Relationship between pyrolysis products and organic aerosols formed during coal combustion

Xiaofei Wang, Emma Cotter, Kannan N. Iyer, Jiaxi Fang, Brent J. Williams, Pratim Biswas

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33 Scopus citations


Coal combustion is one of the major primary emission source of atmospheric organic aerosols, especially in developing countries. However, the formation mechanisms of organic aerosols during coal combustion have not been adequately studied. This study presents a detailed comparison of the chemical compositions between organic aerosol emissions from coal combustion and organic tars from coal pyrolysis, which is an early stage of coal combustion. Two coals, PRB coal and ILL#6 coal, were combusted in a laboratory drop-tube furnace coal combustor; and pyrolyzed in a flat-flame system, representative of a fast pyrolysis process. The compositions of organic constituents of the combustion aerosols and pyrolysis products were measured by an aerosol mass spectrometer (AMS) and a thermal desorption aerosol gas chromatography-mass spectrometer (TAG). The chemical composition of major organic species for both combustion aerosols and pyrolysis products are non-aromatic hydrocarbons, carboxylic acids and aromatic compounds. A list of specific organic compounds has been identified. The similarities of the chemical compositions strongly suggest that that the coal pyrolysis products are the precursors of the organic aerosols. In addition, more carboxylic acids/oxygenated organic compounds were found in the combustion aerosols, indicating that many pyrolysis products are oxidized before final emissions of organic aerosols. Thermal gravimetric analysis (TGA) was also conducted to study the pyrolysis process of the two coals. The activation energy distributions were calculated from their TGA results using a distributed activation energy model (DAEM).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2347-2354
Number of pages8
JournalProceedings of the Combustion Institute
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2015
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The work was partially supported by the Consortium for Clean Coal Utilization at Washington University in St. Louis. Support of the McDonnell Academy Global Energy and Environment Partnership (MAGEEP) is also acknowledged.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2014 The Combustion Institute. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


  • Coal combustion
  • Organic aerosol
  • Pyrolysis


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