Low-rank coal reserves account for nearly 55% of the national coal reserves in China, and it is extremely important to understand their anisotropic microstructure and coalbed methane storage and sorption characteristics. In this study, microstructures that develop parallel to and perpendicular to bedding of low-rank coals are studied through scanning electron microscopy. The micromorphology and microfracture and mineral distributions are examined. Based on fractal theory and digital image processing technology, the fractal box-counting dimensions of microfracture distributions that form parallel as well as perpendicular to the coal bedding planes are calculated, and the anisotropic fractal characteristics of these microfracture distributions are characterized. The pore-size distribution and the fractal characteristics of the microscopic pore structure are systematically examined by means of nitrogen adsorption and mercury intrusion tests. The results of the fractal box-counting dimension calculations indicate that microfractures distributed perpendicular to coal bedding are rougher and more irregular than those distributed along a bedding plane, with the former exhibiting higher space filling and methane adsorption capacity. The fractal dimension of the microscopic pore structure reveals two inflection points measuring approximately 5 and 80 nm, thereby indicating that the low-rank coal exhibits a microscopic pore structure with a three-level fractal characteristic.

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