Assessment of hydropyrolysis as a method for the quantification of black carbon using standard reference materials

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Meredith, W. ; Ascough, P.L. ; Bird, M.I. ; Large, D.J. ; Snape, C.E. ; Sun, Y. ; Tilston, E.L. (2012)
  • Publisher: Elsevier
  • Journal: Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta (issn: 0016-7037, vol: 97, pp: 131-147)
  • Related identifiers: doi: 10.1016/j.gca.2012.08.037
  • Subject: Geochemistry and Petrology

A wide selection of thermal, chemical and optical methods have been proposed for the quantification of black carbon (BC) in environmental matrices, and the results to date differ markedly depending upon the method used. A new approach is hydropyrolysis (hypy), where pyrolysis assisted by high hydrogen pressures (150 bar) facilitates the complete reductive removal of labile organic matter, so isolating a highly stable portion of the BC continuum (defined as BChypy). Here, the potential of hypy for the isolation and quantification of BC is evaluated using the 12 reference materials from the International BC Ring Trial, comprising BC-rich samples, BC-containing environmental matrices and BC-free potentially interfering materials. By varying the hypy operating conditions, it is demonstrated that lignocellulosic, humic and other labile organic carbon material (defined as non-BChypy) is fully removed by 550 °C, with hydrogasification of the remaining BChypy not commencing until over 575 °C. The resulting plateau in sample mass and carbon loss is apparent in all of the environmental samples, facilitating BC quantification in a wide range of materials. The BChypy contents for all 12 ring trial samples fall within the range reported in the BC inter-comparison study, and systematic differences with other methods are rationalised.\ud \ud All methods for BC isolation, including hypy are limited by the fact that BC cannot be distinguished from extremely thermally mature organic matter; for example in high rank coals. However, the data reported here indicates that BChypy has an atomic H/C ratio of less than 0.5 and therefore comprises a chemically well-defined polyaromatic structure in terms of the average size of peri-condensed aromatic clusters of >7 rings (24 carbon atoms), that is consistent across different sample matrices. This, together with the sound underlying rationale for the reductive removal of labile organic matter, makes hypy an ideal approach for matrix independent BC quantification. The hypy results are extremely reproducible, with BChypy determinations from triplicate analyses typically within ±2% across all samples, limited mainly by the precision of the elemental analyser.
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