Abstract The oxidation of graphite is used as a model system for the combustion of char. In order to understand this oxidation process a stagnation-point flow of an oxygen stream on a graphite surface is investigated numerically. The chemical reactions in the gas phase as well as on the surface are modelled by a series of elementary steps. The surface reactions take into consideration the different surface complexes formed, the influence of the geometry of the graphite surface and the interaction of gas-phase molecules with surface complexes. The rate coefficients used are estimated by applying methods of the microkinetic analysis of heterogeneous catalytic reactions. The mechanism is used to simulate the combustion rate of a graphite surface and the ratio of CO to CO 2 formed on the surface. The simulation results are compared with experimental data and a good agreement is achieved. Furthermore, the fraction of char-bound nitrogen converted to N 2 and N 2O is calculated.