Subcritical water extraction of organic matter from sedimentary rocks

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Subcritical water extraction of organic matter containing sedimentary rocks at 300. °C and 1500. psi produces extracts comparable to conventional solvent extraction. Subcritical water extraction of previously solvent extracted samples confirms that high molecular weight organic matter (kerogen) degradation is not occurring and that only low molecular weight organic matter (free compounds) are being accessed in analogy to solvent extraction procedures. The sedimentary rocks chosen for extraction span the classic geochemical organic matter types. A type I organic matter-containing sedimentary rock produces n-alkanes and isoprenoidal hydrocarbons at 300. °C and 1500. psi that indicate an algal source for the organic matter. Extraction of a rock containing type II organic matter at the same temperature and pressure produces aliphatic hydrocarbons but also aromatic compounds reflecting the increased contributions from terrestrial organic matter in this sample. A type III organic matter-containing sample produces a range of non-polar and polar compounds including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and oxygenated aromatic compounds at 300. °C and 1500. psi reflecting a dominantly terrestrial origin for the organic materials. Although extraction at 300. °C and 1500. psi produces extracts that are comparable to solvent extraction, lower temperature steps display differences related to organic solubility. The type I organic matter produces no products below 300. °C and 1500. psi, reflecting its dominantly aliphatic character, while type II and type III organic matter contribute some polar components to the lower temperature steps, reflecting the chemical heterogeneity of their organic inventory. The separation of polar and non-polar organic compounds by using different temperatures provides the potential for selective extraction that may obviate the need for subsequent preparative chromatography steps. Our results indicate that subcritical water extraction can act as a suitable replacement for conventional solvent extraction of sedimentary rocks, but can also be used for any organic matter containing mineral matrix, including soils and recent sediments, and has the added benefit of tailored extraction for analytes of specific polarities.




Luong, D., Sephton, M. A., & Watson, J. S. (2015). Subcritical water extraction of organic matter from sedimentary rocks. Analytica Chimica Acta, 879, 48–57.

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