Dynamics of Molecules Observed at Crude-Oil-Gas Interfaces by Time-of-Flight Secondary Ion Mass Spectrometry Imaging

P. W. F. Arisz*, J. B. M. Pureveen*, R. M. A. Heeren*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Time-of-flight secondary ion mass spectrometry (TOF-SIMS) imaging provides molecular speciation at the micrometer scale, while the penetration depth of the primary ion beam is limited to the top-layers of a sample. These combined properties make TOF-SIMS potentially an ideal technique to study oil-gas interfaces. TOF-SIMS spectra of three crude oils were evaluated, and only low-mass fragment ions could be assigned to molecular structures unambiguously. Films of crude oils were incubated under air, oil vapor, or water vapor for various times. TOF-SIMS images of a polar crude oil revealed feeble structures of similar to 10 mu m large round patches that grew to similar to 30 mu m large crystals when incubated under air and oil vapor, respectively. Principal component analysis of the images showed that the continuous phase had typical aromatic signatures, while the patches and crystals had alkane-like characteristics. No features showed up when the oil film was incubated under water vapor, which indicated that saturated water vapor prevented the accumulation of nonpolar alkane-like compounds at the oil-gas interface. These examples showed that crude oils do not behave as dead fluids but that their constituents accumulate at the oil-gas interfaces in a dynamic way.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2356-2361
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of the American Society for Mass Spectrometry
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 4 Nov 2020


  • crude oil
  • TOF-SIMS imaging
  • TOF-SIMS spectra
  • surface microstructure
  • image analysis by principal component analysis

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