Coal: Supply & Alternatives

The heritage demand for all coal has been depressed for two seasons. For a few months TATA have been paying a £60/tonne premium to have Ffos-y-Fran coal crushed. This price was also charged to none TATA buyers including Heritage users.

Due to higher crushing levels the grading/sizing plant has been on low volumes and under utilised  for a while.

When the plant failed three weeks ago the owners of Ffos-y-Fran took the decision not to invest in its repair due to the high cost. The main driver being that they have only to October to carry on extraction and in that time not enough revenue would be generated to finance the repairs and meet profit targets.

I know from speaking to major distributors that the decision took everyone by surprise!

There is a modest stock of Scottish coal in stock yards and at merchants.

Columbian coal is expensive but excellent in an open hearth home grate. However, when under forced draught it is known to burn very hot and very quickly.

Kazakhstan coal burns well but is high in volatiles (very smoky. It is being pushed hard by CPL but at the moment supplies into the country have been reduced by the producers due to a combination of political activities and rising cost of transport. It takes 3 weeks to get from Kaz to UK.

The new Trevithick Welsh Steam Ovoids produced by Hargreaves and sold by Supaheat is bonded anthracite fines from Aberpergym, a deep Welsh mine. Apart from the bonding agent it is a full coal product, not an eco hybrid.

According the the GM at Vale of Rheidol railway ‘Trevithick’ did quite well in the three runs on which it was used, 1 light train and 2 with passengers.  They believe they burnt more than they would have with Ffos-y-Fran but it performed almost like it.

Significantly the Ovoids did not disintegrate under load conditions.

Talking with the main importers and  distributors I am told that the sudden rush for bituminous coal is causing a short term shortage of supply (what I call the toilet roll effect). However, in the longer term there will be coal imports, maybe from new sources, in which case  it may take time for the supply lines to be being established.

The underlying message is not to panic buy, there is plenty to go round.


David Smith
Head of Technical Services Unit