Direct Coupling of Normal-Phase High-Performance Liquid Chromatography to Atmospheric Pressure Laser Ionization Fourier Transform Ion Cyclotron Resonance Mass Spectrometry for the Characterization of Crude Oil

The high complexity of crude oil makes the use of chromatographic separation an important tool especially for sample simplification. The coupling of normal-phase high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) using a polar aminocyano column to a Fourier transform ion cyclotron resonance (FTICR) mass spectrometer offers the best attributes of good separation prior to ultrahigh resolution mass spectrometry (MS) detection. Atmospheric pressure laser ionization (APLI) was used as an ionization technique to analyze the nitrogen-containing aromatic compounds in a deasphalted crude oil due to its unique selectivity toward aromatic compounds and also due to its sensitivity. Two main chromatographic peaks were observed during this separation indicating a class-based separation. Mass spectra obtained from fractions were collected along the entire retention time and compared with each other to assign the unique constituents. By coupling the HPLC system directly to the FTICR mass spectrometer, comparable ion and UV chromatograms were obtained, reflecting the scan-to-scan sensitivity of the coupling system. The results show that it is possible to calculate reconstructed class chromatograms (RCC), allowing differences in class composition to be traced along the retention time. As an example, radical and protonated nitrogen species generated by APLI were detected along the retention time which enabled a differentiation between basic and nonbasic species in the same polar peak, thus overcoming the limitation of chromatographic resolution. This report represents the first online LC–FTICR MS coupling in the field of crude oil analysis.