Author's School

School of Engineering & Applied Science

Author's Department/Program

Energy, Environmental and Chemical Engineering


English (en)

Date of Award

Summer 9-1-2014

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Chair and Committee

Pratim Biswas


Pulverized coal combustion is widely used worldwide for the production of electricity. However, it is one of the primary emission sources of air pollutants, including particulate matter (fly ash) and mercury (Hg), into the atmosphere. This dissertation investigated three aspects of pollutant formation and control from the coal combustion process: (1) organic aerosol formation during coal combustion, (2) mercury removal during coal combustion by injection of Vanadium Pentoxide (V2O5), and (3) submicrometer particle formation during oxy-coal combustion.

Part. 1. While the characterization and formation of the mineral matter component of aerosol during coal combustion has been well studied and understood, the characterization and fate of corresponding organic matter content was not examined in detail earlier. The first part of this dissertation studies the formation mechanism of organic aerosols during coal combustion. Pilot-scale experiments were conducted in a 1 MW coal combustor, and showed that black carbon aerosol formation was greatly enhanced by increasing the fuel-air equivalence ratio. However, organic carbon aerosol formation was lowered by increasing the fuel-air equivalence ratio, which was opposite to the trend of black carbon aerosol formation. This phenomenon indicates that the formation mechanism of organic carbon aerosol is different from black carbon (soot) aerosol.

Detailed organic aerosol formation mechanisms have been studied in a laboratory-scale system. Aerosol mass spectrometry techniques were applied to characterize both coal combustion aerosols from a drop-tube coal combustor and coal pyrolysis products from a flat-flame coal pyrolyzer. The chemical composition of major species for both combustion organic aerosols and pyrolysis products are hydrocarbons, carboxylic acids and aromatic compounds. The similarities of the chemical compositions demonstrate that the products from coal pyrolysis, (the initial step of coal combustion), are the precursors of organic aerosols. More carboxylic acids and oxygenated organic compounds were found in the combustion aerosols, indicating that many pyrolysis products are oxidized before they are converting to organic aerosols.

A strong correlation between inorganic and organic aerosol formation mechanisms has been found in this work, demonstrating that inorganic particles play a critical role as carriers of organic species. Sulfate species in inorganic aerosols play a particularly important role in organic aerosol formation. Enhanced organic aerosol formation during the combustion of high sulfur content coal has been observed for the first time. High resolution mass spectra analysis shows the presence of amine-like organics in the aerosols. The correlation between particulate sulfate and organics suggests that acidic sulfate particles may absorb basic amine-like organics, a major coal pyrolysis product, from the gas phase into the particle phase via acid-base neutralization reactions.

Part. 2. Coal combustion is a major source of atmospheric mercury. High-temperature sorbent injection is an efficient method to capture metallic species during combustion. This part of the study examines the performance on Hg capture from pulverized coal combustion in a drop-tube furnace. V2O5 was tested as a sorbent and demonstrated good performance on elemental mercury capture, which results from the formation of ultrafine V2O5 particles during the combustion process. It is proposed that the ultrafine V2O5 particles catalyzed Hg0 oxidation on their large surfaces. Hg2+, the oxidation product, may condense on fly ash particle surfaces or on tubing surfaces, thereby being removed from the flue gas.

Part. 3. Coal combustion is the largest single contributor to global anthropogenic CO2 emissions. Oxy-coal combustion replaces the air with oxygen and uses recycled flue gas (RFG) as a diluent, resulting in a higher concentration (>98%) of CO2 in the exhaust, which promotes more effective control, capture, and possible conversion of CO2. This part of the dissertation investigates the effects of recycling (up to recycle ratios of 60%) on submicrometer particle formation in a drop-tube furnace system. The recycled exhaust gas containing lower O2 concentration and higher CO2 concentration suppressed submicrometer particle formation. However, it was found that water vapor in recycled exhaust gas greatly enhanced the formation of submicrometer particles. The gas composition changes that result from exhaust-gas recycling significantly affected the size distribution of submicrometer particles at the exit of the combustor. Differences in the particle size distribution with and without the filtration of recycled exhaust gas were insignificant. The composition of the resultant particles in oxy-coal combustion and conventional coal-air combustion as determined by X-ray diffraction was similar.


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