• Why Does Petroleomics Matter?

Fuel for Thought

Why Does Petroleomics Matter?

Oct 21 2021

Thanks to advanced techniques like ultra-high-resolution Fourier transform ion cyclotron resonance mass spectrometry (FT-ICR-MS), it’s possible to quantify tens of thousands of unique elemental compositions found in petroleum crude oil. The specialised field of characterising these chemical constituents, along with analysing their interactions, is known as petroleomics and has become an invaluable tool used across the industry.

Before we dive into the applications of petroleomics, let’s take a moment to define the field in more detail.

Defining petroleomics

Armed with high mass resolving power and state-of-the-art mass accuracy technologies, scientists can characterise complex organic mixtures such as petroleum crude oil at the molecular scale. Techniques like FT-ICR-MS are used to isolate, identify and quantify thousands of individual elemental compositions found in petroleum. This data is then used to develop unique molecular fingerprints for samples.

“Petroleomics is the principle that from sufficiently complete characterisation of the organic composition of petroleum and its relatives and products, it should be possible to correlate (and ultimately predict) their properties and behaviour,” reads a 2008 report co-authored by Alan G. Marshall, an early pioneer of petroleomics.

Key applications for petroleomics

Want to know more about why petroleomics matters? Below, we spotlight three key applications of petroleomics.

  • Identifying heteroatom-containing molecules

Electrospray ionization (ESI) is one of the most useful techniques used to characterise petroleum crude oil and identify heteroatom-containing molecules known as NnOoSs. While these types of molecules typically make up less than 10% of a petroleum sample, they can be highly problematic for a variety of reasons.

They can compromise the efficiency of catalysts and result in a build-up of deposits on specialised production and processing equipment. NnOoSs molecules can also increase the emission rates of a finished product and drag down its environmental credentials. Ultimately, the presence and quantities of heteroatom-containing molecules will affect the price of a petroleum product, as well as its suitability for different applications.

  • Improving industry transparency

When it comes to establishing and confirming the quality of crude oil, petroleomics is an invaluable tool. The ability to characterise petroleum at a molecular level and quantify individual chemical constituents offers buyers a detailed overview of the product. This improves industry transparency across the board and helps buyers make smarter, more informed decisions.

  • Protecting the environment

As well as characterising finished products, petroleomics has emerged as a useful tool for environmental researchers. The MagLab facility at Florida State University is a pioneer of petroleomics and offers researchers access to high-resolution ion cyclotron resonance (ICR) mass spectrometers with the capability to identify thousands of individual molecules in petroleum samples. Working from the lab, researcher Ryan Rodgers and his team are investigating how sunlight and rain degrade petroleum-based asphalt over time and the risks this poses to the natural environment.

New techniques and technologies continue to advance the petroleomics field. Find out more about the latest industry developments at the upcoming PEFTEC conference featuring prominent scientists and keynote speakers from across the globe.


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