What is the Difference Between Carbonization and Coalification

Organic matter can be turned into carbon-rich materials like charcoal or coal. Carbonization and coalification are two processes that transform this matter into carbon-rich materials.

What is the difference between carbonization and coalification? Carbonization is a human-controlled, rapid process using high temperatures, while coalification is a natural and slow process involving high pressure and moderate heat over millions of years.

Key Areas Covered

1. What is Carbonization 
      – Definition, Features
2. What is Coalification
      – Definition, Features 
3. Similarities Between Carbonization and Coalification
      – Outline of Common Features
4. Difference Between Carbonization and Coalification
      – Comparison of Key Differences
5. FAQ: Carbonization and Coalification
      – Answers to Frequently Asked Questions

Key Terms

Coal, Carbonization, Coalification

Difference Between Carbonization and Coalification - Comparison Summary

What is Carbonization

Carbonization is a process that transforms organic materials like wood, plant waste, or animal remains into a carbon-rich material. Carbonization happens in a surrounding with limited oxygen. Here, the organic matter breaks down while preserving a considerable portion of carbon due to the lack of oxygen.

Organic matter is first heated at high temperatures (from around 400°C to 700°C) by burning in a closed container where the air intake is limited or by using kilns or by using special techniques of pyrolysis. Moreover, the desired outcome and the chosen method of the production process determine the time period for the process to reach an end. This may vary between a few hours to several days.CarbonizationCharcoal, a porous and lightweight material used as a fuel, is the most common product obtained from this process. Charcoal burns with a steady and clean flame. This is why it is used in cooking, grilling, and industrial processes. Another product of carbonization is biochar, which is used in soil amendment and carbon sequestration applications. Biochar also preserves soil fertility because it retains moisture and nutrients.

Moreover, there are many advantages of carbonization, including providing a way to convert waste biomass into valuable resources, helping reduce greenhouse gases, and producing biochar, which is a sustainable practice.

What is Coalification

Coalification is a natural process where organic matter is transformed into coal over millions of years. First, dead organic material accumulates in swamp-like areas with limited oxygen. This organic matter gets buried deeper and deeper due to the sedimentation of other materials.Coalification

As sediments deposit on top, the pressure squeezes out water and gases from the organic matter, leading to its breakdown. As the burial depth increases, the organic matter undergoes high heat and pressure, allowing further chemical breakdown. Finally, carbon enrichment occurs.

Similarities Between Carbonization and Coalification

  1. Both processes aim to convert organic matter (like plant material) into carbon-rich compounds.
  2. Moreover, both processes require the application of heat to drive the chemical changes.

Difference Between Carbonization and Coalification


  • Carbonization is the process of converting organic matter into carbon, typically involving the decomposition of materials at high temperatures in the absence of oxygen. Coalification, on the other hand, is the gradual geological process by which plant material is transformed into coal over millions of years through biochemical and physical changes under high pressure and temperature.

Time Period

  • Carbonization is a fast process that takes hours to days, whereas coalification is an extremely slow process that has occurred over millions of years.


  • While carbonization typically occurs at atmospheric pressure, coalification is driven by the immense pressure from deep burial under sediment.


  • Carbonization requires high temperatures (around 400-700°C), while coalification occurs at moderate temperatures (around 30-200°C).


  • Carbonization creates charcoal or biochar with a lower carbon content than coal, while coalification creates a progression of coal types with increasing carbon content.


Both carbonization and coalification transform organic matter into carbon-rich materials. Carbonization is a human-controlled, rapid process using high temperatures to create charcoal or biochar in hours to days. Coalification is a natural and slow process with high pressure and moderate heat over millions of years, which results in various types of coal.

FAQ: Carbonization and Coalification

1. What is the difference between carbon and biochar?

Carbon is a broad term that includes various forms of pure carbon or carbon-containing materials. It can be natural (graphite, diamond) or synthetic (activated carbon). Biochar is a specific type of carbon produced by heating organic matter in a limited oxygen environment.

2. What is the carbonization process?

The organic matter chosen is first prepared by drying and sometimes crushing and grinding. Then, it is heated at a high temperature, typically from 400°C to 700°C in a limited oxygen environment. This is achieved by either closed containers or pyrolysis. Due to high heat, the thermal decomposition of organic matter takes place. Then, carbon concentration is followed by charcoal or biochar formation.

3. What is the process of coalification?

First, organic matter is deep-buried. Over millions of years, heat and pressure slowly cook the buried material, expelling water and gases. This chemical breakdown concentrates carbon, transforming organic matter into various types of coal.

4. What is the difference between carbonization and pyrolysis?

Carbonization and pyrolysis are both thermochemical processes that decompose organic materials. Carbonization mainly aims to maximize the solid carbonaceous residue. Pyrolysis focuses on recovering a variety of products, including char, liquids, and gases.

5. What are the 4 steps of coal formation?

The four steps of coal formation, or coalification, include burial of organic matter, compaction (where water and gases are expelled and chemical breakdown is promoted), increase in heat and pressure, and carbon enrichment.


1. “Coalification.” Science Direct.
2. “Carbonization.” Science Direct.

Image Courtesy:

1. “Coal production by region, OWID” By Our World In Data –  (CC BY 3.0) via Commons Wikimedia
2. “Carbonization Link Map-1” By IUPAC – (Public Domain) via Commons Wikimedia

About the Author: Hasini A

Hasini is a graduate of Applied Science with a strong background in forestry, environmental science, chemistry, and management science. She is an amateur photographer with a keen interest in exploring the wonders of nature and science.

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