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Jinsheng Gao
College of Resource and Environment Engineering, East China University of Science and
Technology, Shanghai, China
Keywords : fossil fuel, coal, oil shale, natural bitumen, tar sand, heavy oil, peat, lignite,
anthracite, bituminous coal, resource, reserve, origin, formation, geochemistry, geology,
mining, exploitation, processing, utilization, technology, preparation, mineral matter, maceral,
clean coal technology, environmental pollution, sustainable development, desulfurization,
combustion, power generation, carbonization, gasification, liquefaction, pyrolysis, non-fuel
use, shale oil, tar, coke, gas, ecological system, acid rain, primary energy, industrial feedstock,
crude oil, biomass, organic rock, coalification, coal rank, humic acid, plant debris, surface
mining, underground mining, coal basin, seam, petrology, coking property, coking behavior,
hard coal, vitrain, clarain, durain, fusain, vitrinite, exinite, inertinite, fusinite, ash, volatile
matter, heating value, moisture content, metamorphism, fixed carbon, sulfur, nitrogen, trace
element, heavy metal, pyrite, swamp, peatland, coal structure, crush, grind, washed coal,
beneficiation, heavy medium, jig, fluidized bed, sorbent, wet scrubber, atmospheric pollutant,
coal conversion, iron-making, regeneration, synthesis, catalyst, alternative, organic, inorganic,
matter, kerogen, solvent extraction, retorting, chemicals. Deposit, recoverable, reservoir,
enhanced oil recovery, mire, cut away, conservation, transportation, biodiversity, bog,
humification, np-grading, refinery, retort, processing technology, char, asphalt
1. Introduction
2. Coal Geology and Geochemistry
3. Coal Technology 1
4. Coal Technology 2
5. Oil Shale
6. Natural Bitumen (Tar Sands) and Heavy Oil
7. Peat
8. Conclusion
Related Chapters
Biographical Sketch
Coal, oil shale, natural bitumen (tar sand), and heavy oil all belong to the group of fossil fuels.
Peat is usually not classified as a coal, but can be seen as its precursor. Coal is the end product
of a sequence of biological, geochemical, and geological processes (or a "coalification"
process) originating from plant debris. It has been used as a major source of fuel by
humankind for thousands of years. Known global reserves of coal are much greater than that
of any other fossil fuels. Currently, coal is widely used for power generation, heat supply,
coke making, the production of gaseous and liquid fuels, and so on. As a complex,
heterogeneous fuel, it is composed of organic and inorganic matters, and contains a very large

number of elements. It is difficult to burn or process without serious environmental

implications and therefore substantial worldwide attention is being focused on the more
efficient and clean use of coal.
The future of coal is to a great extent dependent on the development and availability of new
processes. Natural bitumen, found in tar sand and heavy oil from various reservoirs, belongs
to a subclass of petroleum. Oil shale is also a sedimentary rock, containing kerogen as its
main organic constituent, and to a lesser extent, bitumen; both embedded in an inorganic
matrix. Generally speaking, the latter are more closely similar to conventional crude oil in
their elemental composition of organic matter than they are to coal. Naturally, it is much
easier to convert them into liquid fuels. Peat, as an important biomass resource, is an acidic
mixture of dead and decomposed vegetable matter that forms in boggy areas. Although it is a
low-quality fuel, it has a number of special applications and is important for the conservation
of global ecological systems and environments.
1. Introduction
Coal, oil shale, natural bitumen (tar sand), and heavy oil are all fossil fuels. Strictly speaking,
peat is not yet a real organic rock and can be regarded as the precursor of coal.
In global primary energy consumption, crude oil is still a major contender, supplying 40
percent of fuel, while coal supplies 30 percent and natural gas 20 percent. This means that
fossil fuels currently supply 90 percent of our energy, which gives some idea of how much
fossil fuel todays society consumes and how dependent upon those fuels the world has
become. Fossil fuels are essentially the stored solar energy of several hundred million years.
They are non-recyclable, exhaustible natural resources that will one day no longer be
available. Over the past 150 years, we have already used up one third of the proven amount of
oil reserves, or about 700 billion barrels (1 barrel = 159 liters), which leaves only 1.5 trillion
barrels remaining. The estimated remaining reserves of coal, calculated in terms of oil
equivalent, are thought to be 9.1 trillion barrels; those of natural gas, 1.3 trillion barrels; and
those of oil shale and natural bitumen together, 2.1 trillion barrels. The data suggests that coal
is the most abundant fossil fuel yet discovered. If one adds to it the other low quality fossil
fuels, such as oil shale, tar sand, and heavy oil, together they can certainly meet the global
energy demand for at least several hundred years, thus acting as a bridge between oil and new
energy resources in the future. In addition, these fuels are valuable resources of organic
carbon and can be converted into a variety of industrial feedstock and materials.
By comparison with crude oil and natural gas, the above-mentioned fuels have some intrinsic
drawbacks: first, they are relatively deficient in hydrogen and rich in carbon, particularly in
the case of coal; second, they have a higher content of impurities, such as mineral matter and
sulfur, leading to more environmental problems and more difficulties in processing; and third,
they are not convenient for transportation and handling and so on.
The world requires sustainable development, involving clean energy and its reliable supply.
Therefore, more attention should be focused on the development of more advanced
technologies for the conversion of low-quality fossil fuels into synthetic crude oil and natural
gas to compensate for the depletion of both. Coal has had a glorious history and we are
convinced, with good reason, of its continued glorious future.

2. Coal Geology and Geochemistry

2.1. Origin of Coal and its Reserves of the World
Coal, an organic rock, was formed from partially decomposed and decomposing plant debris
that collected in regions where waterlogged swampy conditions prevailed. These conditions
prevented complete decay of the debris to carbon dioxide and water as it accumulated and the
formation of peat gradually occurred. In general terms, the organic debris consisted of trees,
ferns, rushes, lycopods, and several thousand plant species, the remnants of which have been
identified in coal beds. Initially, most of the plant material making up the peat was
biochemically broken down. Most of the cellulose was digested away by bacteria, and lignin
was transformed into humic acid and humins. Partial combustion or biochemical charring also
thermally altered some plant material. Still more plant material, such as spores and pollen,
survived the diagenesis stage without much change. Strictly speaking, peat is not yet a real
coal, and normally is not included in the coal series, but it is nevertheless believed to be the
precursor of coal. During the first stage of coalification, the various biological-bacterial
processes might have predominated over any other potential processes. When peat was buried
underneath sedimentary cover, the biochemical stage was terminated, and a variety of
physicochemical and chemical processes (metamorphic), determined by temperature and
pressure, subsequently occurred. Then peat was transformed through brown coal (lignite) and
bituminous coal, finally into anthracite. (Shown in Figure 1.)

Figure 1. Schematic representation of the coalification process

Although coal seams are found in rocks of all geologic ages since the Devonian, the age
distribution is not even. Major coal deposits of Carboniferous age occur in eastern and central
North America, in the British Isles, and on the European continent. Major deposits of Permian
age occur in South Africa, India, South America, and Antarctica. In Jurassic times the major
coal accumulation was in Australia, New England, and parts of Russia and China. The last
great period of coal deposition was at the end of the Cretaceous period and the beginning of
the Tertiary period. Coals originating at this time are found in the Rocky Mountains of North
America, Japan, Australia, and in parts of Europe and Africa. The distribution of coal seams
throughout the world is also not uniform; most of the worlds coal is located in only three
countries: the United States, Russia, and China. Although the figures vary from source to
source, each of these countries has about 25 percent of the total coal resources, while the rest
of the world shares the remaining 25 percent. The worlds estimated reserves of coal are about
6.9 Tt of hard coal and 6.5 Tt of brown coal. With current technology only about 78 percent
of the total coal reserves are economically recoverable. However, this is a much higher
amount than any other fossil fuel. The world coal production for 1991 was ca. 5.1 billion
tonnes (short) and the major coal producing countries are China, United States, Russia,
Germany, India, Australia, and Poland.
2.2. Coal Exploration and Mining

The purpose of coal exploration is to determine the nature, location, and extent of the
resources available in a particular situation, and delineate the features that may affect their
economic extraction. A program of geological exploration for coal usually has one of two
possible objectives: first, to find an area from which a given amount of coal of a specific
quality may be successfully recovered, or second, to determine the amount and quality of coal
that can be economically extracted from a given area. Like other exploration activities, the
evaluation of coal deposits involves the following operations. One must:

obtain legal title to explore the area

evaluate the geological information already available
carry out surface exploration
carry out subsurface exploration
collect and analyze samples
estimate the coal resources and the significance
communicate the results with other members of the project team.

Geophysical methods now play a critical role in many coalfield investigations. The techniques
used at an early stage in the exploration program are normally those that give broad-scale
information on a large area at relatively little cost. These include air-borne magnetometer
investigation, regional gravity surveys, and broad-scale seismic studies, used to delineate the
sedimentary and structural framework of the area involved. They may be followed by ground
magnetic, electrical resistivity and more detailed seismic investigations that give a higher
resolution of individual features, but at a significantly greater expense. Further information on
the depth, thickness, and quality of coal at any point across the area, and of the strata with
which the coal is associated, requires the effective use of exploratory drilling techniques such
as core drilling and non-core drilling. Because of the wide range of information that the both
drillings can yield, core samples of coal seam and the adjacent non-core strata should be
examined in as much detail as possible. Especially with coal seams, but also overburden or
mine roof and floor rocks, the collection of a complete core, with as little disturbance as
possible, is vital to the success of this stage.
Coal mining techniques can be divided into two categories: surface mining (open cast or open
cut mining) and underground mining. Surface mining has a number of advantages over
underground mining, including greater recovery, greater safety for personnel, and, in most
cases, a greater level of overall productivity. The chief disadvantage, however, lies in the
often-unfavorable impact, at least in the short term, on the surrounding environment. Surface
mining involves two main methods. These are: first, strip mining, where the material above
the seam (known as overburden) is emplaced directly from the digging equipment used to
remove it from the ground, into an area immediately adjacent to the working place; and
second, open-pit mining, where the overburden is moved from the face to an emplacement
site some distance away, by an intermediate haulage or transposition process. However, most
coal deposits so far have been extracted by underground mining due to thick overburden and
the depth of coal seams. Underground mining includes room and pillar mining, short-wall
mining, and long-wall mining.
In conventional mining the operations are performed in a cyclical pattern as follows:

a slot is cut in the coal face to make controlled blasting possible

a pattern of holes is drilled into the face around this slot
the holes are charged with an approved explosive and fired

the broken coal is picked up from the floor of the opening and transferred
to the haulage system
the roof of the extended opening is supported as required.

In continuous mining, a single machine using a cutting head equipped with hardened metal
picks breaks up the solid coal at the face without the need for any blasting opening. The
continuous miner provides a greater rate of output than a cyclical conventional unit and
requires fewer operating personnel. In order to meet the need of the modern coal industry,
more advanced techniques for exploration and mining are in development.
2.3. Coal Geology
Coal is the end product of a sequence of biological, geochemical, and geological processes.
Coal geology, as an important field in coal science, deals with the formation, distribution,
composition, and character of coals, as well as with the exploration, extraction, and utilization
of coal resources. Paleobotanical, paleogeographic, and paleotectonic factors affected the
evolution of coal formation; therefore, the various characteristics of coal from different basins
are closely related to the different periods of geological history. Coal geologists both study
this and attend to the relationship between the utility of coal and the development of human
society. With industrial development and scientific progress, coal requirements have greatly
increased and the study of coal geology has thus made great progress. Achievements in the
fields of coal petrology, coal-bearing formations, coal basins, coal accumulating
environments, coal metamorphism, the distribution of trace elements in coal, and the utilities
of coal have been made, and this has greatly extended the content of the study of coal
Generally speaking, the formation of a coal seam represents the evolutionary process of a peat
swamp. The formation of a thick or a thin coal seam often depends on crustal movement,
which not only influences the thickness of coal seams, but also controls the split and thin
away of coal seams. Studies on global and regional coal-accumulating laws show that there
were several important coal-forming periods in geohistory, and the distribution of chief coal
fields in each coal-forming period are all regularly zonal. The migrations of coalaccumulating zones and coal-accumulating centers are closely related to paleostructure and
paleoclimate. Coal basin analyses play an important role in the understanding of regional
coal-accumulating laws and thus offer a capacity for seeking both areas abundant in coals and
areas within which are distributed excellent coals. For example, low-sulfur and low-ash coals
were separated from high-sulfur and high-ash coals using the analysis of Carboniferous coal
basins in Appalachia, in the east of the United States.
Coal metamorphismone of the important factors influencing coal ranks and qualitiescan
be divided into the following types according to its genesis and characteristics:

Geothermal or deep burial metamorphism. The degree of metamorphism

of this kind increases markedly with increasing depth of burial.
Telemagmatic metamorphism, resulting from the geothermal abnormality
produced by magma actions.
Contact metamorphism, caused by direct contact with magma intrusion.
Hydrothermal metamorphism, resulting from the gas and liquid thermals
generated by the actions of magma and groundwater.

Tectonic metamorphism, caused by the intensive compression and shear of

strata due to crustal movement.

Many researchers in the world have studied the potentials and the geochemical characteristics
of coal and coal measures with regard to producing other fuels. The discovery and
exploitation of some industrial oil-gas fields confirmed the potentials of coal and coal
measures in the United States, Australia, Indonesia, and Canada. Statistics suggest that about
70 to 80 percent of the large gas fields and their natural gas reserves are from coal measures.
In the mid-1980s, it was found that the oil-generating ability of humic coal is related to the
desmocollinite content of vitrinite. Recent studies of the repressed desmocollinite thus give us
a new way to research coal-formed oil.
2.4. Classification of Coal
The nature of a classification system will depend upon the particular application for which the
system is to be employed. Classification of coal may be subdivided into scientific or genetic
categories, and technical or commercial ones. In order to classify coals by means of numerical
parameters, different kinds of tests are necessary, such as:

chemical analysis, including proximate and ultimate and so on

technological assay, simulating coals in their behavior on heating
petrographic analysis.

In addition, a number of supplementary tests have been developed, which in some special
cases may be extremely useful, for example: the friability (grindability) test for combustion
coals; the fusibility test of coal ash for combustion and gasification of coals; and the plasticity
test for coking coals. Some of the newer analytical techniques that have been used to
characterize coal are also being tested, for example, FTIR, NMR, DTG, Py-MS, GPC and so
on. These techniques may provide parameters that are more reproducible than some of the
conventional empirical tests.
Coal rank is an important concept in all classification of coal. The rank of coal is the degree or
stage that the coal has reached during its coalification process; that is, its degree of
metamorphism or geochemical maturity. The parameters conventionally used to characterize
coal rank are first, fixed carbon, carbon content, reflectance, and heating value (only for low
rank coal), and second, volatile matter, and hydrogen content (only for anthracite). The other
parameters used to characterize the technological properties or grade are caking and coking
parameters, ash content, and sulfur content and so on.
Every country with a coal industry has tended to develop its own criteria in order to classify
its domestic coals, often for a particular application. The international system of coal
classification came into being just after the Second World War as a result of the greatly
increased volume of trade between the various coal-producing and coal-consuming nations
and still finds limited use in Europe. It divides coals into two major types: hard coal, which is
defined as any coal with a calorific value greater than 23.9 MJ/kg (5700 kcal/kg) on a moist
but ash-free basis, and brown coal, defined as coal with a calorific value less than 23.9
MJ/Kg. In this system, the hard coals are firstly divided into classes according to their volatile
matter, and then coals of the same class are subdivided into groups and subgroups according
to their caking and coking properties, respectively. A three-digit code number is then
employed to identify the coal. The first figure indicates coal class, the second figure indicates

the group into which the coal falls, and the third figure is the subgroup. In 1998 the
International Classification of Medium and High Rank Coals was published to assist in
characterizing coals involved in the international coal trade. The new system published
involved eight parameters and a fourteen-digit code. The international system (ISO 2950,
1974) categorized brown coal on the basis of the total moisture content (ash-free) and the
yield of tar produced from a dry ash-free sample. The moisture content is indicated by the
class number (1015), and the tar yield is described by the group number (0040). A fourdigit code number is finally derived from the combination of the class and group number
2.5. Geochemistry of Coal
Coal geochemistrya marginal and interdisciplinary subjectis rapidly developing to meet
the need for the sustainable development of coal resources. It intensively examines the origin,
migration, enrichment, and distribution of elements using the perspective and methodology of
chemistry. It also studies the formation, composition, content, and distributing characteristics
of minerals in coals, and it studies too the interactive and combinative relationship between
organic and inorganic macerals to offer suggestions for the effective and clean utilization of
Coal is an organic rock, whose petrographic constituents were classified macroscopically by
Stopes into four lithotypes: vitrain, clarain, durain, and fusain, and microscopically by
Thiessem into anthraxylon, attritus (translucent and opaque), and fusain. The latter
classification was based on visual characteristics of the constituents in thin section under
transmitted light. It has since been replaced by measuring the reflectance on a polished
surface because of the experimental convenience of the latter technique. European scientists
define the micro constituents of coal as macerals, which are grouped into vitrinite, exinite, and
inertinite according to the International Classification of Macerals of Hard Coals. Vitrinite and
exinite are respectively equivalent to anthraxylon and translucent attritus in US nomenclature.
Inertinite is frequently grouped into micrinite and fusinite, which are equivalent to opaque
attritus and fusain, respectively.
Macerals are derived from the particular plant tissues commonly preserved in peat swamps.
Vitrinite is derived from variously decomposed woody tissues under watery and reduction
conditions. It is the most frequent and important maceral group occurring in bituminous coals.
Sometimes, cellular structures are visible in vitrinite under a microscope. Of the three maceral
groups, vitrinite has medium reflectance, carbon, and hydrogen content-qualities, which vary
according to coal rank. Exinite is derived from special plant tissues, such as spore and pollen
coats, culticules, resins, and other fatty secretions, hence it is hydrogen-rich and has the
highest volatile matter yield. Inertinites are derived from the partial carbonization by fire of
various plant tissues in the peat swamp stage, and also from woody tissues by a special
microbiological process under more or less oxidative condition for a short time; therefore,
they are rich in carbon and chemically inert. The characteristic optical property of inertinites
is their high reflectance.
In the organic matter of coals there is a special group of organic substances known as
biomarkers. Their content is very low, but is of great significance in geochemistry. They are
derived from different organisms that underwent geological evolution and are still preserved
in sediments. In coal extracts, some biomarkers have been found which can be used to analyze

the sources, formation environment, and the evolution of coals. The biomarkers in coal are
usually alkanes, propylene/ phellogen, terpenoids, and steroids.
Since some oil reservoirs were found to originate from, or relate to, coals or coal measure, the
hydrocarbons derived from coal have become the main subject of the organic geochemistry of
coal. Hydrocarbons derived from coal can be divided into two types: gaseous hydrocarbon
(predominantly methane) and liquid hydrocarbon, which itself can be further classified into
three types: light liquid oil, paraffin-poor crude oil, and paraffin-rich oil. Research has pointed
out that the resinite-rich coals can produce immature light crude oil at low rank.
2.6. Mineral Matter in Coal
Mineral (inorganic) matter in coal includes minerals and inorganic materials in or associated
with macerals. The mineral matter content in mined coals ranges widely from about 5 percent
to nearly 50 percent. Mineral matter in coal can be classified into five groups:

crystalline mineral particles and aggregates

non-crystalline mineral detritus and aggregates
inorganic elements and compounds associated with the organic molecules
of macerals
inorganic elements and compounds in the pore water and surface water in
inorganic constituents in coal-bed gas.

Of all the above, minerals are the most important, since other inorganic elements are small in
quantity, although they are numerous in species. Those elements with content below 1,000
ppm in most dry coal are called trace elements.
Mineral matter in coal comes from a number of sources:

mineral matter contained in the coal-forming plant

solid particles washed or blown into peat swamp
water solution that has flowed into peat swamp
ground water and hydrothermal solution that has flowed into seam cleats,
fissures, and cavities
gas trapped in coal seams
volcanic eruptive products fallen into peat swamp.

Although the mineral species in coal may number more than a hundred, the common minerals
are mainly the following:

clay minerals, such as kaolinite and illite-sericite

oxide and hydroxide minerals, such as quartz or rutile
sulfide minerals, such as pyrites
carbonate minerals, such as calcite and siderite
others such as feldspar, zircon, apatite, phosphorite, harite, and gypsum.

Apart from the minerals mentioned above, some very special minerals are found in a few
coalfields. For example, in Germany and the UK, there is a kind of coal rich in saline, called
"salt coal." In the Donetskiy Coal Basin in Russia, the coal contains cinnabar. In some

Mesozoic and Cenozoic coalfields in China, coal containing some uranium-bearing minerals
is found.
With the development of analytical techniques, more and more trace elements have been
identified, and therefore greater attention has been focused on those elements, even if their
content is below 1,000 ppm in most dried coals. Some trace elements such as uranium,
germanium, and gallium etc. may have exploitable value as a resource. However, it is
important to note that some of the trace elements in coal may pollute the environment during
mining and processing. During the last twenty years, seventy of the trace elements have been
analyzed and studied by scholars in various countries, during the course of which twenty-four
elements (As, Cd, Cr, Hg, Se, B, and so on) have been found to have a potential influence on
the environment.
Ash is the residue derived from mineral matter when coal is burned off. The constituents of
coal ash may be classified into acidic and basic. The acidic constituents are silica, alumina,
and titania; the basic constituents are iron, calcium, magnesium, and alkaline oxides. The ratio
of acidic to basic constituents dictates the ash-softening temperature and slag viscosity.
During the incineration of mineral matter to ash, various weight changes take place due to
loss of hydration water from minerals, loss of carbon dioxide from carbonates, oxidation of
pyrite to iron oxides, and fixation of sulfur oxides by calcium and magnesium oxides. The ash
content, therefore, is usually less than the corresponding percentage of mineral matter
originally present in coal. Research on the mineral matter in coal is thus very significant for
coal geology, exploitation, storage, preparation, combustion, gasification, and liquefaction, as
well as other uses of coal, such as marketing and so on. For example, mineral matter is an
excellent geochemical indicator in the study of the depositional environment of coal and that
of other problems in coal geology. Also, the particle size and association modes of minerals
with coal macerals are important factors in coal preparation, while slagging and fusion
behaviors of coal ash are important factors in the evaluation of boiler coal and so on.
3. Coal Technology 1
This section is a discussion of coal structure, properties, and related environmental problems.
3.1. Coal Structure and Properties
Coal is a very complex heterogeneous solid that varies widely in its physical and chemical
properties. Viewed in terms of physical entities (macerals, minerals, and pores), macerals,
molecules, and structural units, coal is a heterogeneous matter on different levels. Therefore,
there is no universal molecular structure available for various kinds of coals. Since the
beginning of the last century, coal structure research has been a hot issue in the field of coal
chemistry. Research on the illustration of coal structure has, in the last twenty years, made
substantial breakthroughs. This has been achieved using a series of physical and chemical
approaches such as NMR, FTIR, Py-GC-MS, solvent extraction and swelling, flash pyrolysis,
and different depolymerization or degradation reactions etc. Computer-aided molecular design
(CAMD) has also been especially useful, as have newly developed coal- processing
It is well-known that all coals consist of organic and mineral matters. The former is composed
of carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen, and sulfur. The carbon content ranges from 65 percent

to 95 percent, and increases during the coalification process, with a simultaneous decrease in
the percentage of oxygen and hydrogen which typically range between 2 percent and 30
percent, and 2 percent and 7 percent, respectively. Nitrogen and sulfur contents are
independent of the coal rank, and are normally less than 2 percent. The basic structure of coal
is a graphite-like aromatic/ hydroaromatic system. The average number of condensed
aromatic rings is two to four, with the exception of anthracite; the non-aromatic part of the
molecules consists mostly of a cycloparaffinic and hydroaromatic ring system, and there are
few alkyl and oxygen-containing functional groups. The aromaticity of coal varies with rank
from about 0.66 for lignite, over 0.750.88 for bituminous coal, to above 0.90 for anthracite.
There are mainly two kinds of coal structure models: the "two phase" (immobile and mobile
phase) model and the "monophase" model. The "two phase" model currently has widespread
acceptance and considers that coal consists of covalently cross-linked, three-dimensional
networks, similar to a cross-linked polymer but without repeating monomeric units, and
containing small amounts of low molecular weight substances trapped in the network. This
model can explain a lot of coal properties and behaviors. Recently it was found that an Nmethyl-2-pyrrolidinone/carbon disulfide mixed solvent can extract up to 60 to 79 percent by
weight of some bituminous coals at room temperature. This means that the covalent crosslinking only makes a small contribution to the coal structure and the co-operative nonvalent
interactions, such as hydrogen bonds, p-interactions, and charge transfers can form rather
stronger associations. Thus a new monophase model has been proposed: coal consists of
molecules with a continuous distribution of molecular weight from giant aggregates to smaller
molecules associated through the interactions mentioned earlier. In this area, further studies
are still needed.
Important physical properties of coal relating to its processing and utilization are specific
gravity (density), magnetic and optical properties, surface and thermal properties, grindability
or friability, and so on. Differences in these properties permit separation of mineral matter
from coal substance, the concentration of coal maceral groups in different fractions, the
manufacture of coal-water or coal oil slurries, and the characterization of different kinds of
Important chemical properties of coal also relating to its processing and utilization are
pyrolysis (thermal decomposition, or carbonization), hydrogenation, oxidation,
depolymerization, and other organochemical reactions. Because all of the major coal
processing technologies (such as coke making, gasification, hydroliquefaction, and
combustion) essentially belong to a thermolchemical process, the pyrolysis behaviors of coal
have long been seen as their most important characteristic.
Coal pyrolysis is a destructive heating of coal in the absence of air with the production of a
solid, porous, carbonaceous residue called coke or char, and the evolution of volatile gas, tar,
and light oil products. The product yield and composition vary with coal rank and pyrolysis
conditions such as temperature, heating rate, residence time, and the presence of hydrogen.
The behaviors of coal mineral or ash at high temperatures are also a subject of pyrolysis study.
3.2. Coal Preparation
Coal preparation is a pre-treatment process to crush and grind coal, and then to separate
undesirable mineral-rich parts. A physical approach called physical cleaning or beneficiation
is commercially used to control the heating value and physical characteristics of coal. It is a

more efficient utilization of coal in both combustion and conversion (removing potential
pollutants such as sulfur-containing minerals prior to combustion) that has become an
important alternative means of meeting air quality standards. Obviously, it is of great
significance for clean coal technology.
Basic unit operations in current preparation plants consist of crushing and washing. Crushing
is needed to liberate the heavier minerals or mineral-rich parts from the desirable but
relatively lighter components of coal for enhancing the separation efficiency. After having
been liberated by crushing, the undesirable parts of raw coal are removed by washing, or other
separation methods. The number of processes needed in a complete washing circuit is
dependent on the washing ability of crushed coal, and the desired quality of washed coal.
The most commonly used coarse-coal washers are the heavy-medium vessel and the Baum jig
types, while particulate-coal washers include the heavy-medium cyclone, hydrocyclone, Batac
jig, concentrating table, and Humphreys Spiral Concentrator types. Generally speaking, the
heavy-medium vessel is superior to Baum jigs for cleaning coal larger than 6.35mm. The
recovery efficiency (> 98 percent versus 89 to 94 percent) and sharpness of separation (error
area of 20 to 25 versus 75) are better for heavy-medium vessels than for Baum jigs. However,
the capacity of the Baum jig to clean a wide size range (from 15.24 cm to 200 mesh) is
desirable from the standpoint of capital investment and operating cost. The heavy-medium
cyclone and Batac jigs are used for particulate-coal (1.27 cm to 28 mesh) cleaning; the former
is a commercial particulate-coal washer capable of the near-duplication of laboratory
float/sink separations, while the latters performance characteristics are similar to those of
Batac jigs in coarse-coal cleaning.
When coal is crushed in a preparation plant, a certain portion of the coal is reduced to a fine
consistency. The fine size coal is often disposed of in the wastewater pond because
conventional fine-coal washers are unable to recover the 200 mesh fraction with reasonable
efficiency. As coal prices and concern for environmental protection increase, however,
recovery of fine-coal from the wastewater pond becomes more and more attractive. The
physical methods for fine-coal cleaning include froth flotation, oil agglomeration, magnetic
separation, and dry separation processes. The flotation method is based on the differences in
surface property. Coal (organic matter) is considered to be naturally hydrophobic, while most
coal minerals are hydrophilic, and pyrites are intrinsically neither strongly hydrophobic nor
hydrophilic. The optimum coal particle sizes used in flotation range from 48 to 150 mesh.
However, very fine coal of 200 to 325 mesh has also been processed. As a matter of fact,
flotation is the only method commercially available for the cleaning of coal of more than 200
mesh. Much of the pyrite content in fine coal can be rejected together with the high-ash refuse
during coal flotation by optimizing process variables, such as frother quantity, solid
concentration in slurry, and aeration. However, a portion of the pyrites cannot be removed
under these conditions because their particles are too fine to entrap in the froth and thus attach
to the floatable coal. The need to further reduce the pyrite content that remains in the singlestage clean coal concentrate has led to the development of a two-stage flotation process. As
regards oil agglomeration, it is more effective than froth flotation in ash reduction, but less
effective in sulfur reduction. Magnetic separation, especially high gradient magnetic
separation (HGMS), offers a useful means to remove 60 to 84 percent pyrite sulfur at a coal
recovery rate of 85 to 93 percent.
3.3. Clean Coal Technology

The term "clean coal technology" is a quite new conception first put forward by American and
Canadian coal scientists in the 1980s. Soon afterwards, the United States took the lead in
carrying out clean coal technology programs, focusing on the elimination of sulfur oxide
pollution derived from high-sulfur coal combustion. Since the 1992 UN conference on
Environment and Development in Brazil, more and more countries have paid close attention
to the production of clean energy and its effective utilization. As mentioned before, coal emits
sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides, and particulate and solid wastes when coal is burned in boilers
or at power plants. In addition to such pollutants, coal emits a large amount of carbon dioxide,
which may be responsible for global warming through its greenhouse effect.
Nowadays, the term clean coal technology is used worldwide to represent a series of new coal
utilization technologies that are environmentally clean, highly efficient, and economically
acceptable. Clean coal technology can reduce emissions of sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides, and
other pollutants at various points of coal use, from a mine to a power plant or factory. They
offer the potential for the cleaner use of coal, thereby having a direct effect on the
environment, and contributing to the solution of problems related to acid rain and global
climate change. They also promote the use of coal and thus offer some degree of energy
security to those countries that are not oil importers but have plentiful supplies of coal.
The current clean coal technologies can be summarized as follows:

Clean and effective combustion techniques involving the development of

new combustion technology with high efficiency and low pollution such as
PFBC, IGCC and CFBC; the development of new technology in fuel gas
cleaning, and the increase in the technology level of newly-built power
stations etc.
In coal preparation, the development of new technology in coal washing
and separation to substantially reduce the ash and sulfur content of coal.
The introduction of large-scale coal gasification technology for power
generation, town gas, and synthetic fuel.
The development of coal briquetting and coal-water slurry technologies.
The development of long-term clean coal technologies; for instance, those
of fuel cell, coal liquefaction, underground coal gasification, and
magnetohydrodynamic (MHD) techniques.

In order to solve the conflict between energy supply and environmental protection, it is vital
to actively develop clean coal technologies. In this area, international co-operation must also
be promoted.
3.4. Desulfurization of Coal
The total sulfur content of coal varies within a single deposit as well as between deposits. It
ranges from below 0.5 percent to roughly 10 percent, but mostly between 0.5 and 1.5 percent.
Sulfur present in coal exists in either inorganic or organic forms. The inorganic form is mostly
pyritic sulfur (FeS2), although smaller amounts of sulfate and elemental sulfur are also
observed. The forms of organic sulfur are less well established. In summary, the majority of
the organic sulfur in high rank coal is in thiophenic forms, and the proportion of nonthiophenic groups including sulfide forms is higher in low rank coal, but the presence of thiol
forms in coal is unclear. Increasingly stringent regulation for SOx emissions during coal
combustion has encouraged the technical development of coal cleaning for sulfur removal.

Three methods for the desulfurization of coal before, during, and after combustion have thus
appeared. Coal desulfurization techniques before combustion are usually classified into three
methods: physical, chemical, and biological sulfur removal. Physical cleaning techniques to
remove inorganic sulfur (mainly pyrite sulfur) are well established and widely used. On the
other hand, chemical and biological cleaning have not yet been applied commercially. As
mentioned above, during the physical cleaning of coal, the pyrite sulfur in coal is normally
removed with the simultaneous decrease of coal mineral content. The main chemical cleaning
processes involve oxidative leaching, chlorinolysis, leaching with an alkaline solution or melt,
and microwave irradiation. In many cases, the desulfurization efficiency of pyrite sulfur is
over 80 percent, whereas the extent of organic sulfur removal is less than 50 percent.
Biological desulfurization of coal is potentially attractive because the process can operate
usually at approximately ambient temperature and thus removes the sulfur selectively without
carbon loss. In general, the biological desulfurization of coal can remove up to 90 percent of
both sulfur forms. However, there remain some problems and limitations; for example, very
low reaction rate, difficulty for microorganism culture, and maintaining the necessary reaction
In fluidized bed combustion and gasification, coal particles and calcium-based materials are
mixed and fluidized by gas jets at temperature below 1273K, and the sulfur involved in the
conversion process is immediately captured in beds as CaSO4 or CaS. Limestone and
dolomite are well-proven in-bed desulfurization sorbents. Fluidized bed combustion (FBC)
processes usually operate with a Ca/S ratio of 2 to 4 for sulfur removal up to more than 90
percent. In contrast with SO2 capture, the removal of H2S evolved in coal gasification (a
reducing gas atmosphere is thermodynamically limited) an additional desulfurization step
may be needed to meet with gas turbine and emission requirements. To reduce the use of this
method, the minimization of the costs for sorbent and residue management is required. Flue
gas desulfurization (FGD) is a post-combustion method to remove SO2 from the flue gas of
coal-fired plants and is the most widely used technology, so far, for controlling SO2 emissions.
At the end of 1996, there were 590 FGD installations in operation with a total capacity of 230
GWe, which corresponded to 22 percent of all existing coal-fired capacity (922 GWe).
Currently, 93 percent of FGD installations are in OECD countries, in particular in Japan,
Germany, and the United States. Commercial FGD technologies can be grouped into five
categories: wet scrubbers, spray dry scrubbers, sorbent injection, regenerable processes, and
combined SO2/NOx processes. Wet scrubbers are the commonly used FGD technology,
having the largest market share-75 percent or 86 percent of the total installation unit or
capacity, respectively followed by spray dry scrubbers and sorbent injection processes. The
majority of the wet scrubbers are of the wet lime or limestone/gypsum variety, in which
CaCO3 reacts with the SO2 in water finally to produce CaSO42H2O. An SO2 removal
efficiency of more than 90 percent can be achieved with an almost stoichiometric sorbent
3.5. Environmental Problems Arising from Coal Handling and Processing
Coal is an "unclean" fuel, which contains numerous impurities, mainly mineral matter, sulfur,
nitrogen, and trace elements. All impurities are of little help in coal utilization and cause a
number of problems regarding environmental sustainability. Coal holds less hydrogen and
more carbon and oxygen than oil and natural gas, which is also environmentally unfriendly.
Atmospheric pollutants arising from coal systems mainly include particulate matter: SO2,
NOx, hydrocarbons, and trace elements. The particulate matter of most concern in the coal

system is coal dust, fly ash, smoke or soot, and acidic aerosols. Particles less than or equal to
10 m in diameter are called PM10, whose concentration in the air is a target monitored and
regulated conventionally. In 1997, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) instituted
a new air quality standard to control PM2.5 (particles of a diameter less than or equal to 2.5m)
for the first time. Sulfur oxides are the other main pollutants. In spite of the adoption of
desulfurization processes for coal-fired plants in most industrial countries, the global
emissions of sulfur oxides from human activities are still large:-at the present time around 70
to 80 Mt of sulfur per year. High-temperature combustion of coal produces nitrogen oxides,
primarily NO and NO2, known jointly as NOx, whose amount is closely related to the
combustion temperature, air-fuel ratio, burner type, and nitrogen content of coal. Fluidized
bed combustion is generally operated at low temperatures between 1073K and 1173K, and
typically it only has NOx concentrations in the fuel gas of 100 to 150 ppmv. The greenhouse
gases arising from coal production and utilization are carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrogen
oxides. Carbon dioxide is emitted in very large quantities from coal combustion. Global
emissions of carbon dioxide from coal amount to about 2.39 Gt carbon per year, in contrast to
2.54 Gt carbon per annum from oil, and 1.00 Gt carbon per annum from natural gas.
In addition to atmospheric pollutants, most coal processing plants, like coal preparation,
carbonization, gasification, liquefaction, and combustion, yield large quantities of wastewater.
In wet scrubbers, used for gas cleaning and most technologies for physical coal beneficiation,
process water is required to contact directly with coal or related products, and many pollutants
are thus transferred to it, forming wastewater. The pollutants are generally suspended solid
particles, inorganic cations and anions, phenols, oils, and the like. Ammonia liquor occurring
in coke-making plants is a typical wastewater, contaminated by coal processing. Another
typical water pollution is acidic mining drainage caused by coal mining.
A perceivable deterioration of the environment has increased the emphasis on pollution
control. In the coal system, rapid progress has been made over the last decades on the
standard regulation of atmospheric pollutant emissions for coal-fired plants. On the whole, the
emission standards have become more and more stringent. Taxation policy is sometimes used
to orient coal-fired plants towards upgrading with regard to pollutant emission control. Most
countries limit the particulate emissions from the stack of coal-fired power plants. The current
particulate emission standards for new coal-fired plants set by the EU are 100 mg m3 for
plant sizes of 50 to 500 MWt, and 50 mg m 3 for plant sizes of 500 MWt or more. In the
United States, the Acid Rain Program of the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments (CAAA) aimed
at cutting annual emissions by 10 million tonnes, to about 60 percent of 1980 levels by 2010.
Control of NOx emissions from coal-fired plants has just recently been considered in most
countries. Japan is the country with the earliest limits on NOx emissions having had
leglislation in place since the 1970s. More stringent standards with 515 mg m3 for 32 to 560
MWt plants and 410 mg m3 for more than 560 MWt plants were introduced in 1989.
Australia is one of the few countries that have set specific trace element limits for coal-fired
plants. Australias limits on fuel gas are 2.0 mg m3 for Cr, Pb, and Zn (together), 0.5 mg m3
for As, Co, and Ni (together), and 0.05 mg m3 for Cd and Hg (separately). But, at present,
there are no CO2 emission standards for coal-fired plants. However, several countries have
national programs proposed in the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change to
stabilize greenhouse gas concentration in the atmosphere.
4. Coal Technology 2

This section refers to all the main technologies for coal utilization and processing, including
coal combustion, thermal decomposition, carbonization, gasification, and liquefaction. In all
thermal-chemical processing of coal, the thermal decomposition of organic matter in coal is
involved as a primary step.
4.1. Coal Combustion
Nowadays, direct coal combustion is extensively utilized for industrial and domestic purposes
because of the large-scale reserves and low cost of coal. Most of the worlds coal is burned in
boilers of power plants, industrial boilers, and kilns. Space heating and domestic use also
consume a large amount of coal every year. The statistical data shows that nearly 47 percent
of global electricity comes from coal-fired plants. The coal characteristics affecting
combustion include:

heating value
volatile matter yield or coal rank
ash content and fusion characteristics
sulfur content
moisture content
coking properties and so on.

They make significant impacts on process efficiency, boiler design, combustion operation, and
environmental pollution.
It is known that the principal combustion process of coal involves three basic stages:

release of volatile matter resulting from the thermal decomposition of coal,

or coal devolatilization
ignition and burning of the released volatile matter
ignition and burning of the remaining char.

Depending upon various combustion conditions, the burning process of volatile matter and
coal char may take place simultaneously, sequentially, or with some overlapping. Depending
upon the size and rank of coal, and heating conditions, coal devolatilization takes from a few
milliseconds to several minutes or more to complete. The volatile matter reacts with oxygen
in the vicinity of coal particles and forms bright diffusion flames. The reaction between char
and oxygen is a gassolid heterogeneous reaction, being often much slower than the
devolatilization and volatile matter burning process. The lowest temperature at which coal can
be ignited is referred to as ignition temperature. In general, coal containing a higher volatile
matter has a lower initial volatile-releasing temperature and is easier to ignite. Compare
lignite, with an ignition temperature of 523K to 723K, to anthracite, which burns at 973K to
On the basis of particle size and feeding methods of burning coal, coal combustion technology
can be classified into three kinds: fixed-bed combustion, suspending combustion, and
fluidized-bed combustion.
At one time, the fixed-bed combustion of coal was the only known way of burning it. Here,
the coal bed is supported on a grate, being fixed or movable, and the air needed for
combustion generally passes upward through the coal bed either by chimney or by fan. It is

obvious that this combustion model is particularly sensitive to coal properties and its steam
output is limited.
Suspending combustion, also called pulverized coal combustion, was first used as a means of
firing cement kilns. From 1930 onwards, nearly all coal-fired power plants and large
industrial boilers have been fired by pulverized coal. In practice, the fineness ranges from 60
percent through 200 mesh for lignite and bituminous coal, to 85 percent for anthracite. Not
more than about 20 percent should be retained on 50 mesh. The pulverized coal, injected into
the combustion chamber by a conveying air stream, forms a jet at the burner outlet. On
entering the chamber, the fine coal cloud is heated by the fire and high temperature furnace
wall, then ignites and burns.
The coal fluidized-bed combustion was developed in the 1960s. It is widely applicable to
various coal combustion facilities, from small furnaces to large power generating boilers. Its
principal advantages, as in the last section mentioned, are the following:

it achieves desulfurization in combustion

it depresses the formation of NOx
it simplifies coal feeding and ash removal.

The main categories of coal fluidized-bed combustion are the atmospheric pressure fluidized
bed combustor (AFBC), the circulating fluidized bed combustor (CFBC), and the pressurized
fluidized bed combustor (PFBC). The CFBC and PFBC types, both of which are associated
with clean coal technology, have been under speedy development.
4.2. Thermal Decomposition of Coal
In the absence of air, coal will produce gas, coal tar, and char. This process is termed as
thermal decomposition, or the pyrolysis of coal. The terms "thermal decomposition,"
"pyrolysis," and "carbonization" are often interchangeable. However, carbonization is more
correctly applied to the process of the production of char or coke when the coal is heated at
temperatures in excess of 773K. Thermal decomposition of coal is especially important since
it is the initial step in most coal conversion processes and is the step that is strongly dependent
on the coal properties.
Coal will undergo a variety of physical and chemical changes when heated to a temperature at
which thermal decomposition occurs. The overall decomposition process is generally
composed of three successive stages:

The release of water, absorbed methane, and carbon dioxide from coal at
temperatures below 473K.
Active decomposition, leading to the generation and discharge of the bulk
of volatile matter, between the initial decomposition temperature of coal
and about 820K.
The secondary degasification and condensation of char, resulting in the
formation of gases with hydrogen as their main component and coke, at
temperatures from 820K to 1273K.

During the second stage, typical bituminous coals will undergo a series of interesting changes
in appearance. These coals may soften, melt, fuse, swell, and form "plastic mass," releasing

simultaneously volatile matter. With the further increase of temperature, the "plastic mass"
will re-solidify to form char.
The gases derived from the thermal decomposition of coal are largely composed of hydrogen,
gaseous hydrocarbons with methane as main component, carbon monoxide, ammonia, and
hydrogen sulfide. Their yield and composition are strongly dependent on coal properties and
heating conditions, especially the final temperature. In fact, the carbonization gas has a
heating value of about 18.6 MJ per cubic meter and is therefore a medium-Btu gas. The tar
and light oil products from coal pyrolysis contain a number of valuable chemicals, such as
benzene and its derivatives, phenol and its derivatives, polycyclic aromatics, and heterocyclic
aromatics, and are therefore excellent sources of chemical feedstock.
Char and coke are solid products of coal pyrolysis. The former is usually used as a clean and
smokeless fuel and the latter is widely used in the iron-making industry.
The most important factors affecting the thermal decomposition of coal are coal rank, maceral
composition, particle size, temperature, heating rate, atmosphere, pressure, and reactor
configuration. The rapid heating technologies in coal pyrolysis give substantially larger yields
of volatile matter than that are obtained by the slow heating of coal in conventional packedbed carbonization retorts or standard volatile matter crucibles. Pyrolysis of coal in a hydrogen
atmosphere, called hydropyrolysis, results in larger weight losses and a significantly different
product distribution. The main part of the increase is in the methane content produced from
the reaction of hydrogen with the active carbon atom. Both flash pyrolysis and flash
hydropyrolysis have come under consideration as possible advanced processes for the
conversion of coal to gaseous and liquid fuels on a commercial basis.
Some of the techniques that have been employed to study the pyrolysis of coal are:

flash tube
electric arc
shock tube
electric current
entraining gas methods.

Most of these techniques can be classified only as research tools useful as characterization
techniques, but the entraining gas and plasma techniques are under consideration for
commercialization. Low temperature (less than 1073K) carbonization is an old art process,
including retort, entrained-bed, and fluidized-bed carbonization. The retort processes range
from batchwise to continuous, from vertical to horizontal, and from complicated mechanical
devices to relatively simple ones. The typical industrial processes of low temperature
carbonization are:

the FMC (Food Machinery Corporation) coke process

the Char Oil Energy Development (COED) process
the US Steel Clean Coke process
the Lurgi-Ruhrgas process, and so on.

4.3. Carbonization of Coal

High temperature carbonization of coal, with a global coal consumption of about 450 million
tonnes per year, represents one of the major uses of coal, and is an essential process for the
production of metallurgical coke, high temperature coal tar, and gas. The term "high
temperature carbonization" is usually called carbonization for short and is also known as coke
making. The commercial importance of coke as an effective reducing agent in iron making
can be traced back to 1707. In the last 300 years, coking technology has experienced great
changes, from the oldest pile ovens and beehive ovens, through the so-called flame ovens and
initial heat regeneration and by-product recovery ovens, to the current advanced large-scale
ovens. In 1992, the Kaiserstuehl coking plant, with the most advanced technology in the
world and almost perfect environmental protection measures, was built in Germany. Its oven
chamber has a height of 7.63m, a length of 18m, and a width of 0.61m on average, and has the
largest effective capacity (78.84 cubic meters) in the world. Production of a good
metallurgical coke depends primarily on two factors: first, the coking or plastic properties of
coal, which are essential for the formation of a coherent structure with proper qualities, and,
second, the grade of coal, determined generally by the ash and sulfur content, which affects
the grade of coke produced. Apart from the deficient supply of coking coal for the rapid
development of the coking industry, some other factors, such as the low yield of chemicals
from low volatile matters in coal and its high swelling pressure against the oven wall, have
urged people to find some way out by using a blend of various kinds of coal. Blending
bituminous coals of different volatility in appropriate proportions can meet the technological
specifications of coke making. Also, a greater yield of chemicals and a longer operation life
for the coke oven can hence be realized.
In the coking chamber, heat is supplied from either side of the chamber walls to the coal
charge, and consequently, different layers coexist in the feedstock, owing to the temperature
distribution. After eight hours of the coal being fed to the chamber, it has been found that
directly adjacent to the chamber wall a coke layer already exists. Next to it is a semi-coke
layer, followed by a plastic mass layer, then a layer of heated coal, and finally, in the center,
there is a layer of coal with comparatively low temperatures. In an oven chamber, the two
plastic layers move slowly from the opposite walls toward each other and finally meet at the
center. The junction of the layers appears as a vertical crack running lengthwise through the
oven at the center of the charge. When an oven chamber is pushed, the coke cake divides
vertically at this crack.
Advanced iron-making technologies require more and more stringent coke quality control. Its
specifications are normally as follows: volatile matter must be less than 1.5 percent; ash
content less than 10 percent; and the sulfur content less than 1.0 percent preferably 0.5
percent. In addition, the post-reaction strength must not be less than 58 percent; the
mechanical strength (the crushing strength parameter of coke, called M40) must be more than
85 percent; and the abrasive strength parameter of coke (called M10) must be less than 7
Coke ovens are the specialized equipment for coke making, usually composed of a coking
chamber, a combustion chamber, regenerators, slits, top, foundation, waste gas channel, and
so on. The horizontal slot-type coke oven is the most modern and economic, and is of
paramount importance for coking bituminous coal to produce high-quality blast furnace or
foundry coke. In order to conserve heat and space, modern coke ovens are built in batteries. A
battery may contain from 20 to over 120 ovens. Coke ovens vary greatly in capacity and range

from small ovens capable of coking about four tonnes of coal per charge, up to ovens with a
capacity of sixty tonnes or more. According to the method of charging coal to the oven, the
coke oven types are classified as the ovens of charging coal on top and of charging stamped
coal cake in the side direction.
Some coke-making processes under active development include further increasing the
capacity of the coking chamber (for instance, the Jumbo coking reactor) and developing a noby-product recovery coking process, as well as developing a formed coking process.
4.4. Coal Gasification
Coal gasification generally refers to the reaction of coal with air, oxygen, steam, carbon
dioxide, or a mixture of these gases, to yield a gaseous product; coal gas. Gasification of coal
under hydrogen atmosphere is called hydrogasification. Coal gasification has been developed
and abandoned periodically during the past two centuries. The first oil crisis in 1973, for
example, altered the price and availability relationship between oil and coal and provided a
strong incentive for coal gasification technology. Since then, many coal gasification processes
(also called second or third generation technologies for coal gasification) have been
developed or are under development.
Coal gas is a mixture of such gases as carbon monoxide, hydrogen, carbon dioxide, nitrogen,
and methane. According to heating value, coal gas can be classified into three kinds: lowheat-content (also termed low-Btu) gas with a heating value below 7 MJ m3; medium-heatcontent (or medium Btu) gas with a heating value between 7 and 17 MJ m3; and high-heatcontent (or high Btu) gas with a heating value about 37 MJ m3, consisting mainly of methane.
For the production of each specific gas, coal is first crushed and sometimes dried, then fed
into a gasifier in which coal reacts with steam and either air or oxygen. The gasification
reaction usually occurs at high temperatures from 1073K to 1873K and high pressure up to 10
MPa. When coal is burned with less than a stoichiometric quantity of air, with or without
steam, the product is low-heat-content gas, which after purification can be used as fuel gas.
Utilizing oxygen in place of air produces medium-heat-content gas. The gas produced is used
as synthetic gas and some of the CO in the gas must be reacted with steam (known as shift
reaction) to get additional hydrogen. High-heat-content gas is a synthetic natural gas (SNG),
which is usually produced from the medium-heat-content gas by a catalytic methanation
Coal gasification, similar to coal combustion, involves two distinct stages, they are
devolatilization and char gasification. Although the initial stage is completed within seconds,
or even less at elevated temperatures, the subsequent gasification of coal char produced at the
devolatilization stage is much slower, requiring minutes or hours to obtain significant
conversion under practical conditions. Since reactor designs for commercial gasifiers are
strongly dependent on the coal-char reactivity, the kinetics of coal-char gasification systems
have been extensively investigated. It is generally considered that high reaction temperature,
high reaction pressure, high reactivity of coal char, and fine particulate coal feed, all favor the
gasification process.
There are a number of gasification processes with variations in reactor type, gasification
agent, heat supply mode, state of feed, and ash removal. According to the type of gasifiers,
coal gasification processes can be divided into four groups:

moving bed or fixed bed process, such as Lurgi and BGC-L (British Gas
Corporation-Lurgi) gasifier
fluidized bed process, such as Winkler, High-Temperature Winkler, and Ugas gasifier
entrained bed process, such as Koppers-Totzek, Shell-Koppers, Texaco,
and Dow gasifier
molten bath bed process, such as Iron Bath gasifier.

The coal gas produced in coal gasification is widely used in a number of ways:

as fuel gas for direct combustion and for production of SNG

in the combined cycle gas/steam turbine power station
for hydrogen production
for the production of reduction gas
as synthetic gas for the production of ammonia, methanol, oxoalcohols,
and liquid hydrocarbons.

As an advanced power generation system, the Integrated Coal Gasification Combined Cycle
(IGCC) offers an attractive approach to producing electrical power at high efficiency and has
shown the greatest potential for meeting stringent emission control requirements. Therefore
coal gasification is a very important clean coal technology from the viewpoint of sustainable
4.5. Coal Liquefaction
Coal is a solid carbonaceous material with H/C atom ratio of about 0.7, substantially lower
than that of petroleum (1.5 to 2.0), and with much higher molecular weight than petroleum.
Therefore coal conversion into liquid hydrocarbons requires hydrogen addition and chemical
degradation. It may be conducted directly through hydro liquefaction and indirectly through
Fischer-Tropsch synthesis.
Direct coal liquefaction involves hydrogenation of coal in a solvent slurry with addition of
catalyst at an elevated temperature of 643K to 753K and an elevated pressure of 15 to 30 MPa
under hydrogen atmosphere. So long as coal is heated up to its initial decomposing
temperature, the weak bonds connecting structural units of coal begin to break up to yield
radical fragments, which will be stabilized by the abstraction of active hydrogen to form
preasphaltene and asphaltene. The cracking rate is accelerated with increasing temperature. At
higher temperatures, this step proceeds very fast, needing only less hydrogen and is not
dependent on a catalyst. On the other hand, the conversion of the primary products mentioned
above into oils is a slower process and needs favorable hydrogen-donor condition, a higher
consumption of hydrogen, and active catalysts to obtain a desirable oil yield. For guaranteeing
the hydrogen-donor ability of the recycling solvent (oil), a prehydrogenation process is
usually conducted in a special reactor, such as in the Exxon Donor Solvent (EDS) process and
the New Energy Development Organization (NEDO) process. The main products of coal
hydroliquefaction are liquids and gases along with solid residue, including coal minerals,
catalysts, and insoluble organic matter. The liquids are subsequently separated from the solid
residue by flash distillation or by filtration. The liquid products, with a yield of distilled oil of
about 55 percent by weight on coal, daf basis, will be further processed to motor oils and
chemicals. The solid residue can be gasified to produce hydrogen required in the process
and/or carbonized to recover additional oils.

Indirect coal liquefaction, as the term suggests, is a process in which the feed coal is first
gasified to a synthesis gas (CO+H2), and subsequently the gas is fed into synthesis converter
to form liquid hydrocarbons and oxygenates. A well-known technology, Fischer-Tropsch (FT) Synthesis, has already been commercialized for several decades and now is used in Sasol,
South Africa, with a total production capacity of about 5 million tonnes per annum.
Catalysts used in F-T Synthesis include iron, cobalt, nickel, and ruthenium. Iron-based
catalysts especially have been widely used commercially. When synthesis is operated under
medium pressures, and reaction temperatures accordingly lie in the range of 493K513K, the
iron-based catalysts display a good activity in F-T Synthesis. Reactors used in the F-T
Synthesis process can be classified into three types: fixed bed, entrained bed, and slurry bed.
Generally speaking, both coal liquefaction technologies need high investment and also have a
high operating cost. When the oil price is still relatively low, economics perhaps is the crucial
obstacle to the commercialization of coal liquefaction technologies, although demonstration
plants in the United States, Germany, and Japan have already justified technical feasibility. It
is a single exception that the F-T Synthesis plants in South Africa have been established and
operated up until now. Nevertheless, oil prices will sooner or later rise because of decreasing
reserves of crude oils, and, with the increasing need for motor oils, coal-derived oil as
synthetic oil will become one of the important alternatives.
5. Oil Shale
5.1. Introduction
Oil shale is a kind of solid fossil fuel. It is defined as a sedimentary rock containing
combustible organic matter, commonly called kerogen, as well as a much smaller bitumen
content, both embedded in an inorganic mineral matrix.
As a potential source of energy, oil shale can be used for producing shale oil and combustible
gas by retorting, or for producing steam and electricity by direct combustion. Although shale
oil in todays world market is not competitive with petroleum, natural gas, or coal, it is still
used in several countries that possess easily exploited deposits of oil shale but lack other fossil
fuel resources.
Oil shale deposits occur widely throughout the world. Earlier attempts to determine the size of
world oil shale resources were based on few facts, and estimating the grade and quantity of
many oil shale deposits were, at best, a guess. The situation today is not much better.
However, it is reported, as a solid fossil fuel, the organic matter of the worlds oil shale
deposits is second only to coal in abundance. As a source of liquid fuel, the worlds shale oil
reserves calculated from known oil shale deposits are higher than the worlds known crude oil
reserves. Therefore it is seen as a potential alternative to crude oil in the future. The worlds
top ten countries in terms of plentiful, known shale oil resources expressed in billions of
tonnes are as follows:

United States

26 (proven, 1.8)


25 (recoverable, 4)
4(recoverable, 1)

5.2. Origin and Formation

Oil shale deposits range from Cambrian to Tertiary in age and occur in quantities ranging
from minor occurrences of no economic value to deposits occupying thousands of square
kilometers, and of a thickness of more than 700 meters.
Most geologists have recognized that petroleum and oil shale may originate from the same
source materials. The main original materials of oil shale are planktonic organisms such as
algae, as well as unicellular protozoa and other animals such as worms and mollusks, while
some higher aquatic plants are also present as source materials.
After the perished organisms had settled at the bottom of the water body, the organic matter
underwent a long period of biological action in an oxygen-deficient, still water environment
and turned into jelly-like algal ooze, which changed gradually into sapropel under the action
of anaerobic bacteria. In addition to the organic matter, large amounts of inorganic matter,
such as clay, mud, and sand, were also carried by flowing water and deposited along with the
dead organisms. Sapropel underwent chemical changes under oxygen-free conditions at
increased burial depths, and, along with the inorganic matter, formed sapropelic rock. It is
usually called oil shale when the inorganic matter content is high. Oil shales were deposited in
a wide variety of depositional environments, including small or large fresh waters and highly
saline lakes, epicontinental marine basins and related subtidal shelves, and in association with
coal deposits that were deposited in lentic and coastal swamps. Because of this wide diversity
of depositional environments, it is not surprising that oil shales range widely in their organic
and mineralogical content and composition.
5.3. Characteristics and Mining
Oil shale has the following characteristics:

It is usually a fine-grained, non-porous solid, frequently showing bedding,

with a laminated structure. Its color ranges from light gray to dark brown.
It normally contains fewer organic and more inorganic substances than
various types of coal. The organic content of oil shale often accounts for
less than 35 percent of the total mass.
The organic matter of oil shale is predominantly kerogen, insoluble in
ordinary organic solvents. Bitumen, soluble in organic solvents, is the
minor component, generally not exceeding 1.2 percent by weight.
When oil shale is heated in the absence of air or oxygen to 673K to 773K,
known as the retorting of oil shale, the kerogen is pyrolyzed to form shale
oil, gaseous products, solid carbonaceous residue, and small quantities of
decomposition water. The carbonaceous residue is obtained in a mixture
with inorganic materials of the original oil shale.

The molar ratio of hydrogen to carbon of the kerogen in the oil shale is
higher than that of the organic component in coal, and the retorting of oil
shale normally yields a higher amount of oil than coal pyrolysis, based on
the equivalent amount of organic material.
Oil shale is quite different from tar sand. The organic substance of tar sand
is bitumen, which can be extracted and separated from tar sand by using
hot alkaline aqueous solution, while the kerogen in oil shale cannot be
extracted by the same solution, due to the macromolecular polymerized
three-dimensional structure of kerogen.

If oil shale is to be used in surface retorting plants or in power units, it must be mined and
transported to these users. Just like coal, there are two mining technologies: aboveground
mining and underground mining. Generally speaking, oil shale with gentle dipping and thin
overburden is suitable for aboveground mining, and the opposite cases are suitable for
underground mining. An important factor determining the technical and economic feasibility
of aboveground mining is the stripping ratio, that is the overburden to be excavated in cubic
meters for every tonne of oil shale exploited. In general, above-ground mining has the
following advantages over underground mining: shorter construction time, lower production
cost, less oil shale loss, higher efficiency, more safety in operation, and easier production of
associated minerals. Its disadvantages are: vulnerability to climate changes, the occupation of
too much land, and large capital construction in the case of thick overburden.
The most important aboveground methods are open-pit and stripping mining, while the main
underground mining method is room and pillar, suitable for conveniently accessible deposits
of great thickness. Longwall mining is an older method, used in a few underground mines.
Scotland, Spain, Sweden, Australia, and South Africa are some of the countries that had
sizable oil shale industries in the past, but have since shut down operations owing to the
availability of cheaper supplies of petroleum. Oil shale is still being mined today in Estonia,
China, Brazil, and Russia.
5.4. Chemical Composition and Pyrolysis
As noted above, oil shale is composed of organic and inorganic matter. Its organic matter
content and composition may differ greatly with different deposits. In general, the organic
content varies from 15 to 50 percent: in Kukersite, Estonia, the figure is 29 to 48 percent; in
Green River, USA, 14 percent; in Irati, Brazil, 18 percent; in Australia, 19 percent; and in
Fushun, China, it is 21 percent. The organic matter of oil shale consists of kerogen and
bitumen. Kerogen is insoluble in water, acid, alkali, and ordinary organic solvents. It is
generally considered that kerogen is a kind of macromolecular polymer with a threedimensional structure consisting of aromatic, polycylic, and heterogeneous condensed rings
with aliphatic side chains of different lengths; these side chains are cross-linked with each
other via oxygen or sulfur atoms. The bitumen content in the organic matter of oil shale is
very low. Ordinary organic solvents such as benzene and ethanol can extract it, but the
extraction yield varies with the extraction solvents and conditions. The elemental analysis and
infrared spectra of bitumen are similar to those of kerogen, so bitumen is considered as being
fragments or homologues of kerogen.
The mineral fraction of some oil shales is composed of carbonate minerals such as calcite and
dolomite, with lesser amounts of aluminosilicate minerals, whereas for some other oil shales,
the reverse is true: quartz, feldspars, and clay minerals are dominant.

The grade of oil shale can be determined by many methods. Conventional methods, including
proximate analysis, Fischer Assay, and heating value can give a general account of oil shale
quality and its potential for commercial uses. Proximate analysis involves the determination
of moisture, ash, volatile matter, and mineral carbon dioxide. The procedure follows the
standard for proximate analysis for coals. Fischer Assay is also a standard method used for
coal and oil shale. This method is to measure the quantity of oil that an oil shale can produce
by destructive distillation. The third method is determining the heating value of the oil shale
with a calorimeter, which is useful for evaluating the quality of an oil shale that is burned
directly in a power plant to produce electricity. The gross heating value of oil shale on a dry
basis is in the range of 2,090 to 16,720 kJ/kg of rock. By comparison, the heating value of
lignite is in range of 14,630 to 19,270 kJ/kg on a dry mineral-free basis. The analytical results
of some oil shales are given in Table 1.
Table 1. Analytical results of some oil shales
Proximate analysis, wt percent
Shale oil
Moisture matter
Ash (dry CO2 (dry yield
basis) Wt percent


Kukersite (Estonia)







Fushun (China)







Green Rivar (USA)

no data

no data





Irati (Brazil)

no data

no data





Table 1. Analytical results of some oil shales

The pyrolysis of oil shale refers to its thermal processing by heating without the presence of
air or oxygen to a temperature of 723K to 873K. This process generally consists of three

The first stage is the heating of oil shale, that is, heat transfer from heat
carrier to oil shale surface, and then from surface to its interior.
The second stage is the pyrolysis of organic matter; the kerogen is
thermally decomposed to produce shale oil vapor, non-condensable gases,
pyrolysis water, and a carbonaceous residue; some of the mineral matter
such as clay minerals release structural water and some carbonate minerals
decompose to give CO2 with heat absorption.
The third stage is the diffusion and flow of shale oil vapor, noncondensable gas, and water vapor from the internal voids and capillaries of
the shale matrix to the surface. They move subsequently to the exterior
spaces, and finally escape from the retorting vessel.

Extensive studies on the pyrolysis mechanism of the organic matter in oil shale have found
that the pyrolysis of kerogen in oil shale undergoes two stages: first, the formation of

pyrobitumen from kerogen, and second, the further conversion of pyrobitumen into shale oil,
gas, and carbonaceous residue. A lot of research on the pyrolysis kinetics of oil shales
indicates that, overall, a first order reaction model is quite fit for modeling the pyrolysis of oil
shale with sapropelic type kerogen and its apparent activation energy is in a very narrow
range of 160 to 170 kJ/mol. For Chinese Fushun and Maoming pulverized oil shale, the time
required for pyrolysis at the temperature 723K to 773K is about two to three minutes.
5.5. Retorting Technology
The oil shale excavated from mines varies greatly in size, from several millimeters to
hundreds of millimeters, and even larger than 1,000 millimeters. Pre-treatment by crushing
and screening is necessary to meet the demands of retorting operations. Usually, shale fraction
is divided into lump shale (greater than 10mm in size) and particulate shale (less than 10mm
in size). Both can be separately fed into different retorts. According to the heating manner, the
oil shale retorts can be classified in two types: internal heating and external heating. Because
of the small unit capacity, expensive heating transfer, and low thermal efficiency for external
heating retorts, nowadays almost all of the commercial retorts and the retorts in development
are internal heating retorts. In general, for lump shale, internal hot gas, produced by burning a
part of the pyrolysis gas, is usually used for supplying heat. For particulate shale, an internal
hot solid carrier derived from the combustion of carbonaceous residue is usually employed.
Due to the low heat conductivity coefficient of oil shale, it takes several hours for retorting
lump shale; for particulate shale, the heating rate is high, and the time required for retorting is
much shorter: only several minutes or little more than ten minutes.
The typical lump oil shale retorts are as follows:

Kiviter Retort, Estonia: daily processing capacity, 1,000 tonnes of oil

shale; oil yield 85 percent of Fischer Assay.
Petrosix Retort, Brazil: daily processing capacity, 2,000 tonnes of oil
shale; 140 tonnes of product oil per day.
Fushun Retort, China: 200 tonnes of oil shale per day; oil yield about 55
percent of Fischer Assay.
Union Oil Rock Pump Type Retort, United States: 10,000 tonnes of oil
shale per day; 1,000 tonnes of product oil per day.

Solid heat carrier retorts for particulate oil shale in development include:

Galoter Retort, Estonia: processing capacity 3750 tonnes of oil shale per
day; oil yield 90 percent of Fischer Assay, with hot shale ash as solid heat
Tosco Retort, United States: processing capacity 900 tonnes of oil shale pe
day, with heated ceramic balls as heat carrier.

Besides these aboveground retorts, underground retorting, also called in-situ retorting, is
already in development in the United States.
5.6. Shale Oil and Shale Ash Utilization
Shale oil is a kind of synthetic crude oil produced by retorting oil shale. Usually it is a
brownish paste at room temperature with a pungent odor. Shale oil is similar to petroleum,

with a high content of paraffinic, naphthenic, and aromatic hydrocarbons, but is usually rich
in unsaturated organic compounds. Shale oil with relatively high H/C mole ratio is suitable for
upgrading to produce light liquid fuels. Distillation of shale oil, the thermal cracking of
middle oil, and the coking of residue oil have for example, commercially processed Chinese
Fushun and Maoming shale oils. The light fractions obtained are treated by acid-alkali
washing, or hydro-refining, thus gasoline and diesel oil are produced. In addition, the medium
distillates are deeply cooled for producing white paraffin wax. Kukersite shale oils produced
in Estonia and Russia contain 50 percent oxygen compounds, including 20 percent phenols
and diphenols. From this oil shale, fifty to sixty kinds of chemicals have been commercially
produced, such as phenol resins, tanning agent, anti-corrosion agent, organic solvents,
adhesive agent, insecticides, and regenerative rubber softener. Shale ash, derived from oil
shale combustion or the retorting process, accounts for about 70 to 80 percent of raw oil shale.
Therefore, a large amount of shale ash or spent shale has to be handled and utilized, a matter
that must be considered not only from the viewpoint of economics, but also from that of
environmental protection. Estonia Kukersite shale ash has been used as blending material for
producing high quality cement, and as a soil improver. In the United States, Green River
retorted shale, covered with soil, has been used for surface reclamation of the open pit mined
land, and the reclaimed land has been planted with various types of vegetation.
5.7. Perspective
Although oil shale occurs abundantly in many areas of the world, developing an oil shale
industry to produce synthetic fuels is expensive. The costs of land acquisition and
environmental constraints, mining, crushing, and retorting operations, as well as refining shale
oil into marketable products are very high. It is also doubtful that using oil shale as a fuel for
power generation, considering the unresolved problems of air and water pollution associated
with open-pit and underground mining, is economically viable in the long term. However, in
some countries, where the local liquid fuel costs are higher, or where the shale oil is used for
producing high value chemicals, then a shale oil industry may be viable. Some experts predict
that after several decades, when the crude oil price rises, the world shale oil industry may
Perhaps the brightest future for oil shale lies in the manufacture of petrochemicals and
construction materials, such as building blocks, glass, cement, and roofing materials that can
be substituted for wood products.
6. Natural Bitumen (Tar Sands) and Heavy Oil
6.1. Introduction
In addition to conventional petroleum, there are two other subclasses of petroleum that can
offer some compensation for the potential shortfalls in the supply of liquid oils and other
products. These subclasses are natural bitumen, which is found in tar sand (also known as oil
sand and bitumen sand) deposits, and heavy oil, found in various reservoirs.
Bitumen and heavy oil are not uniform materials. On a molecular basis, they are similar to
conventional petroleum and both are complex mixtures of hydrocarbons with small amounts
of organic compounds containing sulfur, oxygen, and nitrogen, as well as compounds
containing metallic constituents, particularly vanadium, nickel, iron, and copper. The typical

properties of natural bitumen, heavy oil, and conventional crude oil are listed in Table 2. In
fact, in order to classify petroleum, heavy oil, and bitumen together, the use of a single
parameter such as API gravity is not enough. Other properties such as viscosity, elemental
analysis, fractional composition, and the properties of the fluid in the reservoir, as well as the
method of recovery, need to be acknowledged. Because both bitumen and heavy oil have a
lower mobility or full immobility under reservoir conditions, it is necessary to apply enhanced
recovery processes or mining techniques to recover them.
Table 2. Properties of conventional crude oil, heavy oil, and bitumen


Cold Lake
heavy oil

heavy oil

crude oil




Centipoise @100 F (38C)





Centipoise @210 F (99C)


no data

no data

no data

SUS @100 F(38 C)


no data

no data


SUS @210 F(99 C)


no data

no data

no data

Pour point, F


no data


























Gravity, API



Elemental analysis (percent by weight)


Fractional composition, (percent by weight)



























(percent by weight)




Heating value kJ/kg





Metals (parts per million)

Carbon residue

Table 2. Properties of conventional crude oil, heavy oil, and bitumen

6.2. Natural Bitumen (Tar Sands)
Natural bitumen mostly occurs in tar sand deposits impregnated with dense, viscous
petroleum-like material that is usually immobile under reservoir conditions. Tar sand deposits
are found throughout the world, often in the same geographical areas as conventional
petroleum. The largest tar sand deposits in the world are in Alberta, Canada, and East Central
Venezuela. In addition, there are smaller tar sand deposits in the United States, Peru, Trinidad,
Madagascar, the former Soviet Union, the Balkan states, the Philippines, and China. The
potential reserves of bitumen that occur in tar sand deposits have been variously estimated on
a world basis to be in excess of three trillion barrels. Assuming that only 10 to 15 percent of
this resource is recoverable, the bitumen reserves range from 300 to 450 billion barrels: a
potential petroleum resource for the future.
The tar sand deposits of the world have been described as belonging to two types: first, in situ
deposits resulting from breaching and exposure of an existing geologic trap; and second,
migrated deposits resulting from accumulation of migrating material at outcrop. However,
there are inevitable gradations and combinations of these two types of deposit. The origin of
bitumen is much more speculative. There are dominant theories relating to the origin of
Canadian bitumen that might well apply to the bitumen in other tar sand deposits. One theory
is that the bitumen was formed locally and has neither migrated a great distance, nor been
subjected to large overburden pressures. Given these conditions, the bitumen cannot have
been subjected to thermal degradation, is geologically young, and is therefore dense and
viscous. Another theory assumes a remote origin for the bitumen resulting from the migration
of a bitumen precursor like conventional crude oil into the sand. As its light portions were
evaporated, a dense viscous residue was left behind.

Tar sand is a mixture of sand, water, and bitumen with the sand component occurring
predominantly as quartz. The arrangement of sand, water, and bitumen has been assumed to
be an arrangement whereby each particle of the sand is water-wet, and a film of bitumen
surrounds the water-wet grains. The balance of the void volume is filled with bitumen,
coherent water, or gas; fine material, such as clay, occurs within the water envelope.
The physical properties of tar sands that are of general interest are porosity, bitumen
saturation, permeability, and bulk density. Porosity is the ratio of the aggregate volume of the
interstices between the particles, to the total volume expressed as a percentage. High-grade tar
sand usually has porosity in the range of 30 to 35 percent, higher than the porosity (5 to 25
percent) of most reservoir sandstone. Bitumen saturation (SO) is expressed in the percentage
of pore volume or percentage by weight of tar sands. The optimum bitumen saturation is
likely to be in the range of 5070 percent of pore volume for the application of in situ
recovery processes. Permeability is a measure of the ability of a sediment or rock to transmit
fluids. It is, to a major extent, determined by the size and shape of the pores, as well as of the
channels between the pores; the smaller the channel, the more difficult it is to transmit fluids.
The bitumen content of tar sands varies from zero percent to as much as 22 percent by weight,
but for Canadian tar sands, bitumen contents from 8 to 14 percent by weight may be
considered as normal or average.
The properties of bitumen extracted from tar sands are listed in Table 3. It is a high boiling
material with little, if any, material boiling below 623K and its boiling range is approximately
equivalent to the boiling range of an atmospheric residue, therefore the bitumen is also
classified as extra-heavy oil. A very important property of Athabasca bitumen (separated by a
hot water process) is the variation of bitumen density with temperature. Over the temperature
range of 303K to 403K, the bitumen is lighter than water; hence the floating of the bitumen
with aeration on water is facilitated.
Table 3. Properties of synthetic crude oil from Athabasca bitumen


Synthetic crude oil


Sulfur, percent by weight



Nitrogen, percent by weight



Gravity, API

Centipoise @ 100 F


Distillation profile, per cent by weight

















Table 3. Properties of synthetic crude oil from Athabasca bitumen

On a commercial basis, tar sand currently is recovered by open pit mining, after which it is
transported to a processing plant where the bitumen is extracted and the sand is discharged.
The Athabasca Tar Sands deposit in Canada is the site of the only commercial tar sands
mining operation. The Suncor mining and processing plant in Alberta started production in
1967 and the Suncrude Canada mining and processing plant (located 8km away from the
former plant) began production in 1978. The mining operation is currently carried out using
8000 tonnes per hour bucket-wheel excavators and 80 cubic-yard capacity draglines as the
primary mining equipment. To recover bitumen from mined tar sands, the hot water process
(used on the linear and nonlinear variation of bitumen and water density, respectively) is
applied with temperatures as mentioned above. It is the only successful commercial process.
The essentials of this process involve conditioning, separation, and scavenging components.
For converting tar sand bitumen that is hydrogen deficient into synthetic crude oil, an
upgrading process is used to improve the H/C ratio by carbon removal or hydrogen addition.
Currently, processes-delayed coking and fluid coking methods that employ the concept of
carbon removal are determined to be the most effective and economical. In general, to
produce synthetic crude oil from tar sands, it is necessary to combine three operations, each of
which contributes significantly to the cost of the venture. These are:

a mining operation capable of handling two million tonnes or more of tar

sands per day
an extraction process to release the bitumen from the sand
an upgrading plant to convert the bitumen to a synthetic crude oil.

6.3. Heavy Oil

Heavy oils are other types of petroleum that are different to conventional crude oil insofar as
they have a higher density with an API gravity of less than 20, lying between the
conventional petroleum and tar sand bitumen. They have a lower mobility in the reservoir,
therefore application of a secondary or enhanced recovery method is necessary to bring the oil
to the surface.
The term "heavy oil" has also been arbitrarily used to describe both heavy oil in the sense
mentioned above and the tar sand bitumen often classified as "extra heavy oil." Heavy oil
reservoirs are widely distributed in many countries throughout the world. They can be seen as
reservoirs that are similar in geological character to petroleum reservoirs. On the basis of API
gravity, the United States has an estimated eighty billion barrels of the oil originally in large

(more than twenty billion barrels of oil) reservoirs where the oil has an API gravity between
10 and 20. Another 20 billion barrels of such oil exist in smaller reservoirs representing a
total resource of approximately 100 billion barrels. Heavy oil reservoirs in the rest of the
world are less well delineated because of the criteria used to define heavy oil and are therefore
difficult to enumerate. The recovery of heavy oil differs markedly from the recovery of
conventional crude oil. For example, primary oil production, as the term suggests, is the first
method of producing conventional oil from a well, depending upon natural reservoir energy;
therefore no pumping equipment is required. If the reservoir energy is not sufficient to force
the oil to the surface, then the well must be pumped. The secondary recovery operation
usually involves the application of a pumping operation or of the injection of material into a
well to encourage movement and recover the remaining petroleum. When water is used, the
process is called a water flood; with gas, it is called gas flood. Separate wells are usually used
for injection and production. The injected fluids maintain reservoir pressure, or re-pressure
the reservoir after primary depletion, and displace a portion of the remaining crude oil to
production wells. When the heavy oils are recovered from a reservoir, its viscosity is an
important factor that must be taken into account. In fact, certain reservoir types, such as those
with very viscous crude oils and some low permeability carbonate reservoirs, respond poorly
to conventional secondary recovery technique. In this case, it is desirable to initiate enhanced
oil recovery (EOR) operations as early as possible.
Enhanced oil recovery is defined as recovery of the incremental ultimate oil over the oil that
can be economically recovered by conventional primary and secondary methods. To reduce or
eliminate the viscous properties of heavy oil and improve its mobility, the enhanced oil
recovery processes involve chemical, fluid phase, and thermal behavior effects.
Chemical methods include polymer flooding, surfactant flooding, and alkaline flooding.
Polymer flooding is water flooding in which organic polymers are injected with the water to
improve area and vertical sweep efficiency. This process is conceptually simple and
inexpensive, and its commercial use is increasing despite relatively small potential
incremental oil production.
Thermal methods for enhanced oil recovery are most useful when the oil in the reservoir has a
high viscosity. For example, most heavy oils are viscous with a viscosity ranging from about
one hundred centipoise to a few million centipoise at the reservoir conditions. Thermal
enhanced oil recovery processes add heat to the reservoir to reduce oil viscosity or to vaporize
the oil. In both instances, the heavy oil is made more mobile so that it can be more effectively
driven to producing wells.
Thermal recovery methods include cyclic steam injection; steam flooding, and in situ
combustion. The steam processes are the most advanced of all enhanced oil recovery methods
in terms of field experience and thus involve the least uncertainty in estimating performance,
provided that a good reservoir description is available. Since the early 1960s, it has been
commercially applied in reservoirs containing viscous oils. In situ combustion has been field
tested under a wide variety of reservoir conditions, but few projects have proven economical
and advanced enough for use on a commercial scale.
The essential step required of refineries in the upgrading of heavy oil, being similar to
bitumen, is the conversion of the low value feedstock to high value products such as liquid
fuels. Heavy oil has fewer components distilling at atmospheric pressure and under vacuum
than does conventional petroleum. Nevertheless, some heavy oils still pass through the

distillation stage of a refinery before further processing is undertaken. Technologies for

upgrading heavy crude oils such as heavy oil, bitumen, and residue can be broadly divided
into carbon rejectionvisbreaking, steam breaking, catalytic cracking, coking, and flash
pyrolysisand hydrogen additionhydro-cracking, hydro-visbreaking, hydro-pyrolysis, and
donor solventprocesses. Currently, visbreaking and coking are the conventional processes
for the conversion of heavy oil as a primary upgrading step. Hydrocracking has been proposed
for increasing the yield of liquid oil. It includes the H-Oil process, the LC-Fining process, the
Veba-Combi Cracking process, and the Chiyoda process.
7. Peat
7.1. Introduction
Geologically, peat (an unconsolidated rock) is the youngest and least altered member of the
group of combustible rocks. It is a unique product of mire vegetation, consisting of
undecomposed dead plant debris from peatland vegetation growing in a waterlogged, humid,
and poorly aerated environment. The conversion of vegetable matter to peat is a long process,
the continuation of which leads to the formation of lignite, bituminous coal, and anthracite; so
peat can be seen as the precursor of coal. Peat has been used as fuel for centuries. In the
twentieth century, however, it found increasing applications in horticulture and agriculture,
and now it is also of value in the chemical industry and manufacturing of medical products.
In recent years, those of nature conservation and the preservation of biological species have
joined the various disciplines interested in this aspect of the natural environment. In some
places, the discussion of peat utilization has become very controversial. However, at the same
time, co-operation among the individual disciplines has increased. National and international
bodies like the International Peat Society have promoted such interdisciplinary co-operation.
7.2. Peat Sources and Distribution
About 3 percent of the Earths land area is covered by peatland, whose area totals
3,985,000km2 (398.5 Mha). The average thickness of the worlds peatlands has been
estimated to be only about 1.5m. On this basis, the total global peat resources amount to 5,000
to 6,000Gm3. Peatlands are of great importance as a store of carbon, because the amount of
stored carbon is at least 234 to 252Gt, constituting 15 percent or more of all the carbon in the
global soil pool.
The distribution of peat resources is uneven. Peatlands are mainly distributed through North
America, Asia, and Europe, making up more than 95 percent of the total global peatland area,
whereas the three continents of the Southern Hemisphere contain less than five percent (see
Table 4).
Table 4. Distribution of peatland in the world
North America

Peatland /km2







Central and South America

Australia and Oceania


Table 4. Distribution of peatland in the world

Western Siberia in Russia, with a total peatland area of 760103 km2 and a peat reserve of 113
Gt is the peat accumulation center of the world. The thickest known peat deposit in the world
is Philippi Peatland in Greece. Here, the 55km2 large mire is almost 190m deep and the
accumulation of peat started during the Cromerian stage, around 700,000 years ago, whereas,
for the main part, global mires are less than 10,000 years old.
7.3. Peat Formation and Classification
Peat deposits are found in mires that form where there is a constantly high water level, at or
very near the surface. Most peatland vegetation contains Sphagnum moss, and in many places
this genus constitutes the majority of the peat forming material. Because of the continual
excess of water, and poor aeration, dead plant debris is not completely decomposed. It
therefore accumulates and simultaneously undergoes different kinds of biochemical and
chemical reactions to form peat.
The basic factors controlling peat formation and development are the climatic, geological,
geomorphological, and hydrological conditions. Temperature and humidity together influence
the growth rate and growing quantity of vegetation, as well as the reproduction and activity of
soil microbes. The accumulative quantity of peat in cold-humid or mild-humid coniferous
forest and broadleaf forest zones is the greatest. The annual growth rate of the raised bog peat
is only about 1mm. Geological and geomorphic factors control the spatial area of peat
formation. As the mire vegetation and accumulating peat protects the mineral surface beneath,
erosion is minimal and the accumulating plant material gradually raises the surface of the
vegetation. Hydrological factors, including rainfall and groundwater, are also major
determinants of peat formation and development, as the vegetation will change if the surface
dries out for part of the year. A constantly high water level is essential.
On the basis of differences in the geomorphological situation and water supply, and
consequently in plant composition, peatlands are usually divided into three types: low
(groundwater bogs), high (raised or rainwater bog), and transition. In regions with very high
rainfall, such as the north of Scotland, there are large areas of blanket bog: a mosaic of
peatland and pools on gently sloping ground. As the water supply is entirely from rainfall, the
concentrations of minerals and nutrients are very low, as is the pH. On mountainsides, where

ombrogenous peatlands receive drainage water from higher ground, the mineral content can
be higher and this is reflected in the plant community.
7.4. Peat Composition and Properties
Peat is a heterogeneous mixture of solid, liquid, and gaseous matter. The solid matter includes
undecomposed vegetable debris, black humus formed by decomposed vegetable debris, and
mineral matter. The water content in peat is very high, ranging from 50 to 95 percent. It is
normally considered that the content of organic matter in peat must be above 50 percent,
because organic matter is clearly the most important part of peat, but there is another opinion
that the organic content can be as low as 30 percent.
The organic matter of peat can be analytically classified into the following groups:

bitumen, which can be extracted from peat using organic solvent, and
which includes plant resins and waxes
water-soluble matter, mainly composed of saccharides, which can be
extracted by cold or hot water
easily hydrolyzed matter mainly composed of hemi-cellulose, which can
be hydrolyzed with dilute inorganic acid
cellulose, which can be hydrolyzed with dense acid
humic acid, which can be extracted with dilute alkaline solution then
reprecipitated with acid. This contains important and complicated organic
compounds formed during the humification or peat forming process
non-hydrolyzed matter, mainly consisting of lignin, therefore also called

The relative abundance of these components is closely related to peat type and decomposition.
The decomposition degree of peat is the relative content of the non-setting matter that loses
cell structure due to the decomposition of plant debris. It mainly depends upon the
accumulative environment. Under natural conditions, the decomposition degree of peat ranges
from 1 to 70 percent. The higher the rate of decomposition, the lower the cellulose and lignin
The elements in the organic matter of peat are the same as those of other fossil fuels. A typical
elemental analysis (in wt. percent) of raised-bog peatthe exact proportions of which depend
on the decomposition degreeis: carbon 50 to 60; oxygen 30 to 45; hydrogen 5 to 6.5;
nitrogen 0.5 to 2; and sulfur 0.1 to 0.5. The presence of humic acid gives peat a lot of valuable
properties, such as water absorbency and retainment, cation ion exchange ability, a lower
water surface tension, and greater physiological activity.
7.5. Peat Extraction and Processing
There are around twenty countries in Europe and more than ten in other continents with peat
extraction and processing industries. For instance, in EU countries, the peat industry had in
1998 around 15,000 employees. This branch of the fossil fuel industry turns over between 2
billion and 3 billion euros annually.

In peat extraction, the first stage after the surveying and assessment of the deposit is ditching
and drainage of the production area. After this, the surface vegetation must be removed and
the production field leveled. The majority of the peat is now produced by the milling method
in which the topmost layer of the peat deposit (typically 1 to 2 cm thick) is cut into small
pieces by special harvesting machines and spread over the surface for drying and collection.
Milling breaks the capillary link between the cut material and the rest of the peat layer. The
next operation is the turning over of the peat to expose a new surface to the air and sun for
drying. The procedure is repeated several times until the average moisture content has
dropped below 50 percent. During the production season, the average number of harvesting
cycles in milled peat production is ten to fifteen, and annual yield per hectare is 300 to 600 m3
of peat with 40 percent moisture content.
In the sod peat method, the peat mass is excavated from a vertical section of about 0.5m,
working through the peat layer with a cutting disk, bucket elevator, or digging machine. After
the cutting, the peat mass is macerated, mixed, and pressed out through nozzles into sods of
different size and shape. The optimum sod diameter lies between 55 and 120mm depending
on the climate and market. The initial moisture content of the sod peat varies usually between
81 and 84 percent. After two to four weeks drying, sods of 30 to 40 percent moisture content
are collected into stockpiles. During the past few years, wave-like sod peat technology has
been developed. The wave-like sods have less surface contact with the peat layer and hence
dry more quickly. Peat processing technologies are as follows:

thermo-chemical processing-pyrolysis or coking to peat coke, peat tar, and

peat gas; gasification to fuel gas or synthetic gas; liquefaction to liquid
extraction of humic acid and bitumen, using alkali solution and organic
solution, respectively
acidic or enzymatic hydrolysis to monosaccharides and their subsequent
fermentation to alcohol or acid
anaerobic fermentation to methane and carbon dioxide.

7.6. Utilization of Peat

About 50 percent of the peat produced is used as fuel, and the rest is used as a growing
medium, a soil conditioner, and in various specialized environmental applications such as
wastewater cleaning and purification of aerial emissions.
7.6.1. Fuel
In the use of peat as a fuel, a major problem is the wide variation of properties (moisture
content, bulk density, heating value, ash content, and composition) in the harvested material.
In terms of energy content, one cubic meter of peat is equivalent to 0.08 to 0.15 tonnes of oil.
On a worldwide scale, peat is a minor contributor to energy production. Peat contributes only
about one thousandth of global energy. The total energy use of peat accounts for 70 to 80 Mm3
annually. Belarus, Finland, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Russia, Sweden, and Ukraine are the
main countries using peat for energy production. The energy use of peat is relatively most
important in Ireland, where milled peat is used for power generation. In Finland, where the
heating of buildings consumes 25 percent of primary energy consumption, the use of energy
peat accounted in 1998 for 7 percent of the total energy production. The largest peat power

station currently operating, in Haapavesi, Finland, has an electrical output of about 20 MWel
and requires about 2.5106 m3 of milled peat per year as feedstock.
Using briquetting methods, milled peat can be processed to a more usable fuel form with a
lower moisture content, higher density, and specific heating value. The use of peat briquettes
has a long history in many countries.
The above-mentioned processing technologies of peat can convert peat into more convenient
and valuable fuel products, such as fuel gas, oils, alcohol, peat coke, and so on.
7.6.2. Non-Fuel Uses
Horticultural and Agricultural Uses: Peat, especially raised bog peat, is a favorite
constituent of growing media because it combines more favorable physical, chemical, and
biological properties than other materials. The cellular structure of raised bog (sphagnum)
peat ensures an excellent and stable structure and hence provides good water-holding ability
and good aeration. The global amount of peat used as a growing medium reaches 70 Mm3
annually. Russia is the largest producer of horticultural peat; the next two are Germany and
Environment Protection: With high cation exchange capacity and other properties in metal
ion-containing wastewater treatment, there is widespread use of peat as a filter medium for
wastewater cleaning, exhaust air purification, oil absorption, and so on. In addition, peat coke
can be processed to become activated carbon.
Medical Purposes: More than 500,000 m3 of fresh raw peat is used annually as mud baths
and mudpacks in balneology in Germany. These mud baths and mudpacks are prescribed for
such things as illnesses of the rheumatism group. Peat-based bath additives, pastes, and
ointments are supplied for external application or drink cures.
Other Uses: Peat can be processed by chemical methods into organic and organo-mineral
fertilizers, biostimulators, and plant growth promoters, as well as drilling-mud conditioners,
special anticorrosive additives, and dyestuff for wood etc.
In summary, the global peat resources are valuable but limited, so non-fuel uses of peat should
be given precedence over fuel uses to postpone the exhaustion of peat resources.
7.7. Peatland and Ecological Systems
The conservation of ecological systems and the environment is a relatively new and rapidly
growing factor in peat exploitation and utilization. Peatland, as a unique natural ecosystem is
very important for the conservation of biodiversity, as it supports many specifically adapted
plant and invertebrate species, which could not survive elsewhere. The habitat is also locally
important for the conservation of birds such as wildfowl, waders, and raptors. Peat
exploitation alters the original environment and leads to a series of undesirable changes. First,
bog drainage turns peatland from a hydrochemical accumulation area to a hydrochemical
releasing area, and increases the leaching of nutrients. After drainage and extraction of the
surface layer, peatland loses its water-holding capacity and other special properties, and the
local ecosystem is substantially destroyed. The movement of drifting peat particles, during

peat extraction and drying, into nearby water bodies is also harmful, leading to pollution and
Due to their high reactivity, some peats present an explosion or fire hazard. Also, peat
extraction, processing, and combustion cause more or less the same environmental problems
as the other fossil fuels.
The life cycle of a peat production site usually requires a period of fifteen to twenty years.
The most common uses of cut-away peatlands in the North Temperate Zone are either forestry
or agriculture. In recent years, not only peatland conservation, but also the regeneration of
cut-away peatland has been practiced more and more widely. When the water level is restored,
mire vegetation quickly takes over the site and a rapid carbon sequestering process, a typical
feature of young mires, begins. Much attention has been paid to this kind of after-use of cutaway peatland areas in Ireland, Finland, the UK, the Netherlands, and Germany. In Germany,
more than half of the areas currently used by the peat industry (about 180 km2) will be
"restored" in the next few decades. Farmers who favor organic growing methods are also
interested in growing herbs and medical plants here, since there are no traces of pesticides or
fertilizers in the subsoil of cut-away areas. In addition, experiments have been carried out
with fast-growing energy plants, such as canary grass and certain willow species. Some cutaway peatlands have been transformed into bird sanctuaries, fishponds, or flood controlling
The Netherlands and France, as large-scale users of peat for horticultural purposes, have
stopped peat harvesting for lack of suitable deposits or because of ecological pressure. In
Russia, Finland, and Ireland, peat resources will last for more than thirty years because of the
enormous peat reserves in these countries. In the United States and Canada, peat consumption
is very small and almost insignificant in relation to their great wealth of native peat resources.
8. Conclusion
Coal, oil shale, natural bitumen (tar sand), and peat all belong to the group of fossil fuels.
Coal is the end product of a sequence of biological, geochemical, and geological processes,
originating from plant debris. Known global reserves of coal are much greater than any other
fossil fuels. Currently, coal is widely used for power generation, heat supply, coke making,
and the production of gaseous and liquid fuels. Its future is to a great extent dependent on the
development and availability of clean coal technologies. Natural bitumen, found in tar sand,
and heavy oil belong to subclasses of petroleum, while oil shale is a sedimentary rock
containing kerogen as its main organic constituent and, to a lesser extent, bitumen, both
embedded in an inorganic matrix. Because natural bitumen, heavy oil, and oil shale are more
closely similar to conventional crude oil in the elemental composition of their organic matter
than is coal, naturally it is much easier to convert them into liquid fuels to make up for crude
oil shortage. Peat is a mixture of dead and decomposed vegetable matter that forms in boggy
areas. Although it is a low-quality fuel, it has a number of special applications. Although the
peat resources of the northern hemisphere are still very large, production of peat is likely to
decline. Extraction of peat from currently undisturbed peatland areas is undesirable on
environmental grounds, both on account of biodiversity conservation and atmospheric carbon
dioxide concentration. Natural peat deposits still represent a very important global storehouse
of carbon.

The author wishes to express thanks to all authors of this theme, Coal, Oil Shale, Natural
Bitumen, Heavy Oil, and Peat, for their close co-operation.
Related Chapters
Click Here To View The Related Chapters

: The highest rank of coal, very high in fixed carbon and low in volatile
matter, hydrogen, and oxygen.
: A dark brown to black cementitious solid or semisolid in consistency, in
which the predominant constituents are bitumens, which occur in nature as
residue in the refining of petroleum. Petroleum asphalts are produced from
crude oils by a variety of manufacturing methods.
Clean coal
: A quite new conception, this term is used worldwide to represent a series
of new coal utilization technologies, which are environmentally clean,
highly efficient, and economically acceptable. It can reduce emissions of
sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides, and other pollutants at various points of coal
use from a mine to a power plant or factory.
: One of the fossil fuels, originating from peat deposits formed in
prehistoric swamps through the accumulation of plant remains and the end
product of a sequence of biological, geochemical, and geological processes.
It can be described as a complex heterogeneous mixture of amorphous
organic material with inorganic matter interspersed.
Enhanced oil
: Defined as recovery of the incremental ultimate oil over the oil that can be
economically recovered by conventional primary and secondary methods.
To reduce or eliminate the viscous properties of heavy oil and improve its
mobility, the enhanced oil recovery processes involve chemical, fluid
phase, and thermal behavior effects.
Heavy oil
: One type of petroleum that is different from conventional crude oil. It has
a higher density with an API gravity of less than 200, lying between the
conventional petroleum and tar sand bitumen.
: The lowest-rank coal, similar to brown coal. It is lower in fixed carbon,
and higher in volatile matter and moisture content, than bituminous coal.
Natural bitumen : Mostly occurring in tar sand (bitumen sand) deposits that are impregnated
(tar sand)
with dense, viscous petroleum-like material that is usually immobile under
reservoir conditions.
Oil shale
: A sedimentary rock containing combustible organic matter, commonly
called kerogen, along with a much smaller portion of bitumen, both
embedded in an inorganic mineral matrix.
: An acidic mixture of dead and decomposed vegetable matter, which forms
in boggy areas. Compared with other fossil fuels, peat is characterized by
the lowest carbon content and the highest oxygen content.

Lappalainen, E. 1996. Global Peat Resources, Jyskae, Finland, International Peat Society. 359 pp. [This work
deals with peat resources, production and utilization.]
Smith, K. L.; Smoot, L. D.; Fletcher, T. H.; Pugmire R. J. 1994. The Structure and Reaction Process of Coal.
New York, Plenum. 471 pp. [Coal is the focus of this book, which attempts to document and integrate current
understanding of the structure of coal and its reaction processes.]
Speight, J. G. 1994. The Chemistry and Technology of Coal, 2nd edn. New York, Marcel Dekker. 642 pp. [This
book introduces the reader to the science of coal, beginning with the coal formation through the various chemical
and analytical aspects to the coal processing technologies.]
. 1999. The Chemistry and Technology of Petroleum, 3rd edn. New York, Marcel Dekker. pp. 14644. [This
book is a sister work of the book mentioned above.]
Weiss, H. J. 1991. Oil Shale. In: B. Elvers, Ullmanns Encyclopedia of Industrial Chemistry, 5th edn. Vol. A18,
Basel, Switzerland, VCH. pp. 10125. [This describes the worlds oil shale activities.]

Biographical Sketch
Dr. Jinsheng Gao was born on January 8 1939. He graduated in Fuel Chemical Technology in 1961 at the East
China University of Chemical Technology (renamed in 1993 as East China University of Science and
Technology (ECUST)), and received his Dr.Ing. in 1981 at the Technical University Clausthal, Germany. He was
appointed professor of ECUST in 1990. He has worked from 1961 to the present day teaching and researching at
ECUST. For over thirty years he was in charge of research projects in the field of coal chemistry and processing.
He has published 160 scientific papers and nine books, mostly in Chinese, and obtained four (Scientific and
Technological Process) awards from ministries in China. The author has been actively involved in national and
international co-operation projects, and acts as member or chairman in several scientific and technical societies
and editorial boards of journals.

To cite this chapter

Shale, Natural Bitumen, Heavy Oil and Peat, [Ed. Gao Jinsheng], in Encyclopedia of Life Support Systems
(EOLSS), Developed under the Auspices of the UNESCO, Eolss Publishers, Oxford ,UK, [http://www.eolss.net]
[Retrieved April 12, 2007]


Encyclopedia of Life Support Systems