Government data show U.S. coal exports reached their highest level in two decades last year as strong overseas demand offered an outlet for a fuel that’s falling from favor at home.

U.S. Department of Energy data analyzed by The Associated Press reveal that coal exports topped 107 million tons of fuel worth almost $16 billion in 2011. That’s the highest level since 1991, and more than double the export volume from 2006.

Much of the increase went to slake the thirst of power-hungry markets in Asia, where rapid development has sparked what mining company Peabody Energy calls a “global coal super cycle” that heralds renewed interest in the fuel.

The AP’s analysis showed coal exports to South Korea leapt 81 percent last year to more than 10 million tons. India saw a 65 percent jump, to 4.5 million tons. And Japan bought almost 7 million tons — a 119 percent increase — as the nation sought alternatives to nuclear power after an earthquake and tsunami prompted the Fukushima nuclear complex meltdown.