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Have you ever asked yourself why you need an electrode for the endpoint detection in Karl Fischer (KF) titration? Theoretically, the endpoint of a Karl Fischer titration could be determined based on the color change of the reagent. However, if accuracy and reproducibility are important, endpoint detection with a double Pt electrode is a much better choice.

As the indicator electrode detects the endpoint, you can imagine that the results depend highly on the condition of the electrode. In coulometry, an additional electrode (generator electrode) is used to generate the iodine needed for the titration. Both electrode types (i.e. indicator and generator electrode) need to be kept in good shape to guarantee the correct results. It goes without saying that cleaning, storage, maintenance, and checks of the KF electrodes are important factors for success. This blog post takes a closer look at these topics.

Did you catch our series about frequently asked questions in Karl Fischer titration? Find them here!

Cleaning

Indicator electrode

Double  Pt-wire or double Pt-ring electrodes can be easily cleaned with an abrasive cleaning agent like aluminum oxide powder or toothpaste. After cleaning, rinse the electrode well with water and let it dry before mounting it in a titration cell. Check out our video below for more tips and tricks about the proper cleaning procedure for Karl Fischer titration indicator electrodes.

Take special care not to bend the Pt pins of the double Pt-wire electrode. Bending the pins can lead to tiny cracks in the glass body of the electrode. Over time, reagent can flow into the electrode and lead to corrosion (short circuit). If this happens, the electrode is beyond repair and needs replacement. Alternatively, a double Pt-ring electrode can be used instead. Problems with bent pins are then a thing of the past.
Generator electrode
Without diaphragm
Rinse generator electrodes without diaphragms with water, or if the contaminant is not water soluble, then rinse with a suitable organic solvent. If the anode or the cathode of the generator electrode shows discoloration or deposits that cannot be removed with rinsing, the electrode can then be cleaned with concentrated nitric acid (65%). Be aware that nitric acid is a strong oxidizing agent and must be handled carefully according to relevant safety regulations and instructions. Remember to first mount the green protection cap on the connector to avoid corrosion caused by fumes of nitric acid. Afterwards, rinse the electrode with water and finally with methanol.
With diaphragm
To remove salt-like residues, the generator electrode with diaphragm can be rinsed with water. Oily contamination can be rinsed off with an organic solvent (e.g. hexane). Sticky residues on the diaphragm can be removed in the following way: 

  1. Mount the green protection cap on the connector of the electrode.
  2. Place the electrode in an upright position (e.g. in an Erlenmeyer flask) and add a few milliliters of concentrated nitric acid (65%) in the cathode chamber. Let the acid flow through the diaphragm.
  3. Fill the cathode chamber with water and let it flow through the diaphragm to remove the nitric acid. Repeat this step two or three times. A simple way to see whether another rinsing step is required is by performing a quick check of the pH value at the cathode using pH indication paper.
  4. Finally, fill the cathode chamber with methanol and let it flow out.

Now the generator electrode is as good as new and ready for use in a titration cell again.

Maintenance

Except for the generator electrode with diaphragm, KF electrodes are maintenance free. However, the catholyte filled in the generator electrode with diaphragm can decompose over time. To avoid any influence of the decomposition products on the results, exchange the catholyte on a regular basis according to the manufacturer’s recommendations.

Storage

Unlike pH electrodes, KF electrodes do not contain a glass membrane that could potentially dry out. Therefore, no special solution is required in which to store KF electrodes. If you use the electrodes frequently, it is recommended to keep the electrodes mounted in the titration cell and immersed in the KF reagent. Alternatively, all KF electrodes (indicator and generator electrodes) can be stored dry.

What to check for

It is recommended to check the complete titration setup instead of only the electrode(s).

Volumetry

Carry out a threefold titer determination using either a liquid or a solid water standard suitable for volumetry and calculate the mean value of the titer. Then, determine the water content of a water standard (also via triplicate determination). Make sure that you do not use the same standard as for the titer determination but use a different batch of the standard or even a completely different standard. Calculate the water content and compare it to the certified water content of the standard.

If the recovery is determined to be in the range of 97–103%, the titration system (including the electrode) is working fine. Finding values outside this range means that there is something wrong with the titration system or with the determination procedure. Results of the sample analysis would very likely also deviate from the real water content. Therefore, it is important to find the reason for values that are too high or too low. Sometimes the reason for deviations is just an air bubble in the dosing cylinder or due to an exhausted molecular sieve. However, if you do not find the reason, do not hesitate to contact your local Metrohm agency.

Coulometry

Water standards with lower water contents (0.1%) are available to properly check the health of coulometric titration systems. Carry out a water content determination in triplicate with such a standard. Calculate the recovery with the obtained results and the certified water content of the standard.

A recovery value in the range between 97–103% means that everything is fine with the system and that the electrodes work as expected. As with volumetry, in coulometry it is important to find the reason for any deviating recovery values. Make sure that you find and eliminate the problem to obtain correct results for your samples.

What you should avoid

  • Do not use solvents that contain ketones or aldehydes (e.g. denatured ethanol) to clean KF electrodes or any KF accessories.
  • Do not treat KF electrodes in an ultrasonic bath. This might destroy the electrode.
  • For drying, use a maximum temperature of 50 °C. Higher temperatures might damage the electrode.
  • Do not bend the Pt pins of the double Pt-wire electrode.

Summary

As you can see, keeping your KF electrodes in good shape is actually very simple. Regular cleaning helps to avoid erroneous results and ensures that your Karl Fischer electrodes will work for a long time.

Best practice for electrodes in titration

Treat your sensors right!
Post written by Michael Margreth, Sr. Product Specialist Titration (Karl Fischer Titration) at Metrohm International Headquarters, Herisau, Switzerland.
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