Joint Effort of Multiple Offices

The Coal Team was formed in response to these market developments. The Coal Team actively works in collaboration with federal agencies, interagency energy experts, trade associations, and private-sector participants to promote the use of U.S. coal and clean coal technologies abroad. It works with these partners to advance the export of U.S. coal and coal-powered technologies, implement U.S. energy policies, support energy industry trade events worldwide, and exchange technical information on emerging clean coal technologies and carbon abatement practices.

Active Outreach to Business through Seminars and Videoconferencing

In February 2006, the Coal Team began hosting a monthly series of Web-based seminars. These “Webinars” are led by coal and energy specialists. The Webinars target ITA trade specialists so as to augment their knowledge of export-ready and emerging U.S. coal technologies. Some of the topics have included coal-fired power plants, coal preparation technologies, pollution control technologies, and fly ash utilization programs.

The most recent seminar focused on coal-fired power plants with an integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC). Two such plants are already in commercial operation in the United States. During the next 20 years, IGCC plants will be eligible for significant tax and research and development incentives under the terms of the Energy Policy Act of 2005. Since clean coal technology is an export growth area, advances in IGCC technology will present new export opportunities in the long term for U.S. industry.

Videoconferences have also been an effective outreach tool. In May 2006, a videoconference highlighted the South African coal industry. The topics included methods of coal transportation, use of unburnt carbon from fly ash, containment of particulates during combustion, and testing procedures of geological strata from carbon dioxide storage. More than 30 participants from South Africa, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania attended the videoconference. The participants represented the power sector, the coal industry, and research institutions.

Industry Conferences as a Valuable Tool

During the past year, the Coal Team has provided outreach at numerous industry conferences, including the Coal Quality Workshop in West Virginia and the Coal Preparation Show in Kentucky, as well as the Clean Coal and Power Conference in Washington, D.C., sponsored by the Foreign Service Institute and the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory. This outreach has included keynote addresses, market-specific export seminars, and individual client meetings.

In November 2006, the Coal Team will take part in the Coal and Mine West Show in Denver. At this show, the Coal Team will highlight the coal and mine industries of Latin America. A one-day panel discussion will be led by Commercial Service specialists based in Brazil, Chile, and Peru, followed by a day of ITA-led export counseling sessions with individual U.S. companies. The Coal Team is also preparing for the China Coal and Mining Expo, which is scheduled for October 2007 in Beijing.

To provide long-term solutions to increased energy use and higher energy costs, the Coal Team—in collaboration with industry, trade associations, and research facilities—will continue to move forward to use, develop, and promote the 250 years’ worth of coal reserves that are located in the United States.

Shannon Fraser is an international trade specialist in the ITA’s Office of Energy and Environmental Industries.


For More Information

For more information about upcoming seminars, trade shows, and videoconferences, or to learn more about the Department of Commerce’s Coal Team, contact Shannon Fraser, at tel.: (202) 482-3609; e-mail:, or Bill Lawton, at tel.: (954) 356-6640; e-mail: