Comparative study of a vitrinite-rich and an inertinite-rich Witbank coal (South Africa) using pyrolysis-gas chromatography

Ofentse M. Moroeng, Vimbai Mhuka, Mathew M. Nindi, R. James Roberts, Nicola J. Wagner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


This study aims to compare iso-rank vitrinite-rich and inertinite-rich coal samples to understand the impact of coal-forming processes on pyrolysis chemistry. A medium rank C bituminous coal was density-fractionated to create a vitrinite-rich and an inertinite-rich sub-sample. The vitrinite-rich sample has 83 vol% total vitrinite (mineral-matter-free basis), whereas the inertinite-rich counterpart has 66 vol% total inertinite. The vitrinite-rich sample is dominated by collotelinite and collodetrinite. Fusinite, semifusinite, and inertodetrinite are the main macerals of the inertinite-rich sample. Molecular chemistry was assessed using a pyrolysis gas chromatograph (py-GC) equipped with a thermal desorption unit coupled to a time of flight mass spectrometer (MS) (py-GC/MS) and solid-state nuclear magnetic resonance (13C CP-MAS SS NMR). The pyrolysis products of the coal samples are generally similar, comprised of low and high molecular weight alkanes, alkylbenzenes, alkylphenols, and alkyl-subtituted polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, although the vitrinite-rich sample is chemically more diverse. The lack of diversity exhibited by the inertinite-rich sample upon pyrolysis may be interpreted to suggest that major components were heated in their geologic history. Based on the 13C CP-MAS SS NMR analysis, the inertinite-rich sample has a greater fraction of phenolics, reflected in the py-GC/MS results as substituted and unsubstituted derivatives. The greater abundance of phenolics for the inertinite-rich sample may suggest a fire-related origin for the dominant macerals of this sample. The C2-alkylbenzene isomers (p-xylene and o-xylene) were detected in the pyrolysis products for the vitrinite-rich and inertinite-rich samples, though more abundant in the former. The presence of these in both samples likely reflects common source vegetation for the dominant vitrinite and inertinite macerals.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)621-632
Number of pages12
JournalInternational Journal of Coal Science and Technology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2019


  • Main Karoo Basin
  • Molecular chemistry
  • Phenolics
  • Pyrolysis products
  • Xylene (C-alkylbenzene) isomers

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geotechnical Engineering and Engineering Geology
  • Energy Engineering and Power Technology


Dive into the research topics of 'Comparative study of a vitrinite-rich and an inertinite-rich Witbank coal (South Africa) using pyrolysis-gas chromatography'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this