Cheaper alternatives, lagging demand in emerging markets and global environmental worries are turning demand projections for coal on their headJust a couple of years ago, Peabody Energy Corporation ( BTU) named an asking price of over $500 million for the Australian Wilkie Creek coal mine it was anxious to sell. In May this year, Peabody sealed a deal to sell the mine to Nathan Tinkler-owned Bentley Resources for a mere $130 million in cash and debt. That deal too has now unravelled because Bentley was reportedly unable to meet its obligations to close the transaction. Sign up for our free daily newsletter In July, Rio Tinto plc ADR ( RIO) sold its Benga coal mine and other projects in Mozambique's Tete province to a clutch of Indian state-owned mining and metal companies for the rather un-princely sum of $50 million. These assets were acquired by Rio through its disastrous $4 billion acquisition of Riversdale Mining in 2011. Why are top-notch coal miners and producers rushing for the exits on their investments in coal? The China factor China has the exalted position of being the world's top coal producer, consumer, and importer. It accounted for about half of global coal consumption - a major contributory to energy-related carbon dioxide emissions - also the raison d’être for on-going investments of billions of dollars in coal projects around the world. However, according to research by Carbon Tracker Initiative CTI, China's future coal demand may turn out to be much lower than that assumed by global projects for new coal mines and expansion of existing ones. A demand analysis by The Institute of Economics and Financial Analysis IEEFA shows that Chinese coal demand could top out by 2016, and decline thereafter due to higher utilisation of coal alternatives such as hydro, gas and nuclear power, higher production efficiencies at coal burning utilities and the country's crackdown on environmental violations.