coal, pyrolysis


The heterogeneous nature of coal and the complexity of the pyrolysis process have made it very difficult to perform unambiguous experiments to determine the rates and mechanisms in coal pyrolysis. However, recent years have seen a number of new experimental and theoretical approaches which shed new light on the subject. This paper considers the recent progress on kinetics, the formation of volatile products, network models, cross-linking, rank effects, and the ‘two-component’ model of coal structure. Recent experiments which measured coal particle temperatures at high heating rates provide reasonable agreement on kinetic rate constants. These rates also agree with those derived from experiments at low heating rates. In tar formation and transport, a consensus is being reached on the central role of the volatility of tar molecules in explaining the variation with operating conditions (pressure, heating rate, particle size, etc.) of the amounts and molecular weight distributions of tars. Progress in the quantitative prediction of tar and char yields is being made through recently developed models for the fragmentation of the macromolecular coal network. These models, which provide quantitative descriptions of the relations between the chemical structure of the coal and the physical and chemical properties of the pyrolysis products (gas, tar, soot, and char), are an exciting advance in the understanding of the pyrolysis process. Such models are linking the occurrence of the plastic phase of the coal with the ‘liquid’ fragments formed during pyrolysis. On the subject of retrogressive cross-linking reactions, both solvent swelling and n.m.r. measurements confirm important rank-dependent differences in reaction rates; these appear to be related to the oxygen functionalities. Reasonable agreement is also seen for variations with coal rank of kinetic rates derived from measurements at low heating rates. Experiments suggest that the recently revived ‘two-component’ hypothesis of coal structure has application to low-rank coals, which are mixtures of two distinct components: polymethylenes and a more aromatic network. Bituminous coals, however, appear far more homogeneous. Although experiments can distinguish loosely and tightly bound fractions these fractions appear to consist of similar materials and are differentiated primarily in their molecular weight and degree of connection to the network. These coals appear to behave in a manner that is described by the network decomposition models.

Original Publication Citation

Solomon, P. R., T. H. Fletcher, and R. J. Pugmire, "Progress in Coal Pyrolysis," Fuel, 72:5, 587-597 (1993).

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

Publication Date


Permanent URL






Ira A. Fulton College of Engineering and Technology


Chemical Engineering

University Standing at Time of Publication

Associate Professor