Improved resolution of hydrocarbon structures and constitutional isomers in complex mixtures
using Gas Chromatography-Vacuum Ultraviolet-Mass Spectrometry (GC-VUV-MS) (Supplementary Info)
Understanding the composition of complex hydrocarbon mixtures is important for environmental studies in a variety of fields, but many prevalent compounds cannot be confidently identified using traditional gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) techniques. This work uses vacuum-ultraviolet (VUV) ionization to elucidate the structures of a traditionally "unresolved complex mixture" by separating components by GC retention time, tR, and mass-to-charge ratio, m/Q, which are used to determine carbon number, NC, and the number of rings and double bonds, NDBE. Constitutional isomers are resolved based on tR, enabling the most complete quantitative analysis to date of structural isomers in an environmentally-relevant hydrocarbon mixture. Unknown compounds are classified in this work by carbon number, degree of saturation, presence of rings, and degree of branching, providing structural constraints. The capabilities of this analysis are explored using diesel fuel, in which constitutional isomer distribution patterns are shown to be reproducible between carbon numbers and follow predictable rules. Nearly half of the aliphatic hydrocarbon mass is shown to be branched, suggesting branching is more important in diesel fuel than previously shown. The classification of unknown hydrocarbons and the resolution of constitutional isomers significantly improves resolution capabilities for any complex hydrocarbon mixture.