Germany is the world’s biggest producer of lignite. Or is it?

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Here is a claim I see frequently: Germany is the world’s biggest producer of brown coal (lignite). Useful rhetorical information for those critical of German energy policy, because lignite is just about the dirtiest fuel imaginable.

But is it true? According to the World Coal Association it is. According to them, Germany produces 183 Mt of brown coal. It also appears to be number one if you look at coal statistics reported by the International Energy Agency (IEA).

So, Germany must be the number one producer of lignite. The problem is that it is not. China is.

But, you won’t know this if you read IEA data. According to them, China produces and consumes no lignite whatsoever. However, a spreadsheet open in front of me tells me that China officially produced 265.66 Mt of lignite in 2009. And according to the Oxford Energy Institute, China now produces 370 Mt of lignite each year.

China, then, produces two times more lignite than Germany, and is the world number one.

Why the IEA and World Coal Association get this wrong is beyond me. The IEA splits China’s coal production into anthracite, coking, lignite, etc, and their split has little relationship with that given in China’s official data. And it’s not just lignite, the IEA claims China produces no anthracite, when it is close to half a billion tonnes in official data.

If someone knows why the IEA and World Coal Association don’t classify Chinese lignite as lignite in their statistics, please add a comment. Because I am perplexed.

A note on the perplexing situation

The IEA appears to officially define lignite as coal with calorific content less than 4,165 kcal/kg. However, Inner Mongolian produces 340 Mt of lignite each year, with an average calorific value of 3,500 kcal/kg, well below the level required to be classified as lignite by the IEA. So, there appears to be no reason for the IEA to classify none of China’s coal as lignite.


One thought on “Germany is the world’s biggest producer of lignite. Or is it?

    donoughshanahan said:
    March 31, 2015 at 3:31 pm

    If someone said to me 3500 kcal/kg, I would say it is peat. There maybe some confusion between extremely wet (on the surface) coals before and after they are upgraded.


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