Block of the Week: Coal Ore

Carbon and on and on and on

What's your first day checklist when you start up a new Minecraft world? Ours is something like: punch a tree, build a house or dig a cave, and then start hunting for basic resources like animals, seeds and our block of the week - coal ore!

Coal ore generates naturally in the overworld, and you'll find it all over the place - from the tippiest tops of mountains, to dark caves and the bottom of the ocean, all the way down to bedrock level. In fact, every chunk of the map is home to an average of about 140 coal ore, so if you're hunting coal, then you won't be looking for long.

Veins of coal ore vary in size - you might only find a few blocks together close to the surface, but underground you'll find much bigger clumps - especially if there's a fossil in the neighbourhood.

The fact that there's coal ore in Minecraft is proof that, millions of years ago, there must have been trees in Minecraft. Because real-world coal is actually ancient trees and plants that have been buried and then squeezed by the pressure and heat of the Earth's crust for a very, very long time. The plants first turn into peat, then soft lignite coal, then bituminous coal and finally hard, shiny anthracite coal - all of which can be used as fuel.

In Minecraft, we only have one kind of coal - which was added to the game very early on in its development, at the same time as sand, logs and gold ore. Mining coal originally dropped the ore block, but later on it was changed to drop a single lump of coal instead - as well as a little bit of XP. If you mine a coal ore block with a fortune enchanted pick, it'll drop up to four lumps. What a lumpy delight.

Real coal ore - image credit: Michael C. Rygel // CC BY-SA 3.0

We talked above about how there's a lot of coal ore in Minecraft, but if you keep playing a world for a very long time then you'll eventually start running out because no new coal ore is ever created. The same thing happens in the real world - we're using our stocks of coal much faster than they can be replenished by natural processes.

There's another real-world problem with coal, however, that doesn't happen in Minecraft. Burning coal releases gases into the Earth's atmosphere that are both bad for our health and are causing the planet to heat up, so our deserts are growing and our ice caps are shrinking. That's why - at a recent meeting in Germany - nineteen countries promised to stop burning coal forever.

Thankfully, there's no global warming or air pollution in Minecraft. So you can burn as much coal as you like, and your desert and tundra biomes will stay the same size. Now fetch me my pickaxe, I've got some mining to do.

Written by
Duncan Geere

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