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Maturation study of vitrinite in carbonaceous shales and coals: Insights from hydrous pyrolysis

June 18, 2022

The presence of vitrinite in sedimentary rocks of post-Silurian age allows its reflectance to be used to estimate the thermal maturation of organic matter in petroleum systems. Increasing reflectance of vitrinite, which is primarily driven by aromaticity, depends primarily on the time and temperature attributes of its evolutionary pathway. This study evaluated carbonaceous shales proximal to coal measures and coal samples via isothermal hydrous pyrolysis (HP) to compare differences in the maturation pathways of vitrinite. Sample residues were analysed via vitrinite reflectance (VRo), geochemical screening tests (organic carbon and programmed temperature pyrolysis), and infrared spectroscopy. The study included samples from Indian and North American basins, to observe differences in vitrinite evolution with respect to enclosing mineral matrix, starting degree of aromaticity, organic matter types, stratigraphic age, and depositional environment. The organic content of HP residues shows an intuitive response to the thermal stress of HP, e.g., a general depletion of total organic carbon (TOC) content, pyrolyzate (S2), and hydrogen index with increasing HP temperature. Infrared proxies including C-factor and CH2/CH3 generally decrease with increasing thermal maturity indicating loss of O via CO2 generation and the thermal cracking of aliphatic organic matter. Tmax, production index (PI), and VRo show intuitive increasing values with respect to HP temperature. The least mature sample (0.48 ± 0.05% VRo) generally experienced the maximum change in these parameters during maturation, whereas the most mature sample (0.99 ± 0.06% VRo) generally showed the least change. This observation is consistent with higher kinetic barriers to reaction in more aromatic vitrinite which contains higher bond dissociation energies. Devolatilization of vitrinite during HP causes formation of gas evacuation vacuoles and contraction cracks in the vitrinite grains of both coal and carbonaceous shale. Similarities in vitrinite response to HP between coal and carbonaceous shale suggest that thermal evolution of the vitrinite maceral is principally controlled by inherent rate-limiting kinetic parameters related to its molecular structure. Whereas, the stratigraphic age, sedimentary environment, surrounding organic matter, lithology, and catalysis by mineral composition have less effect. To further improve our understanding of vitrinite aromatization and kinetic parameters, future studies of vitrinite reflectance thermal evolution with temperature should include coal and carbonaceous shale from the same stratigraphic section and extant woody tissue from modern vascular plants.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2022
Title Maturation study of vitrinite in carbonaceous shales and coals: Insights from hydrous pyrolysis
DOI 10.1016/j.coal.2022.104044
Authors Divya K. Mishra, Paul C. Hackley, Aaron M. Jubb, Margaret M. Sanders, Shailesh Agrawal, Atul K. Varma
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title International Journal of Coal Geology
Index ID 70237694
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Eastern Energy Resources Science Center; Geology, Energy & Minerals Science Center