In my world, there could be no Carboniferous, during which the overwhelming majority of coal was deposited on our planet. No swamps probably exist either, cutting off that way of generating coal as well. The world is basically an artificial creation in form of a planet-sized cliff, and though this can justify the "just put coal in there anyway, then!" solution, it's handwaving, and I'd like to avoid that.

Yet, I need coal or similar substance (Rich in carbon, good for burning and steelmaking, mined from underground, although the last one is just desirable one for authenticity to the real coal mines) to propel the steampunk industrial revolution phase of the world's history. Is this possible? Maybe some form of carbon-accumulating plant that for some reason can grow deep underground ("Coalroot" sounds like a cool name for such thing)?

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    $\begingroup$ Full answer: Peat $\endgroup$
    – user79911
    Oct 26, 2020 at 14:12
  • $\begingroup$ While sometimes I tend to believe the folks who claim petroleum is abiogenic in origin, coal is strictly a fossil thing. It won't exist without a Carboniferous epoch analog. And I can think of no substitutes. Maybe you can pull a Stephen Baxter and skip them straight to antimatter. $\endgroup$
    – John O
    Oct 26, 2020 at 14:19
  • $\begingroup$ I think your world has an underlying problem: if there was no Carboniferous it means that all that carbon is not bound underground but still somewhere else. It can be either biomass, but that will sooner or later bring to a Carboniferous-like era, or free element which would very likely results in much higher atmospheric content of CO2 and CH4, meaning a much stronger green-house effect. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Oct 26, 2020 at 14:31
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    $\begingroup$ You can make coke from oil. I think we just don't because coal is more plentiful and oil can be used for more important things. $\endgroup$
    – DKNguyen
    Oct 26, 2020 at 14:40
  • $\begingroup$ @ L.Dutch Green houses are no problem, the planet everything takes place on is basically a gas giant with a rocky bit sticking out of it, so Co2 disappears in the murky depths eventually, and methane would be a negligible addition to the atmosphere even if produced on industrial scales. Although it might cause a net loss of the carbon in the biosphere? $\endgroup$ Oct 26, 2020 at 14:50

2 Answers 2


during which the overwhelming majority of coal was deposited on our planet.

Not quite. The Carboniferous is the most well known because most of the European and North American coal beds were deposited in the Carboniferous. However, coal has been forming both before and after the Carboniferous.

For example, most of Australia's coal formed later during the Permian to Jurassic. China's coal is likewise not limited to the Carboniferous.

So to answer your question of where to get coal if there's no Carboniferous, then the answer is simple: mine other deposits.

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    $\begingroup$ Not even most of the North American deposits. The Western US and Canadian deposits are Mesozoic in age. $\endgroup$ Nov 16, 2020 at 1:21
  • $\begingroup$ @KeithMorrison even better $\endgroup$
    – Gimelist
    Nov 16, 2020 at 9:32

If you are willing to accept something that comes not from underground, but from underwater, you can take a page from Bethesda's Dishonored series of games. It is a steampunk series of games where the main energy source for society is whale oil.

In the games you see here and there whale ships bringing in them whales so that their precious blubber can be harvested and taken to refineries. I am not posting images because they might be too gory for this site. The refined oil is then used for everything electric, from lamp posts to monorails.

Funny thing: a similar thing happened in our own real world, but in our case we used it only for light, not for electricity. Whale oil usage declined when petroleum and vegetable oils became an everyday thing.

On an unrelated note, now I got that "how I mine for fish" meme stuck in my head.

  • $\begingroup$ Like that version, sadly it's also impossible in my world due to the lack of seas. $\endgroup$ Oct 26, 2020 at 14:46
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    $\begingroup$ @DarthBiomech maybe you can butcher some other animal for oil. In Futurama a villain planned on extracting oil from children. $\endgroup$ Oct 26, 2020 at 14:52
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    $\begingroup$ I was going to say that I thought using animal fat to smelt iron was unlikely, but then I searched this one up. Apparently it is well enough known that people can offer opinions on the ideal ratio of fat to ore. reddit.com/r/lastoasis/comments/gskxki/iron_smelting $\endgroup$
    – puppetsock
    Oct 27, 2020 at 0:07

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