Comprehensive chemical characterization of lubricating oils used in modern vehicular engines utilizing GC x GC-TOFMS

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Authors: Zhirong Liang, Longfei Chen, Mohammed S.Alam, Soheil Zeraati Rezaei, Christopher Stark, Hongming Xu, Roy M. Harrison


A number of major studies have demonstrated that the SVOC (Semi-volatile organic compounds) within engine emissions derive predominantly from unburned fuel and lubricants, and are a major contributor to primary atmospheric aerosol containing thousands of organic compounds. The GC × GC-ToF-MS (2 dimensional Gas Chromatography – Time of Flight – Mass Spectrometry) comprehensive analytical technique was utilized in this study, to resolve the complex mixtures and characterize the SVOC content in eight different commercial lubricants, including 5 W30 synthetic and semi-synthetic, mineral and base oil. In order to quantify the aliphatic isomers, which comprise the largest component of the lubricants, a TIC-M.Q./Mass (Total ion current ratio to the molar quantity/mass) method has been developed. The TIC intensity was observed to be proportional to the molar quantity of n-alkanes for carbon number <C25, while being linear to the mass response for these aliphatic compounds with carbon number >C25. Additionally, the TIC intensity of the alkyl-cyclohexanes under the identical retention indices were found to have an equivalent response to those of the n-alkanes, showing that the quantitative calibrations derived for the n-alkane series could be applied to estimate the concentrations of isomeric aliphatic compounds with similar molecular weight. Furthermore, a mesh method was introduced to group the alkane species (n-alkanes, branched alkanes and cyclic alkanes etc.), combining with the use of a soft EI (electron impact) ionization (14 eV) to retain the distinct identity of the isomers with less fragmentation, which allowed the TIC-M.Q./Mass methodology to integrate all the constitutional isomers present in the lubricating oil samples. By utilizing this methodology, compositions from different samples were comprehensively compared, leading to the following conclusions: 1) the synthetic and semi-synthetic oils contained a larger abundance of HMW (high molecular weight) aliphatic compounds (carbon number C24–C29), while those in the LMW (low molecular weight range, carbon number C18–C25) were predominant in the mineral and base oil; 2) cycloalkanes were predominant in the synthetic and semi-synthetic oils; whereas the branched alkanes were more prominent in the mineral and base oils; 3) for lubricants used for a short period, a slight increase of LMW compounds was observed, while the HMW compounds underwent a decrease, whereas, there was an overall mass reduction for all the aliphatic compounds detected in the oil samples used for six-months.

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