The objective of this study was to determine whether activated char produced from Illinois coal could be used effectively to remove sulfur dioxide from coal combustion flue gas. Chars were prepared from a high-volatile Illinois bituminous coal under a wide range of pyrolysis and activation conditions. A novel char preparation technique was developed to prepare chars with SO2 adsorption capacities significantly greater than that of a commercial activated carbon. In general, there was no correlation between SO2 adsorption capacity and surface area. Temperature-programmed desorption (TPD) was used to determine the nature and extent of carbon-oxygen (C-O) complexes formed on the char surface. TPD data revealed that SO2 adsorption was inversely proportional to the amount of C-O complex. The formation of a stable C-O complex during char preparation may have served only to occupy carbon sites that were otherwise reactive towards SO2 adsorption. A fleeting C(O) complex formed during SO2 adsorption is postulated to be the reaction intermediate necessary for conversion of SO2 to H2SO4. Copyright ?? 1996 Elsevier Science Ltd.