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Anal Chem. 2012 Feb 7;84(3):1517-25. doi: 10.1021/ac202801g. Epub 2012 Jan 10.

Chemical characterization of crude petroleum using nanospray desorption electrospray ionization coupled with high-resolution mass spectrometry.

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  • 1William R. Wiley Environmental and Molecular Sciences Laboratory, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, P.O. Box 999, K8-88, Richland, Washington 99352, USA.


Nanospray desorption electrospray ionization (nano-DESI) combined with high-resolution mass spectrometry was used for the first time for the analysis of the polar constituents of liquid petroleum crude oil samples. The analysis was performed in both positive and negative ionization modes using three solvents, one of which (acetonitrile/toluene mixture) is commonly used in petroleomics studies while two other polar solvents (acetonitrile/water and methanol/water mixtures) are generally not compatible with petroleum characterization using mass spectrometry. The results demonstrate that nano-DESI analysis efficiently ionizes petroleum constituents soluble in a particular solvent. When acetonitrile/toluene is used as a solvent, nano-DESI generates electrospray-like spectra. In contrast, strikingly different spectra were obtained using acetonitrile/water and methanol/water. Comparison with the literature data indicates that these solvents selectively extract water-soluble constituents of the crude oil. Water-soluble compounds are predominantly observed as sodium adducts in nano-DESI spectra indicating that addition of sodium to the solvent may be a viable approach for efficient ionization of water-soluble crude oil constituents. Nano-DESI enables rapid screening of different classes of compounds in crude oil samples based on their solubility in solvents that are rarely used for petroleum characterization providing better coverage of the crude oil composition as compared to electrospray ionization (ESI). It also enables rapid characterization of water-soluble components of petroleum samples that is difficult to perform using traditional approaches.

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