Warwick University scientists have developed a new method for analyzing the composition of molecules in complex mixtures such as crude oil.
According to the scientists, the new analytical tool has been able to assign a record-breaking number of 244,779 molecular compositions within a single sample of petroleum.
Assigning the compositions of molecules in a complex mixture is no doubt a valuable tool for many industries.
Understanding the elemental composition of molecules could help determine the mixture’s viability in the petrochemical industry, or even ‘fingerprint’ a complex mixture such as oil or environmental samples.
Called Operation at Constant Ultrahigh Resolution (OCULAR), the new method combines experimental and data processing techniques to characterize the most complex sample that the scientists have ever worked on.
Using Fourier Transform Ion Cyclotron Resonance Mass Spectrometry (FT-ICR MS), the researchers analyzed a sample of heavy petroleum in solution.
The molecules in the sample were then ionized, excited and detected to determine the mass-to-charge ratios using a solariX (Bruker Daltonics) FT-ICR mass spectrometer at the university.
According to the scientists, the ultrahigh resolving power and mass accuracy of FT-ICR MS allowed them to determine the elemental compositions within even the most complex samples, with a high degree of confidence.
Ions are analyzed using smaller data segments based upon their mass, where the experiment is designed in such a way to ensure constant resolving power across the full mass range analyzed.
For example, a constant resolving power of 3 million was used to characterize a heavy petroleum sample.
The scientists have also developed a new algorithm to automatically prepare and ‘stitch’ together the segmented data for generating a complete mass spectrum.
They contend that the new technique can be used for any analysis of a complex mixture and has potential applications in areas such as energy, life sciences and healthcare, materials, and environmental analysis.
It could also be used to ‘fingerprint’ oil spills by their molecular composition.
Image and content: University of Warwick