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March 28, 2023

U.S. coal exports remained relatively unchanged between 2021 and 2022

annual U.S. coal exports
Data source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Annual Coal Report, and the U.S. Census Bureau

In 2022, 84.8 million short tons (MMst) of coal were exported from the United States, relatively unchanged from the 85.1 MMst exported in 2021. Steam coal accounted for 45% of all U.S. coal exports in 2022; metallurgical coal accounted for 55%.

Steam coal, also known as thermal coal, is used by coal-fired power plants for electricity generation and by consumers to heat their homes or businesses. Metallurgical coal is used to produce steel, so demand for metallurgical coal closely follows demand for steel. Demand for U.S. metallurgical coal is typically more consistent than demand for steam coal.

In 2022, the five countries that received the most U.S. coal exports were India, the Netherlands, Japan, Brazil, and South Korea. India imported the most U.S. coal for the sixth consecutive year, at 15.5 MMst. Of that total, 55%, or 8.4 MMst, was metallurgical coal.

annual U.S. coal exports, top 10 destination countries
Data source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Annual Coal Report, and the U.S. Census Bureau

The Netherlands received the second-most U.S. coal in 2022, 11.8 MMst with 54%, or 6.4 MMst, as steam coal. The Netherlands is primarily a transshipment hub that ships coal throughout Europe and retains only 10% of its imported coal for domestic use.

U.S. coal exports to Japan were split almost evenly between steam (51%) and metallurgical (49%) coal. Almost all U.S. coal shipments (91%) to Brazil were metallurgical coal for steelmaking. Most shipments to South Korea were steam coal for electricity generation (76%).

Although the United States exported about the same amount of coal in 2022 as in 2021, the destinations of that coal significantly shifted. U.S. coal exports to Europe nearly doubled after the European Union’s ban on coal imports from Russia following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Because Russia had typically accounted for 40% of coal imports to Europe, buyers had to secure coal from other countries, including the United States. U.S. coal exports to Germany, Poland, the United Kingdom, and terminals in the Netherlands all increased substantially in 2022 as a result.

A steep decline in U.S. coal exports to China offset the rise in shipments to Europe. The nearly 77% decrease in U.S. coal exports to China in 2022 was driven by substantial growth in production from China’s own coal mines, as well as China’s decision to gradually resume coal imports from Australia. China had banned coal from Australia as part of a trade dispute in 2020.

Principal contributor: Lolita Jamison