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Chromium in Australian export thermal coals

An examination of chromium in Australian export thermal coals intended for industrial, scientific and research audiences.

  • 21 July 2010 | Updated 14 October 2011

Trace elements in coals may be associated with specific minerals or with organic 'coaly' matter.

The sources of trace elements include biological material (plants, algae and bacteria) that is the precursor of the coaly material, water in the peat swamp and mineralogical material washed or blown into the swamp.

Table representation of chromium in Australian export coals, other internationally traded coals, the Earth's crust and shales.
 Concentration of chromium in: mg/kg 
 Australian export coals 2 - 24 (9) #
 Other internationally traded coals 1 - 34 (13) # 
 Earth's crust 100 
 Earth's shales 100 
 # values in parentheses are averages 


Chromium has been identified as a Hazardous Air Pollutant (HAP) by environmental authorities.

Modes of occurrence

There is significant uncertainty about the most likely association of chromium in bituminous coals. Chromium is present in Cr (III) forms but may be associated with sulfides, organic matter or clays.

Behaviour during combustion

Chromium is partly volatile and may condense on the fly ash particles. There is little enrichment on the fine particles. Chromium is predominantly present in the Cr(III) form in power station ash.

Health and environmental effects

On the spectrums:

  • for the NPI health hazard of 0-3, Cr (III) compounds registers 1.2
  • for the NPI environmental of 0-3, Cr (III) compounds registers 2.0
  • for the NPI health hazard of 0-3, Cr (VI) compounds registers 2.5
  • for the NPI environmental of 0-3, Cr (VI) compounds registers 3.0.

Chromium as Cr (VI) is a concern if released into the environment. Total chromium is low in coal ash and the fraction present as Cr (VI) is small.

Analytical methods

AS 1038.10.0, Australian Standard, Coal and coke - Analysis and testing - Part 10.0: Determination of trace elements – Guide to the determination of trace elements.

ASTM D6357-00a Test Methods for Determination of Trace Elements in Coal, Coke, & Combustion Residues from Coal Utilization Processes by Inductively Coupled Plasma Atomic Emission, Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass, & Graphite Furnace Atomic Absorption Spectrometries.

Find out more about our work with Energy from Coal.

This work supported by:

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