Kerogen: from Types to Models of Chemical Structure

Abstract : The aim of the present paper is to review the conceptual and analytical developments in the period 1970-1990 which have led, through kerogen isolation and analysis on one hand, and case studies of petroleum systems on the other hand, to the concept of kerogen types, evolution paths, and statistical chemical models. Kerogen is defined as the sedimentary organic matter generating petroleum, an insoluble product as opposed to its counterpart soluble in usual organic solvents, such as petroleum. As kerogen is a complex organic material intimately mixed with minerals in sediments, the first task was to set up a robust procedure for its isolation, enabling then its study by various physicochemical analyses. The parallel development of oil exploration, resulting in geological sample availability, made the geochemical comparison of various petroleum systems possible. Comparisons concerned not only oils, source rock extracts and kerogen compositions, but also the timing of petroleum generation. The notion of kinetic cracking of kerogen into petroleum stemming from these case studies, associated with the observation of time and temperature compensation, resulted in the use of pyrolysis to evaluate the oil potential still to be generated by the kerogen, and in the construction of the Rock-Eval. In the mid 70s, all main parameters on kerogens from reference series of source rocks were available to define the notions of types and evolution paths of kerogens upon geological maturation. A further important step for improving the knowledge of kerogen composition was achieved in the 80s using new techniques of analytical and preparative pyrolysis and their coupling with different detectors. The pyrolysis products, small building blocks issued from the kerogen thermal cracking, could thus be analyzed and quantified at the molecular level, without the problems of representativity associated with natural extract analyses, such as loss of volatile fractions or product migration out of source rocks. ;Contemporaneous developments in solid state 13C NMR allowed quantification of the various forms of carbon and their molecular environment in the kerogen, whereas quantification was not possible with IR or UV spectroscopy. The quantification of molecular building blocks and their bonding functional groups in kerogens allowed conceptual averaged molecular models of kerogens to be proposed in order to visualize their atomic and molecular composition, and the changes occurring in this composition according to types and maturity. Although it will never be possible to represent a true kerogen structure, simply because it is a mixture of various nonpolymeric macromolecules, an hypothetical average structure of kerogen, representing a large amount of information from various analyses, can provide a synthetic view of the main resemblances and differences among sedimentary organic matters.
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M. Vandenbroucke. Kerogen: from Types to Models of Chemical Structure. Oil & Gas Science and Technology - Revue d'IFP Energies nouvelles, Institut Français du Pétrole, 2003, 58 (2), pp.243-269. ⟨10.2516/ogst:2003016⟩. ⟨hal-02043862⟩

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