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Tracing the Compositional Changes of Asphaltenes after Hydroconversion and Thermal Cracking Processes by High-Resolution Mass Spectrometry

Chacón-Patiño, Martha L., Blanco-Tirado, Cristian, Orrego-Ruiz, Jorge A., Gómez-Escudero, Andrea, Combariza, Marianny Y.
Energy & Fuels 2015 v.29 no.10 pp. 6330-6341
carbon, distillation, feedstocks, high-value products, mass spectrometry, molecular weight, oil and gas industry, oils, thermal cracking
With heavy crude oil refining on the rise, upgrading strategies are fundamental to yield high-value products. Hydroconversion and thermal cracking are well-established and widely used upgrading processes for heavy oils’ distillation cuts and residues. Recognizing molecular changes in these fractions after upgrading, particularly of asphaltenic compounds, is fundamental to understand and optimize the processes. In this work, we follow compositional changes in the asphaltene fraction of a Colombian heavy crude, after hydroconversion and thermal cracking, using high-resolution mass spectrometry. The liquid products from the upgrading processes were fractionated into maltenes and residual asphaltenes, with yields between 33% and 38% in maltenes from the original asphaltene feedstock. Contoured plots of double bond equivalents versus carbon number and van Krevelen diagrams show maltenic fractions exhibiting lower aromaticity, smaller molecular size, fewer heteroatomic species, and higher content of alkyl side chains than the starting asphaltenic material. Residual asphaltenes, on the other hand, consist of compounds with lower H/C ratios and reduced content of alkyl groups than the feedstock. In addition, structural information about the feedstock, such as archipelago or island structures, can be derived from the plots. This information is useful to establish trends between compound class reactivity and the suitability to produce valuable maltenic compounds through upgrading technologies.