Sulphur analysis of crude oil takes a step forward

Oil companies could now stand a better chance of meeting demands for cleaner-burning fuel, with the development of a high speed system for analysing the sulphur content of crude oil.

Researchers at Florida State University (FSU) have refined and speeded up a 1930’s analytical tool, called the ion cyclotron resonance mass spectroscopy (ICR), which bombards gaseous forms of compounds trapped in a magnetic field with radio signals in order to identify them. Once the sulphur has been identified, companies will then be able to use appropriate methods for removing the compounds.

A typical sample of crude oil can have more than 1,000 sulphur-containing compounds, says Alan Marshall, an analytical chemist at FSU, and co-developer of the system. “There are at least 10,000 different compounds in a typical sample of crude oil, and sorting them all out is ordinarily a very tedious, time-consuming process,” said Marshall. “Our technique can identify 3,000 or more in a single step. No other lab in the world has been able to do that.”

“Almost every shipment of crude oil to this country has a different mixture of compounds,” Marshall said. “Our technique is the best way, and possibly the only way, for oil companies to determine precisely what they have. Only then can they develop the best methods for removing sulphur and other pollutants.”

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