The availability of modern transportation vehicles and fuels has driven rapid economic growth and greatly improved our daily life with needed and new materials. The fuels have been overwhelmingly obtained from fossil resources, particularly petroleum, through sophisticated refining processes. Due to ever increasing demand for products and improving technology in exploration and production, easy-access conventional petroleum resources have been rapidly depleted. The situation has become even more serious in recent years as a result of the rapid growth of countries with large populations, such as China, India, Brazil and Russia. Research and development of refining technology has shifted to heavy oils that have high contents of sulfur, nitrogen and metals harmful to refining processes and the environment. Because of dwindling fossil resources and increasing evidence of carbon dioxide as a main culprit for global warming, fuels from biological resources are now being explored and have achieved some success.
We established the Future Fuels Institute (FFI) to enhance the existing Ion Cyclotron Resonance (ICR) Program at the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory (NHMFL) to deal with biological and fossil fuels, particularly for heavy oils and synthetic crudes. There are many well established analytical techniques for quality control and process optimization of conventional fuels, mainly gasoline, diesel and jet fuels. However, difficulties in obtaining molecular composition of the feedstock have limited the refining technology of extremely complex heavy petroleum fractions. In addition, biofuels derived from non-food crops and algae must be produced more efficiently and economically through the understanding of their molecular compositions.