Abstract The application of slurry atomization direct current plasma-atomic emission spectrometry (DCP-AES) to major, minor, and trace element determination in coals has been investigated. Attention was paid to the preparation of the coal slurries. Using the bottle and bead technique the optimal grinding time was 4 h and 0.1% Aerosol OT was the preferred choice of surfactant. Two certified reference material coals were analyzed by DCP-AES using aqueous standards for calibration. Good agreement between the results and certified values were obtained for 11 elements, illustrating the effectiveness of the slurry technique for the rapid determination of major, minor, and trace elements in whole powdered coal with existing instrumentation and aqueous calibration.