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Detailed Characterization of Vitrinite-Rich Subbituminous and Bituminous Coals for Utilization in Carbon Fiber Precursor Production

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Energy & Fuels
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Chemical structures of candidate coals (one subbituminous coal from the Powder River Basin and three bituminous Eastern US coals) were examined for potential low-cost carbon fiber precursor production. The structural evaluation examined the carbon skeleton (13C nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) and high-resolution transmission electron microscopy (HRTEM)), the heteroatom functionality (X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS) Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR) and NMR), the structural ordering and distribution of PAH sizes (HRTEM), and an estimation of the molecular weight distribution (laser desorption ionization mass spectrometry, LDIMS). The molecular compositional distributions were also evaluated for a mixed solvent extract (atmospheric pressure photoionization, 21 T Fourier transform ion cyclotron resonance mass spectrometry, FT-ICR MS). Significant structural differences existed between the subbituminous and bituminous coals, as expected with coalification (with the bituminous coals having a higher carbon content, lower oxygen content, higher aromaticity values, larger cluster sizes, and so forth). While the bituminous coals were similar in structure (close in rank with Blue Gem being hvAb and the rest being hvBb), structural differences were still evident. Specifically, structural similarities were evident for the average properties of Herrin and Springfield coals: same rank, similar moisture, and volatile matter yields, along with similar aromaticity and carbon and hydrogen content. However, significant structural differences were observed at the molecular level by 21 T FT-ICR MS, which showed that the Springfield coal was structurally more complex. Specifically, 21740, 16931, 30190, and 12982 unique elemental compositions were identified for the Monarch, Herrin, Springfield, and Blue Gem coals, further illustrating the complexity of the coal.