While the vast majority of scientists believe that hydrocarbons — which make up oil and natural gas — are formed from decomposed biological materials, a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences uses computational methods to show that conditions are possible within the earth’s mantle for hydrocarbons to be created from purely chemical processes (abiogenically).
Senior author Professor Giulia Galli of UC Davis states “Our simulation study shows that methane molecules fuse to form larger hydrocarbon molecules when exposed to the very high temperatures and pressures of the Earth’s upper mantle. We don’t say that higher hydrocarbons actually occur under the realistic ‘dirty’ Earth mantle conditions, but we say that the pressures and temperatures alone are right for it to happen.”
The researchers found by using computer simulation that when temperatures were greater than 2,240 degrees Fahrenheit, and pressure was 50,000 times greater than at the Earth’s surface hydrocarbons with multiple carbon atoms can form from methane.
This research team does not hypothesize that this mechanism is the source of hydrocarbon-based fuels, but occasionally we hear the theory expressed that the vast quantities oil and gas we drill from under the earth may not in fact be produced from decomposed biological material. In some circles there are heated debates between believers in the “abiotic” origin of oil and those with the traditional biological origin of oil point of view. This study will no doubt provide some more material for those involved in the debate.
Information for this story comes from Science Daily