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Lessons Learned from a Decade-Long Assessment of Asphaltenes by Ultrahigh-Resolution Mass Spectrometry and Implications for Complex Mixture Analysis

Abstract : Recent advances in instrumentation for high-field Fourier transform ion cyclotron resonance mass spectrometry (FT-ICR MS) have enabled access to ∼70 »000 unique molecular formulas in broadband mass spectral characterization of unfractionated/whole asphaltenes. The results accumulated over a decade highlight the need for an asphaltene molecular model that acknowledges the coexistence of (1) monofunctional and polyfunctional species; (2) island and archipelago structural motifs; and (3) heteroatom-depleted/highly aromatic compounds, as well as atypical species with low aromaticity but increased heteroatom content. Collectively, results from FT-ICR MS, preparatory-scale separations (extrography/interfacial material), gel permeation chromatography, precipitation behavior in heptane:toluene, thermal decomposition, and aggregate microstructure by atomic force microscopy (among other techniques), suggest that the strong aggregation of asphaltenes results from the synergy between several intermolecular forces: π-stacking, hydrogen bonding, London forces, and acid/base interactions. This review presents general features of asphaltene molecular composition reported over the past five decades. We focus on mass spectrometry characterization and expose the reasons why early results supported the dominance of single-core motifs. Then, the discussion shifts to recent advances in instrumentation for high-field FT-ICR MS, which have enabled the detection of thousands of species in asphaltene samples, whose molecular composition and fragmentation behavior in ultrahigh vacuum agree with the coexistence of single-core and multicore structural motifs. Furthermore, evidence that highlights the limitations of commercially available/custom-built ion sources and selective ionization effects is presented. Consequently, the limitations require separations (e.g., chromatography, extrography) to gain more-comprehensive molecular-level insights into the composition of these complex organic mixtures. The final sections present evidence for the role of aggregation in selective ionization and suggest that advanced characterization by both thermal desorption/decomposition and liquid chromatography with online FT-ICR MS detection can be employed to mitigate the effects of aggregation and provide unique insights in molecular composition/structure.
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Submitted on : Monday, November 8, 2021 - 10:58:24 AM
Last modification on : Tuesday, December 7, 2021 - 12:48:06 PM

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Martha Chacón-Patiño, Murray Gray, Christopher Rüger, Donald Smith, Taylor Glattke, et al.. Lessons Learned from a Decade-Long Assessment of Asphaltenes by Ultrahigh-Resolution Mass Spectrometry and Implications for Complex Mixture Analysis. Sustainable Energy & Fuels, Royal Society of Chemistry, 2021, 35 (20), pp.16335-16376. ⟨10.1021/acs.energyfuels.1c02107⟩. ⟨hal-03418928⟩

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