Abstract Ambient-pressure thermogravimetric characterization of four different coals and their chars was performed to obtain fundamental information on pyrolysis and coal and char reactivity for these materials. Using a Perkin-Elmer TGS-1 thermobalance, weight loss as a function of temperature was systematically determined for each coal heated in helium at 40 and 160 °C/min under various experimental conditions, and for its derived char heated in air over a temperature range of 20 to 1000 °C. The results indicate that the temperature of maximum rate of devolatilization increases with increasing heating rate for all four coals. However, heating rate does not have a significant effect on the ultimate yield of total volatiles upon heating in helium to 1000 °C; furthermore, coupled with previous data 9 for identical coal samples, this conclusion extends over a wide range of heating rate from 0.7 to 1.5 × 10 4 °C/s. Using the temperature of maximum rate of devolatilization as an indication of relative reactivity, the devolatilization reactivity differences among the four coals tested that were suggested by this criterion are not large. For combustion in air, the overall coal/char reactivity sequence as determined by comparison of sample ignition temperature is: N. Dakota lignite coal ≈ Montana lignite coal > North Dakota lignite char > III. No. 6 bituminous coal ≈ Pittsburgh Seam bituminous coal > Montana lignite char > III. No. 6 bituminous char > Pittsburgh Seam bituminous char. The reactivity differences are significantly larger than those for devolatilization. The reactivity results obtained suggest that coal type appears to be the most important determinant of coal and char reactivity in air. The weight loss data were fitted to a distributed-activation-energy model for coal pyrolysis; the kinetic parameters so computed are consistent with the view that coal pyrolysis involves numerous parallel first-order organic decomposition reactions.