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Scientists use laser to take oil’s ‘fingerprints’

Researchers with the petroleum company Saudi Aramco have found a way to use a laser to “fingerprint” oil. The innovation promises a number of benefits, including better quality control at refineries.

The laser device takes mere nanoseconds to excite an oil sample’s fluorescence spectra, which is then analysed to provide a “spectral fingerprint” of the sample. The instrument is also sturdy and portable, which will enable it to be used in the field to assess petroleum quality.

“(W)e’re also working on a remote sensing version that can be used in helicopters to detect and identify oil spills and seepage into water,” said Ezzat M. Hegazi, senior research scientist at Saudi Aramco and leader of the instrument design effort.

Among the device’s potential uses:

  • Measuring the exact ratios of different types of crude oil in any particular blend down to 0.001 per cent;
  • Detecting illegal blending of fuel oils;
  • Assessing an oil sample’s water and sulphur content;
  • Identifying oil spills; and
  • Monitoring viscosity in oil pipelines.

The research team says the laser instrument can also serve as an additional investigative tool in assessing geological formations in oil exploration.

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