Rising oil prices and growing environmental concerns have led to renewed interest in the catalytic gasification of low rank coals such as lignite. Despite decades of research the structure and dispersion of the catalytic species under reaction conditions, and the effect of the changing structure of the coal on these, are still not fully understood. This talk will outline new insights about potassium carbonate catalyst in lignite that have been gained by the application of a suite of characterization techniques to this complex material. Surface and bulk elemental analyses give hints about the dispersion and migration of the catalyst, while these are given context through their effects on the pore structure through surface area measurements. Vibrational spectroscopy is employed to understand the chemistry of the catalyst and its interactions with the coal structure, and the oxygen functional groups in the coal are characterized and quantified to understand their interaction with the catalyst.