The molecular architecture of asphaltenes is still a matter of debate. Some literature reports provide evidence that the contrast of petroleum asphaltenes versus coal-derived asphaltenes is useful for understanding the governing principles of asphaltene identity. Coal-derived asphaltenes provide an excellent test for understanding the relationship of asphaltene molecular architecture with asphaltene properties. Diffusion measurements have shown that coal-derived asphaltenes are half the size of many crude oil asphaltenes, but there are relatively few studies comparing coal-derived and petroleum asphaltenes using liquid state 13C NMR. 13C NMR confirms that the molecular sizes of these coal-derived asphaltenes are smaller than virgin petroleum asphaltenes. DEPT-45 experiments were performed in order to determine the relative amount of nonprotonated and protonated carbon in the aromatic region of the spectrum. In contrast to previous NMR work on asphaltenes that ignored interior bridgehead carbon, we show this is an important component of asphaltenes and that correctly accounting for this carbon enables proper determination of the number of fused rings. XRS data supports interpreting the NMR data with a model that weighs circularly condensed structures more heavily than linearly condensed structures. Significantly more carbon exists in chains at least 9 carbons long in petroleum asphaltenes (≥7%) compared to coal-derived asphaltenes (≥1%).
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