A Derivatisation and Liquid Chromatography/Electrospray Ionisation Multistage Mass Spectrometry Method for the Characterisation of Naphthenic Acids
Naphthenic Acids (NAs) are partially uncharacterised complex mixtures of carboxylic acids, resulting from the microbial oxidation of petroleum hydrocarbons. They are associated with the fouling of pipelines and process equipment in oil production and with corrosion in oil refineries. As by-products of the rapidly expanding oil (tar) sands industries, NAs are also pollutants and have proved to be toxic to a range of organisms. They also have important beneficial uses as fungicides, tyre additives and, paradoxically, also in the manufacture of corrosion inhibitors. These features make the characterisation of NAs an important goal for analytical chemists. Here we describe the synthesis of amide derivatives of NAs for characterisation by liquid chromatography/electrospray ionisation multistage mass spectrometry (LCESI-MSn). The method was applied to commercially available carboxylic acids, novel synthetic NAs refined from crude oils, crude oil NAs and Athabasca oil sands NAs. In addition to confirming the number of alicyclic rings and length of alkyl side chain substituents (confirming information from existing methods) the MSn results provided further structural information. Most important of these was the finding that bi- to polycyclic acids containing ethanoate side chains, in addition to alkyl substituents, were widespread amongst the oil and oil sands NAs. The latter NAs are known end members of the β-oxidation of NAs with even carbon number alkanoate chains. Since such NA mixtures are toxic, they should be targets for bioremediation. Bioremediation of NAs can also be monitored better by application of the methods described herein.