Occurrence and probable source of chromium enrichment in permian coals, south africa

N. J. Wagner, M. L. Mokwena, A. Kolker

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5 Citations (Scopus)


The trace element data pool for South African coals is limited. However, certain elements are reported as occurring in considerably higher concentrations than global average values. These elements include chromium (Cr), as well as manganese (Mn), cobalt (Co), and molybdenum (Mo), with Cr showing the most consistent enrichment. The aim of this study was to investigate the occurrence of Cr in South African coals sampled from five coalfields, and to assess the possible source of Cr. A total of 21 run-of-mine (ROM) coal samples from the Waterberg, Soutpansberg, Witbank, Highveld, and the Nongoma Coalfields were obtained from active mines. Coal characterization, mineralogy, and geochemical data were compiled. The Cr values for the Waterberg (23 to 28 ppm), Soutpansberg (4.7 to 43 ppm), Witbank (24 to 37 ppm), and Highveld (33 to 37 ppm) coal samples are higher than those for the Nongoma coals (1.2 to 2.5 ppm), and, in nearly every case, higher than the Clarke value for hard coals (17 ppm). Correlation coefficients, density fractionation, and selective leaching were used to infer (indirect) modes of occurrence. A dominant silicate (clay) affinity was determined with Cr, as well as an organic affinity in the ROM samples. The Nongoma coals, with illite and no kaolinite, have extremely low Cr values. The other samples are enriched in kaolinite and also have a high Cr content. Chromium values as high as 67 ppm were reported for 1.4 RD float fraction samples, indicating a positive correlation with organic matter. A Cr-silicate association was observed following selective leaching. These results imply multiple modes of occurrence of Cr in the South African samples, in agreement with studies conducted globally. Chromium in the South African coals could have originated from the Bushveld Complex (approximately two billion years old), the largest Cr reserve in South Africa, which predates coal formation (approximately 299 to 252 million years ago) and is proximal to the coalfields. The Cr, seemingly not associated with chromite, may have been redistributed in the peat swamps during peat deposition, accumulating in the sediments and organic material. The Nongoma Coalfield is the farthest distance from the possible Bushveld Complex Cr source, and these samples are depleted in Cr.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)611-626
Number of pages16
JournalSouth African Journal of Geology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geology


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