Molecular characterization of nitrogen-containing species in switchgrass bio-oils at various harvest times

D. Paul Cole, Erica A. Smith, Dustin Dalluge, Danielle M. Wilson, Emily A. Heaton, Robert C. Brown, Young Jin Lee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Nitrogen-containing species in bio-oils obtained from fast pyrolysis of switchgrass were studied using high resolution mass spectrometry at various harvest times throughout the year. Almost three hundred chemical compositions of nitrogen species were determined through efficient ionization and accurate mass information. N2 is the most abundant heteroatom class, followed by NO, N2O, NO2, and N1 compounds. Nitrogen species, especially N2 compounds, dominate the bio-oil spectra in early summer, but decrease significantly in later harvest times. From the contour plots of double bond equivalent versus carbon number and tandem mass spectrometric analysis, the major structural motif for N1 and NO class compounds are assigned as pyridine and that of N2 class compounds as imidazole. The dramatic decrease of N2 class compounds in delayed harvest bio-oils is well correlated with the decomposition of proteins, represented by imidazole as a pyrolysis product of histidine, as the senescence of the perennial plant proceeds. Some of the heterocyclic aromatic compounds are also found in gas chromatography-mass spectrometry, further supporting our analysis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)718-726
Number of pages9
StatePublished - 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Bio-oil
  • High resolution mass spectrometry
  • Imidazole
  • Nitrogen
  • Switchgrass

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Chemical Engineering
  • Fuel Technology
  • Energy Engineering and Power Technology
  • Organic Chemistry


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