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Evaluating aromatization of solid bitumen generated in the presence and absence of water: Implications for solid bitumen reflectance as a thermal proxy

May 13, 2022

Geological models for petroleum generation suggest thermal conversion of oil-prone sedimentary organic matter in the presence of water promotes increased liquid saturate yield, whereas absence of water causes formation of an aromatic, cross-linked solid bitumen residue. To test the influence of hydrogen from water, organic-rich (22 wt% total organic carbon, TOC) mudrock samples from the Eocene lacustrine Green River Formation Mahogany zone oil shale were pyrolyzed under hydrous and anhydrous conditions in closed system batch reactors at temperatures between 300 and 370 °C for 72 h. Pre- and post-pyrolysis samples were characterized using petrographic approaches including optical microscopy, reflectance, Raman spectroscopy, and scanning electron and transmission electron microscopy to quantify differences in relative appearance, abundance, and composition of solid bitumen newly generated during the pyrolysis experiments. Petrographic analyses were supplemented by geochemical screening measurements (TOC content and programmed temperature pyrolysis). Results show post-hydrous pyrolysis residues contain lower TOC, are comprised of solid bitumen with greater aromaticity, and have textures indicative of lower viscosities, relative to anhydrous residues from the same temperature pyrolysis conditions. These observations suggest solid bitumen forming from thermal conversion of oil-prone sedimentary organic matter under anhydrous conditions may be less aromatic, although more cross-linked, than solid bitumen forming under hydrous conditions at the same time-temperature combination. To explain these results, we suggest that a radical disproportionation mechanism is favored in the presence of hydrogen donated from water, and that this disproportionation promotes aromatization in the solid residue with concomitant expulsion of saturated hydrocarbons.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2022
Title Evaluating aromatization of solid bitumen generated in the presence and absence of water: Implications for solid bitumen reflectance as a thermal proxy
DOI 10.1016/j.coal.2022.104016
Authors Paul C. Hackley, Aaron M. Jubb, Patrick L. Smith, Ryan J. McAleer, Brett J. Valentine, Javin J. Hatcherian, Palma J. Botterell, Justin E. Birdwell
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title International Journal of Coal Geology
Index ID 70237692
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Geology, Energy & Minerals Science Center