Recent advances in electron microprobe technology including development of layered synthetic microstructures, more stable electronics and better matrix-correction programs facilitated routine microanalysis of the light elements in coal. Utilizing an appropriately equipped electron microprobe with suitable standards, it is now possible to analyze directly the light elements (C, O and N, if abundant) in coal macerals and other kerogen. The analytical results are both accurate compared to ASTM methods and highly precise, and provide an opportunity to access the variation in coal chemistry at the micrometre scale. Our experiments show that analyses using a 10 kV accelerating voltage and 10 nA beam current yield the most reliable data and result in minimum sample damage and contamination. High sample counts were obtained for C, O and N using a bi-elemental nickel-carbon pseudo-crystal (2d = 9.5 nm) as an analyzing crystal. Vitrinite isolated from anthracite rank coal proves the best carbon standard and is more desirable than graphite which has higher porosity, whereas lower rank vitrinite is too heterogeneous to use routinely as a standard. Other standards utilized were magnesite for oxygen and BN for nitrogen. No significant carbon, oxygen or nitrogen X-ray peak shifts or peak-shape changes occur between standards and the kerogen analyzed. Counting rates for carbon and oxygen were found to be constant over a range of beam sizes and currents for counting times up to 160 s. Probe-determined carbon and oxygen contents agree closely with those reported from ASTM analyses. Nitrogen analyses compare poorly to ASTM values which probably is in response to overlap between the nitrogen Ka peak with the carbon K-adsorption edge and the overall low nitrogen content of most of our samples. Our results show that the electron microprobe technique provides accurate compositional data for both minor and major elements in coal without the necessity and inherent problems associated with mechanically isolating macerals. Studies to date have demonstrated the level of compositional variability within and between macerals in suites of Canadian coals.
Additional publication details
Electron-probe microanalysis of light elements in coal and other kerogen