Molecular profiling of naphthenic acids in technical mixtures and oil sands process-affected water using polar reversed-phase liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry

Electrophoresis. 2016 Dec;37(23-24):3089-3100. doi: 10.1002/elps.201600250. Epub 2016 Oct 20.


In this work, a reversed-phase ultra-HPLC (UHPLC) ultrahigh resolution MS (UHRMS) method was evaluated for the comprehensive profiling of NAs containing two O atoms in each molecule (O2NAs; general formula Cn H2n + z O2 , where n is the number of carbon atoms and z represents hydrogen deficiency). Using a polar cyanopropyl-bonded phase column and negative-ion electrospray ionization mass spectrometric detection at 120,000 FWHM (m/z 400), 187 and 226 O2NA species were found in two naphthenic acid technical mixtures, and 424 and 198 species with molecular formulas corresponding to O2NAs were found in two oil sands process-affected water samples (one from a surface mining operation and the other from a steam-assisted gravity drainage operation), respectively. To our knowledge, these are the highest numbers of molecular compositions of O2NAs that have been profiled thus far in environmental samples. Assignments were based on accurate mass measurements (≤3 ppm) combined with rational molecular formula generation, correlation of chromatographic behavior of O2NA homologues with their elemental compositions, and confirmation with carboxyl group-specific chemical derivatization using 3-nitrophenylhydrazine. Application of this UHPLC-UHRMS method to the quantitation of O2NAs in the surface mining operation-derived water sample showed excellent linearity (R2 = 0.9999) with external calibration, a linear range of 256-fold in concentration, and quantitation accuracies of 64.9 and 69.4% at two "standard substance" spiking levels.

Keywords: Naphthenic acid; Oil sands process-affected water; Polar cyanopropyl-bonded phase column; Ultra-HPLC ultrahigh resolution mass spectrometry.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Carboxylic Acids / analysis*
  • Carboxylic Acids / chemistry
  • Chromatography, High Pressure Liquid
  • Chromatography, Reverse-Phase / methods*
  • Industrial Waste
  • Mass Spectrometry / methods*
  • Oil and Gas Fields*
  • Wastewater / analysis*
  • Wastewater / chemistry


  • Carboxylic Acids
  • Industrial Waste
  • Waste Water
  • naphthenic acid