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Aggregation of model asphaltenes – a molecular dynamics study

Costa, J L L F S and Simionesie, D and Zhang, Z J and Mulheran, P A (2016) Aggregation of model asphaltenes – a molecular dynamics study. Journal of Physics: Condensed Matter. ISSN 0953-8984 (In Press)

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Abstract

Natural asphaltenes are defined as polyaromatic compounds whose chemical composition and structure is dependent on its geological origin and production history, hence are regarded as complex molecules with aromatic cores and aliphatic tails that occur in the heaviest fraction of crude oil. The aggregation of asphaltenes presents a range of technical challenges to the production and processing of oil. In this work we study the behaviour of the model asphaltene-like molecule hexa-tert-butylhexa-peri-hexabenzocoronene (HTBHBC) using molecular dynamics simulation. It was found that the regular arrangement of the tert-butyl side chains prevents the formation of strongly-bound dimers by severely restricting the configurational space of the aggregation pathway. In contrast, a modified molecule with only 3 side chains is readily able to form dimers. This work therefore confirms the influence of the molecular structure of polyaromatic compounds on their aggregation mechanism, and reveals the unexpected design rules required for model systems that can mimic the behavior of asphaltenes.