Many Tertiary coals contain abundant fossilized remains of angiosperms, which commonly dominated the ancient peat-swamp environments; modern analogs of such swamps can be found in tropical and subtropical regions of the world. Comparisons of angiospermous wood from Australian brown coal with similar wood buried in modern peat swamps of Indonesia have provided some new insights into coalification reactions. These comparisons were made by using solid-state 13C nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) techniques and pyrolsis-gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (py-gc-ms). These two modern techniques are especially suited for detailed structural evaluation of the complex macromolecules in coal. The earliest transformation (peatification) of organic matter in angiospermous wood is the degradation and removal of cellulosic components and the concomitant selective preservation of lignin-derived components. The angiospermous lignin that becomes enriched in wood as a result of cellulose degradation also is modified by coalification reactions; this modification, however, does not involve degradation and removal of the lignin. Rather, the early coalification process transforms the lignin phenols (guiacyl and syringyl) to eventually yield the aromatic structures typically found in brown coal. One such transformation, which is determined from NMR data, involves the cleavage of aryl-ether bonds that link guaiacyl and syringyl units in lignin, and this transformation leads to the formation of free lignin phenols. Another transformation, which is also determined from the NMR data, involves the loss of methoxyl groups, probably via demethylation, to produce catechol-like structures. Coincident with ether-cleavage and demethylation, the aromatic rings derived from lignin phenols become more carbon-substituted and cross linked, as determined by dipolar-dephasing NMR studies. This cross linking is probably responsible for preventing the lignin phenols, which are freed from the lignin macromolecule by ether cleavage, from being removed from the coal by dissolution. Pyrolysis data suggest that the syringyl units are altered more readily than are guaiacyl units, and this difference in resistance leads to an enrichment of the guaiacyl units in fossil angiospermous woods. Many of the coalification reactions noted above occur to some degree in all angiospermous fossil wood examined; however, some significant differences are observed in the degree of coalification of the fossil wood samples from the same burial depth in the brown coal. These differences indicate that the depth and duration of burial are probably not entirely responsible for the variations in degree of coalification. Different rates of degradation in peat may have contributed to the variations in the apparent degree of coalification; some woods may have been altered more rapidly at the peat stage than others. Although preliminary, this systematic study of botanically related wood in peat and coal results in a more detailed differentiation of coalification reactions than have previous investigations. The combined use of solid-state 13C NMR and py-gc-ms has facilitated this detailed insight into the coalification of angiospermous wood. ?? 1989.
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Studies of angiospermous wood in Australian brown coal by nuclear magnetic resonance and analytical pyrolysis: new insights into the early coalification process