Research NewsGeochemistry

Catalytic Explanation for Natural Gas

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Science  24 Apr 1998:
Vol. 280, Issue 5363, pp. 524-525
DOI: 10.1126/science.280.5363.524

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DALLAS-- According to geology textbooks, natural gas deposits form at or near hot spots where high temperatures break down the long hydrocarbon chains in petroleum to the short hydrocarbons found in natural gas: methane, ethane, propane, and butane. But at a meeting of the American Chemical Society here this month, a geochemist offered evidence for an alternate view: It's not heat that breaks down petroleum but catalytically active metals in the ground. His latest laboratory results showed that the catalytic breakdown of petroleum produces component gases with the exact same mixture of heavy and light carbon isotopes as is found in natural gas deposits.