Electron beam microanalysis of coal samples in U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) labs confirms that As is the most abundant minor constituent in Fe disulfides in coal and that Se, Ni, and other minor constituents are present less commonly and at lower concentrations than those for As. In nearly all cases, Hg occurs in Fe disulfides in coal at concentrations below detection by electron beam instruments. Its presence is shown by laser ablation ICP-MS, by selective leaching studies of bulk coal, and by correlation with Fe disulfide proxies such as total Fe and pyritic sulfur. Multiple generations of Fe disulfides are present in coal. These commonly show grain-to-grain and within-grain minor- or trace element compositional variation that is a function of the early diagenetic, coalification, and post-coalification history of the coal. Framboidal pyrite is almost always the earliest Fe disulfide generation, as shown by overgrowths of later Fe disulfides which may include pyrite or marcasite. Cleat- (or vein) pyrite (or marcasite) is typically the latest Fe disulfide generation, as shown by cross-cutting relations. Cleat pyrite forms by fluid migration within a coal basin and consequently may be enriched in elements such as As by deposition from compaction-driven fluids, metal enriched basinal brines or hydrothermal fluids. In some cases, framboidal pyrite shows preferential Ni enrichment with respect to co-occurring pyrite forms. This is consistent with bacterial complexing of metals in anoxic sediments and derivation of framboidal pyrite from greigite (Fe3S4), an Fe monosulfide precursor to framboidal pyrite having the thio-spinel structure which accommodates transition metals. Elements such as As, Se, and Sb substitute for S in the pyrite structure whereas metals, including transition metals, Hg and Pb, are thought to substitute for Fe. Understanding the distribution of minor and trace elements in Fe disulfides in coal has important implications for their availability to the environment through coal mining and use, as well as for potential reduction by coal preparation, and for delineating diagenetic compositional changes throughout and after coal formation.
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Minor element distribution in iron disulfides in coal: a geochemical review