Unresolved Complex Mixtures (UCMs) of hydrocarbons are found in crude and refined oils and in water, sediments and biota polluted with oils. The concentrations of UCMs in oils are significant (e.g. >65% of the aliphatic hydrocarbons in fresh Kuwait crude) and it is perhaps surprising that virtually nothing is known about UCM composition. The present study sought to redress this paucity of information in three ways:
First, following two recent studies of aliphatic UCMs, an investigation of the composition of the "aromatic" UCM of Venezuelan Tia Juana Pesado crude oil was made by spectroscopic (IR, NMR, MS) and oxidative (CRO3, RuO4) methods. These showed that the UCM was, in fact, highly aliphatic. The major compounds identified were alkyl substituted naphthenoaromatics with one and two aromatic rings. Chemical oxidation indicated that the alkyl branched side chains extended to at least twenty three carbon atoms.
Second, an investigation into the origins of UCMs was made. The products of hydrous pyrolysis of man-made (polythene) and biogenic (cutan) polymers under conditions proposed previously to simulate catagenesis, included, in the hydrocarbons, high proportions of UCMs (50% - >70%). Pyrolysis of polythene produced a mixture of saturated (56%) and olefinic (44%) hydrocarbons, whilst pyrolysis of cutan produced hydrocarbon (aliphatic and aromatic; 30-75%) and non-hydrocarbon (70-25) fractions, both with >60% unresolved components. Oxidative characterisation of these UCMs produced mainly n-acids with somewhat similar results to those found when oil UCMs were oxidised. However, the laboratory generated UCMs are not perfect oil UCM models since some oil UCM oxidation products were not observed in the laboratory models.
Finally, an attempt was made to release the geochemical information contained within UCMs. Replicate oxidations of milligram quantities of oil UCMs followed by quantitative GCMS characterisation and multivariate statistical analysis of the resolved oxidation products gave reproducible distributions with >80% similarity. Application of this method to two oil spill incidents where the source oil was known (Milford Haven and the Humber Estuary) gave good correlations between oil and source. In contrast analysis of Mersey Estuary sediments contaminated with heavy asphaltic oil and of Sullom Voe sediments contaminated with UCMs failed to show any correlation between the sediments and the source oils. However, subsequent re-analysis of the data excluding the major UCM oxidation products (n-carboxylic acids) produced better correlations which indicated that the greatest correlation potential for these UCMs was contained within the minor oxidation products. A similar study of UCMs from two oil seeps from the Siljan Ring region of Sweden failed to show any correlation with potential source rocks, in agreement with biomarker data.
This study has extended present knowledge of UCM composition and suggested a mechanism for UCM formation. Furthermore, quantitative and statistical analysis of UCM oxidation products has been shown to be useful for oil identification. There is still much to be learned about UCMs and the subject should provide a fruitful area for further research. Some possible approaches are suggested.
Parts of this work have been published [Revill et al. (1991), Organic Geochemistry: Advances and Applications in Energy and the Natural Environment, Manchester University Press (Abstract), 649-651; Revill et al. (1992), J. Chromatogr. 589, 281-286 [doi: 10.1016/0021-9673(92)80033-Q]].
Copyright © 1992 A.T. Revill. All rights reserved.
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