An Invariance in the Isoheptanes of Petroleum

Science  31 Jul 1987:
Vol. 237, Issue 4814, pp. 514-517
DOI: 10.1126/science.237.4814.514


Four isoheptanes in petroleum display a remarkable invariance in a ratio of sums of concentrations. The isoheptanes are not at thermodynamic equilibrium, nor are they fixed to some constant composition. The four isomers display coherent change in relative amounts but maintain invariance in the ratio of sums. Within sets of genetically related petroleum samples, invariance reaches levels that approach the limits of our analytical precision. The invariance is inconsistent with a chemical origin that involves the thermal fragmentation of natural products or their derivatives. It suggests a reaction process at steady state, in which relative rates of product formation are constant. A mechanism is proposed in which the four isoheptanes are formed pairwise and sequentially through two intermediates in a catalytic process that operates at steady state.