Coals may contain a variety of elements. Major elements make up more than 1 percent of a coal; minor elements make up 1 to 0.1 percent, and trace elements make up less than 0.1 percent. For many coal uses, understanding the trace-element composition is increasingly important. This is especially true for steam coals, in which trace elements such as mercury are monitored in emissions. Concentrations of elements such as chlorine, and iron in coal are sometimes needed because they influence boiler efficiency (Finkelman, 1981, 1995; Suárez-Ruiz and Crelling, 2008; Swain, 2013).
There are several methods for determining the trace elements in coal, and there are specific guidelines and standards for the detection of certain trace elements (e.g., ASTM method D6357-11; American Society for Testing and Materials, 2013, p. 716-724). The most common instruments used to measure the very small amounts of these elements in coal are inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometers (ICPMS) and inductively coupled plasma optical emission spectrometers (ICP-OES).
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