Cyclic sedimentation and lateral facies changes make coal bed correlations inconclusive and difficult. This uncertainty can be further complicated if a coal basin has been structurally deformed. Coal macerals can be studied to indicate the nature and degree of coalification. Their use in coal bed correlation, however, is limited. Most of the trace elements and their ratios that have been studied show significant within-bed lateral and stratigraphic variations, and thus are not effective in correlating coal beds regionally. Geochemically coherent groups of elements, such as rare earth elements (REE) and platinum group elements (PGE), appear to be highly differentiated in coal-forming environments. Geochemical coherent elemental triads appear to be useful for coal bed identification or fingerprinting. The best triad which was demonstrated to be effective in coal bed characterization in western Kentucky, is that of Al, La and Sc. These three elements are highly correlated with one another and they can be determined accurately and simultaneously with instrumental neutron activation analysis (INAA). The elemental triad Al-La-Sc is used to identify and fingerprint three key coal beds in western Kentucky: the Springfield (western Kentucky No. 9), the Davis (western Kentucky No. 6), and the Mining City and Dawson Springs are both considered to be the No. 4 coal bed in western Kentucky). Four distinct groupings can be recognized by use of the Al-La-Sc triad. The Dawson Springs coals have the highest Al/(La + Sc) ratios, followed by the Springfield, the Davis and the Mining City. The Mining City coal bed generally has the highest La/Sc ratio. However, the Dawson Springs is not correlated with the Mining City using the triad analysis, even though they have reportedly similar stratigraphic positions in the western Kentucky coal basin. The Al-La-Sc triad appears to be effective in discriminating between the Springfield and the Davis coal beds throughout the entire Illinois Basin. Furthermore, the range of concentration variation of the AL-La-Sc triad suggests individual groupings of the No. 4 coal in western Kentucky. In addition to characterizing these coal beds, the Al-La-Sc triad may be used to confirm stratigraphic correlations.