Select Page
Spectroelectrochemistry: shedding light on the unknown

Spectroelectrochemistry: shedding light on the unknown

The combination of two well-known analytical techniques, electrochemistry and spectroscopy, gives rise to spectroelectrochemistry (SEC), an established scientific methodology. This hybrid technology combines the advantages of each technique, offering the best of both worlds [1]. The word «spectroelectrochemistry» is the result of combining these two terms as two pieces of a puzzle that fit perfectly together.

In this article, written for both beginners in the field as well as more experienced readers, we focus on introducing this technique from its beginnings to its advantages in research, and then discuss new systems and solutions that will make it easier to work on the multitude of applications that spectroelectrochemistry can offer. 

Shedding light, in the literal sense of the phrase, on electrochemical knowledge and procedures. Spectroelectrochemistry offers analysts more information by being able to record both an optical and an electrochemical signal at the same time to obtain new data.

This is a multi-response method—it studies the process of electrochemical reactions with simultaneous optical monitoring. Spectroelectrochemistry provides two individual signals from a single experiment, which is a very powerful feature to obtain critical information about the studied system. Moreover, the autovalidated character of spectroelectrochemistry confirms the results obtained by two different routes. Find out more about this topic by downloading our free Application Note below.

Spectroelectrochemistry allows researchers to collect molecular, kinetic, and thermodynamic information from the reactants, intermediates, and/or products involved in electron transfer processes. Thus, it is possible to perform spectroelectrochemical studies on a broad range of molecules and different processes including: biological complexes, polymerization reactions, nanomaterial characterization, analyte detection, corrosion mechanisms, electrocatalysis, environmental processes, characterization of memory devices, and much more!

Ultimately, different kinds of information is obtained depending on the spectral range used. UV-VIS spectroscopy provides molecular information related to the electronic levels of the molecules, the NIR region provides data associated with the vibrational levels, and the Raman spectrum provides very specific information about the structure and composition of the sample due to the fingerprinting characteristics of this technique.

Electromagnetic Spectrum
Diagram of the electromagnetic spectrum.

The beginnings of spectroelectrochemistry

Theodore Kuwana, Ph.D. in chemistry and specialist in spectroelectrochemistry, bioelectroanalytical chemistry and modified electrodes.

This analytical technique was developed in the 1960’s, and became popularized by Professor Theodore Kuwana and other researchers [2]. They had begun to work with transparent electrodes to study a simultaneous process—measuring the charge and absorbance (at the same time) when a beam of light passes through the electrode. As a result, they developed transparent electrodes and this marked the beginning of concurrent electrochemical and UV-VIS absorption measurements.

These so-called «optically transparent electrodes» (OTEs) were developed to carry out the combination of optical and electrochemical experiments. Some of the most commonly used OTEs began as oxide doped with antimony on glass, then developed into different thin films of gold or platinum on quartz, followed by germanium electrodes for IR wavelengths, as well as pure gold and platinum micromeshes (where the holes provide the required transparency to light). However, not all spectroelectrochemical configurations require transparent electrodes. For more information, download the electrode reference flyers from Metrohm DropSens to properly work with the different spectroelectrochemical techniques.

A selection of Metrohm DropSens references. Left: C013 for in-situ surface Raman spectroscopy. Right: P10 optically transparent and specially designed for spectroelectrochemical applications.

Download the free flyers for these electrodes below for further information.

The first published paper on spectroelectrochemistry [2], in which Dr. Kuwana participated, describes the use of tin oxide-coated glass surfaces (optically transparent electrodes) for following the absorbance changes of different electroactive species during electrolysis. Since then, the number of works and investigations based on this technique have grown steadily.

Spectroelectrochemistry publications have increased significantly since its discovery in the 1960’s (results of searching «Spectroelectrochem*» as a term in Scopus as of June 2021).

Take a look for yourself to see how things have changed in the last several decades!

An array of spectroelectrochemical techniques to choose from

The following graphic is classified according to the combination of different electrochemical and spectroscopic methods. The general classification is based on the spectroscopic technique: ultraviolet (UV), visible (Vis), photoluminescence (PL), infrared (IR), Raman, X-ray, nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR), and electron paramagnetic resonance (EPR).

Spectroelectrochemistry (SEC) is the combination of spectroscopy and electrochemistry.

In recent years, significant advances have occurred regarding the design, development, and possibilities offered by instruments for working with spectroelectrochemical techniques. Also, the assemblies and the connections between products and accessories that facilitate the use of this equipment have improved in recent decades, contributing to make research and experiments in this field easier and more affordable.

The evolution of spectroelectrochemical instrumentation

Traditionally, the configuration for spectroelectrochemical analysis consists of two instruments: one spectroscopic instrument and the other for electrochemical analysis. Both instruments are connected independently to the same spectroelectrochemical cell and are generally not usually synchronized. In addition, each instrument is controlled by a different (and specific) software in each case, so two programs are also needed to interpret each signal and yet another external software for the processing and analysis of the data obtained by the first two programs. Finally, it must be considered that synchronization is not guaranteed, making the performance of experiments and tests with this configuration slow, complex, and costly.

This detached spectroelectrochemical setup displays the complexity of various software and programs used, showing that different systems are not able to obtain actual synchronized electrochemical measurements and data (click to enlarge).

Metrohm DropSens took this opportunity to create something that did not exist before—a revolution in the state-of-the-art of spectroelectrochemistry: the SPELEC line of instruments which are fully integrated, synchronized solutions that offer much more versatility to researchers. The devices include all of the components needed to work with spectroelectrochemical techniques in a simple way and in a single system with a (bi)potentiostat/galvanostat, the light source, and the spectrometer (depending on the selected spectral range).

Find out more about SPELEC, the next-generation tool for spectroelectrochemical research on our website.

The SPELEC systems from Metrohm DropSens consist of one device and one software—a fully integrated, easy to use, practical setup for researchers.

These designs and configurations simplify the work, processes, and spectroelectrochemical measurements as well because only a single system and a single software are needed. In the case of the SPELEC solution, its advanced dedicated software (DropView SPELEC) is a specific program that controls the instrument, obtains the electrochemical and spectroscopic signals simultaneously, and also allows users to process and analyze the data together in a single step. It’s really that simple!

The future of spectroelectrochemistry: SPELEC systems and software

One instrument and one software: Metrohm DropSens SPELEC has everything you need for your spectroelectrochemical experiments while saving laboratory space and valuable time. SPELEC instruments offer the combinations of electrochemistry and UV-Vis, Vis-NIR, or even Raman spectroscopy in a single measurement with several different instrument options available (see below). Everything is integrated which allows more tests in less time, multiple spectra, a full range of accessories, and research flexibility with the different configurations available.

Several options are available depending on the spectral range needed:

SPELEC: 200–900 nm (UV-VIS)
SPELEC NIR: 900–2200 nm
SPELEC RAMAN: 785 nm laser
(other wavelengths available upon request)
SPELEC 1050: 350–1050 nm (VIS-NIR)

DropView SPELEC is a dedicated and intuitive software that facilitates measurement, data handling, and processing. With this program, you can display electrochemical curves and spectra in real time and follow your experiments in counts, counts minus dark, absorbance, transmittance, reflectance, or Raman shift. As far as data processing is concerned, DropView SPELEC offers a wide variety of functions including graph overlay, peak integration and measurement, 3D plotting, spectral movie, and more.

Testimonial from the University of Burgos on the integrated SPELEC system from Metrohm DropSens.

SPELEC instruments are very versatile, and although they are dedicated spectroelectrochemical instruments, they can also be used for electrochemical and spectroscopic experiments. They can be used with any type of electrodes (e.g., screen-printed electrodes, conventional electrodes, etc.) and with different spectroelectrochemical cells. Optical and electrochemical information is obtained in real time/operando/dynamic configuration. The main advantages of spectroelectrochemical techniques can be summarized as follows:

  • they simultaneously provide information obtained by two different techniques (electrochemistry and spectroscopy) in a single experiment
  • qualitative studies and quantitative analyses can be performed
  • high selectivity and sensitivity
  • spectroelectrochemistry is used in a wide variety of different fields due to its great versatility
  • new configurations facilitate the performance of spectroelectrochemical experiments, saving time, samples, costs, etc.

Learn more about the next-generation tool for spectroelectrochemical research on our website!

SEC analysis techniques: suitable for multiple applications

The characteristics of spectroelectrochemistry allow the constant development of new and broad applications in several different fields. Read on below to discover the capabilities of this technique.

Materials science: characterization of specific properties of carbon materials, quantum dots, composites, nanoparticles, Janus materials, polymers, as well as stability studies, determination of photochemical properties, development of new materials, etc.

For more information, download our free related Application Note below.

Sensing: selective and sensitive detection, rapid quantification of a huge variety of analytes, diagnostic tool, development of new methodologies and sensors, etc. [3].

Organic and inorganic chemistry: study of the properties and structure of different compounds, analysis of kinetic reactions, determination of electron transfer capacity, etc. [4].

Corrosion: evaluation of protective films as corrosion inhibitors, determination of electrode stability and reversibility, monitoring of layer and sublattice generation, improvement of protective properties of coating materials, etc.

Energy storage: monitoring of exchange and discharge cycles, determination of oxidation/reduction levels, characterization of new electrolytes for batteries, understanding of doping and splitting processes in solar cells, etc.

Electrocatalysis: characterization and comparison of the electrocatalytic activity of different catalysts, identification of intermediate species and their structural changes, elucidation of the reaction mechanism, etc. [5].

Life sciences: study of biological processes, characterization of molecules used in biotechnology, biochemistry or medicine, determination of antioxidant activity, etc.

Environment: identification and quantification of pesticides, dyes, and pollutants, monitoring of degradation and filtration processes, etc. [6]

Download our free related Application Note for more information.

Others: characterization of new materials for memory devices, comparison of minerals, identification of pigments, oils, and pastes, etc.

Learn even more about spectroelectrochemistry (SEC) and what it can do for your research by downloading our free brochure.

Contact us

to discuss how spectroelectrochemistry can boost your research.

References

[1] Kaim, W.; Fiedler, J. Spectroelectrochemistry: The Best of Two Worlds. Chem. Soc. Rev. 2009, 38 (12), 3373. doi:10.1039/b504286k

[2] Kuwana, T.; Darlington, R. K.; Leedy, D. W. Electrochemical Studies Using Conducting Glass Indicator Electrodes. Anal. Chem. 1964, 36 (10), 2023–2025. doi:10.1021/ac60216a003

[3] Martín-Yerga, D.; Pérez-Junquera, A.; González-García, M. B.; Perales-Rondon, J. V.; Heras, A.; Colina, A.; Hernández-Santos, D.; Fanjul-Bolado, P. Quantitative Raman Spectroelectrochemistry Using Silver Screen-Printed Electrodes. Electrochimica Acta 2018, 264, 183–190. doi:10.1016/j.electacta.2018.01.060

[4] Perez-Estebanez, M.; Cheuquepan, W.; Cuevas-Vicario, J. V.; Hernandez, S.; Heras, A.; Colina, A. Double Fingerprint Characterization of Uracil and 5-Fluorouracil. Electrochimica Acta 2021, 388, 138615. doi:10.1016/j.electacta.2021.138615

[5] Rivera-Gavidia, L. M.; Luis-Sunga, M.; Bousa, M.; Vales, V.; Kalbac, M.; Arévalo, M. C.; Pastor, E.; García, G. S- and N-Doped Graphene-Based Catalysts for the Oxygen Evolution Reaction. Electrochimica Acta 2020, 340, 135975. doi:10.1016/j.electacta.2020.135975

[6] Ibáñez, D.; González-García, M. B.; Hernández-Santos, D.; Fanjul-Bolado, P. Detection of Dithiocarbamate, Chloronicotinyl and Organophosphate Pesticides by Electrochemical Activation of SERS Features of Screen-Printed Electrodes. Spectrochim. Acta. A. Mol. Biomol. Spectrosc. 2021, 248, 119174. doi:10.1016/j.saa.2020.119174

Post written by Dr. David Ibáñez Martínez (Product Specialist Spectroelectrochemistry) and Belén Castedo González (Marketing and Communication) at Metrohm DropSens, Oviedo, Spain.

NIR spectroscopy in the petrochemical and refinery industry: The ASTM compliant tool for QC and product screening – Part 1

NIR spectroscopy in the petrochemical and refinery industry: The ASTM compliant tool for QC and product screening – Part 1

Introduction to the petrochemical and refining industry

Oil and gas for fuel are produced in nearly every corner of the globe, from small private wells generating around 100 barrels a day, to the large bore wells producing upwards of 40 times that volume. Despite this great variation in size, many parts of the refining process are quite similar.

Chemicals derived from petroleum or natural gas, so-called «petrochemicals», are an essential part of the contemporary chemical industry. The field of petrochemistry became increasingly popular around the early 1940’s during the second world war. At that time there was a growing demand for synthetic products which was a great driving force for the development of petrochemical products.

Oil refining aims to provide a defined range of products according to agreed specifications. Simple refineries use a distillation column (Figure 1) to separate crude oil into different fractions based on their chemical properties, and the relative quantities are directly dependent on the crude oil used. Therefore, it is necessary to obtain a range of crudes that can be blended into a suitable feedstock to produce the required quantity and quality of end products.

The basic products from fractional distillation are shown in Figure 1.
Wallace Carothers, inventor of polyamide.
Figure 1. Illustration of a fractionating distillation column used for the purposes of refining crude oil into several desirable end products.
Near-infrared (NIR) spectroscopy is a technique that is particularly suited for making quality control of these end products more efficient and cost-effective for manufacturers. Furthermore, NIRS is recognized and accepted by ASTM as an alternative method to other techniques. Dedicated ASTM methods for method development, method validation, and results validation are presented later in this article.

Read on for a short overview on NIR spectroscopy followed by application examples for the petrochemical and refinery industry to learn how petrochemical producers and refineries alike can benefit from NIRS.

NIR technology: a brief overview

The interaction between light and matter is a well-known process. Light used in spectroscopic methods is typically not described by the applied energy, but in many cases by the wavelength or in wavenumbers.

A NIR spectrometer such as the Metrohm NIRS DS2500 Petro Analyzer measures this light-matter interaction to generate spectra such as those displayed in Figure 2. NIRS is especially sensitive to the presence of certain functional groups like -CH, -NH, -OH, and -SH. Therefore, NIR spectroscopy is an ideal method to quantify different QC parameters like water content (moisture), cetane index, RON/MON (research and motor octane numbers), flash point, and cold filter plugging point (CFPP), just to name a few. Furthermore, the interaction is also dependent upon the matrix of the sample itself, which also allows the detection of physical and rheological parameters like density and viscosity.

Figure 2. Diesel spectra resulting from the interaction of NIR light with the respective samples.
All of this information is contained in a single spectrum, making this method suitable for quick multiparameter analysis. Liquid samples such as oils are secured within an appropriate container or vial (Figure 3), then placed as-is on the smart vial holder.
Figure 3. Liquid sample placement for NIR spectra measurement on the smart vial holder from Metrohm.
The measuring mode is referred to as «transmission», generally an appropriate procedure for analyzing liquids. For transmission measurement (Figure 4), the NIR light will travel through the sample while being absorbed. Unabsorbed NIR light passes to the detector. In less than 60 seconds the measurement is completed and the results are displayed.
Figure 4. A. Measurements of liquids are typically done with disposable vials. B. The NIRS measurement mode is known as transmission, where light travels through the sample while being absorbed (from left to right in the illustration).
The procedure to obtain NIR spectra already highlights two major advantages of NIR spectroscopy compared to other analytical techniques: simplicity regarding sample measurement, and speed:

  • Fast technique with results in less than a minute.
  • No sample preparation required – measure samples as-is.
  • Low cost per sample – no chemicals or solvents needed.
  • Environmentally friendly technique – no waste generated.
  • Non-destructive – precious samples can be reused after analysis.
  • Easy to operate – inexperienced users are immediately successful.

Read our previous blog posts to learn more about NIRS as a secondary technique.

Where can NIRS be used in the refining process?

The refining process can be divided into three different segments:

  • Upstream
  • Midstream
  • Downstream

Upstream describes the process of converting crude oil into intermediate products. Refineries are usually very large complexes with several hazardous explosive areas. Therefore, operators are reluctant to transport samples from the different processes to the laboratory. Even the process of obtaining samples for analysis at external QC laboratories is laborious and can require significant paperwork and certified transport services. For obvious reasons, in most cases inline measurements are preferred. These types of measurements are typically done by process NIRS analyzers.

Read more about the difference between atline, online, and inline analyses in our blog post.
Curious about NIRS analyzers for inline process measurements, even in explosive areas? Visit our website to learn more.
Midstream, shown here in Figure 5, offers many more opportunities for the Metrohm DS2500 Petro Analyzer to assist in quality control.
Figure 5. Flowchart of how crude oil becomes gasoline at the local gas station, and where NIRS can perform quality checks during the process.
Fuel is constantly checked for quality when it is received as well as supplied, and in addition to this many terminals also test fuel quality prior to offloading the trucks. The total time for receiving and offloading fuel into a storage tank is approximately 30 minutes, so a fast analysis technique like NIRS is very advantageous.

Downstream at fuel depots and gas stations, the regulatory agencies require measurement of many of the same quality parameters as in the production of gasoline and diesel, and this can also be accomplished with NIRS. There is a significant advantage if the analysis can be done on-site using fresh samples and without the hassle of needing to transport them to testing laboratories.

Mobile NIRS fuel testing using the Metrohm NIRS XDS RapidLiquid Analyzer (XDS-RLA) has been successfully implemented in a number of countries where they enjoy the benefits of having instantaneous on-site results for gasoline and diesel testing. The calibrations developed on the XDS-RLA are easily transferrable to the DS2500 Petro Analyzer. The DS2500 Petro Analyzer does not require trained analysts, and the calibrations do not require constant maintenance, making this an ideal way to monitor different fuels at service stations and more.
Figure 6. Examples of mobile fuel testing with the Metrohm DS2500 Petro Analyzer.
Learn more about the possibilities of petrochemical analysis with Metrohm DS2500 Analyzers in our free brochure.

NIRS as an ASTM compliant tool for QC

Method development

ASTM E1655: Standard Practices for Infrared Multivariate Quantitative Analysis

«These practices cover a guide for the multivariate calibration of infrared spectrometers used in determining the physical or chemical characteristics of materials. These practices are applicable to analyses conducted in the near infrared (NIR) spectral region (roughly 780 to 2500 nm) through the mid infrared (MIR) spectral region (roughly 4000 to 400 cm-1).»

Multivariate analysis of petroleum products

ASTM D8321: Standard Practice for Development and Validation of Multivariate Analyses for Use in Predicting Properties of Petroleum Products, Liquid Fuels, and Lubricants based on Spectroscopic Measurements

«This practice covers a guide for the multivariate calibration of infrared (IR) spectrophotometers and Raman spectrometers used in determining the physical, chemical, and performance properties of petroleum products, liquid fuels including biofuels, and lubricants. This practice is applicable to analyses conducted in the near infrared (NIR) spectral region (roughly 780 nm to 2500 nm) through the mid infrared (MIR) spectral region (roughly 4000 cm-1 to 40  cm-1).»

Method validation

ASTM D6122: Standard Practice for Validation of the Performance of Multivariate Online, At-Line, Field and Laboratory Infrared Spectrophotometer, and Raman Spectrometer Based Analyzer Systems

«This practice covers requirements for the validation of measurements made by laboratory, field, or process (online or at-line) infrared (near- or mid-infrared analyzers, or both), and Raman analyzers, used in the calculation of physical, chemical, or quality parameters (that is, properties) of liquid petroleum products and fuels.»

Results validation

ASTM D8340: Standard Practice for Performance-Based Qualification of Spectroscopic Analyzer Systems

«This practice covers requirements for establishing performance-based qualification of vibrational spectroscopic analyzer systems intended to be used to predict the test result of a material that would be produced by a Primary Test Method (PTM) if the same material is tested by the PTM.»

Typical NIRS applications and parameters for the petrochemical and refinery industry

Petrochemicals are subject to standardized test methods to determine their chemical, physical, and tribological properties. Laboratory testing is an indispensable part of both research and development and quality control in the production of petrochemicals. The following test parameters are typically important to measure in the petrochemical and refinery industry (Table 1).

Table 1. Examples for use of NIRS for selected petrochemical QC parameters.
Specific Gravity (API) Gravity meter ASTM D298

AN-NIR-022

AN-NIR-024

AN-NIR-025

AN-NIR-041

AN-NIR-053

AN-NIR-071

AN-NIR-075

AN-NIR-080

AN-NIR-086

AN-PAN-1052

Boiling Point Distillation ASTM D2887
Cold Filter Plugging Point (CFPP) Standardized filter device ASTM D6371
Pour Point Pour Point analyzer ASTM D97
Cloud Point Cloud Point analyzer ASTM D2500
Flash Point Flash Point tester ASTM D93
Viscosity Viscometer ASTM D445
Color Colorimeter ASTM D1500
Density Densimeter ASTM D792
Fatty Acid Methyl Ester (FAME) FTIR ASTM D7806
Reid Vapor Pressure RVP analyzer ASTM D323
PIANO (Paraffins, Isoparaffins, Aromatics, Naphthenes, Olefins) Gas chromatograph ASTM D6729
Octane Number (RON/MON) CFR Engine ASTM D2699

ASTM D2700

Cetane Number CFR Engine ASTM D613
Diene value / MAV index Titration UOP 327-17
Parameter Conventional method ASTM method Relevant NIRS Application Notes

Future installments in this series

This article is a general overview of the use of NIR spectroscopy as the ideal QC tool for the petrochemical / refinery industry. Future installments will be dedicated to the most important applications and will include much more detailed information. Don’t miss our next blogs on the topics of:

 

For more information

About spectroscopy solutions provided by Metrohm, visit our website!

We offer NIRS for lab, NIRS for process, as well as Raman solutions

Post written by Wim Guns, International Sales Support Spectroscopy at Metrohm International Headquarters, Herisau, Switzerland.
Best practice for separation columns in ion chromatography (IC) – Part 1

Best practice for separation columns in ion chromatography (IC) – Part 1

The high performance ion chromatography (IC) separation column is often referred to as the «heart» of the ion chromatograph. The reason for this denomination is straightforward: the column is responsible for the separation of the analytes of interest from each other as well as from interfering sample matrix ions. The unique separation capabilities of IC columns allow the determination of multiple analytes within one run. In this blog series, we will share what is required to ensure the proper operation of an IC column and how to maximize the column lifetime.

Standard operating conditions

To begin with, the standard operating conditions should be considered, such as the eluent (mobile phase) composition, the eluent flow rate, the column oven temperature, and the detection method. These standard conditions are specific for each individual column type and correspond to the conditions that work best with the application the column is intended for. Every analytical column sold by Metrohm is delivered with a certificate of analysis (CoA) which is recorded under standard operating conditions. In the following table, you can find the standard operating conditions for three different Metrohm IC columns.

Column Metrosep C 6 – 150/4.0 Metrosep A Supp 17 – 150/4.0 Metrosep Carb 2 – 150/4.0
Eluent composition 1.7 mmol/L nitric acid

1.7 mmol/L dipicolinic acid

5.0 mmol/L sodium carbonate

0.2 mmol/L sodium bicarbonate

100 mmol/L sodium hydroxide

10 mmol/L sodium acetate

Flow rate 0.9 mL/min 0.6 mL/min 0.5 mL/min
Oven Temperature 30 °C 25 °C 30 °C
Detection Non-suppressed conductivity Suppressed conductivity Amperometric detection
Analytes Lithium, sodium, ammonium, potassium, calcium, magnesium Fluoride, chloride, nitrite, bromide, nitrate, sulfate, phosphate Inositol, arabitol, sorbitol, glucose, xylose, fructose, lactose, sucrose

Equilibration

Next to the standard operating conditions, the start-up parameters play an important role for the lifetime of the separation column. High mechanical and thermal stress is a frequent reason for decreased column lifetime. It is therefore recommended to slowly increase the eluent flow rate to the column and to avoid thermal and pressure shocks. For more information regarding specifics, please refer to the recommended equilibration conditions in the corresponding column leaflet.

Operating limits

Based on the different stationary phase designs that are required to achieve different selectivities and guarantee a wide range of IC applications, the chemical and physical properties of the ion exchangers can vary. Therefore, different operating limits are recommended for various column types and set according to stress tests performed during the development of a product. Before beginning to optimize an application, please refer to the respective column leaflet for the corresponding operating limits to achieve optimal results and guarantee a long column lifetime.

The chemistry of the ion exchanger defines the limits of operating temperature, eluent pH, and organic modifiers that can be present in the eluent. These values are valid for every dimension of a column type (e.g., the Metrosep C 6). Exceeding these limits can strongly affect column performance and, in the worst case, lead to irreversible damage. Tolerated flow rates and maximum pressure correlate with physical properties and of course column dimension—therefore these limits are set for every column dimension (e.g., Metrosep C 6 – 100/4.0 vs. Metrosep C 6 – 250/2.0).

Are you searching for a specific IC column for your research? Then check out the Metrohm Column Finder!

Information leaflet

In addition to the CoA, a lot of necessary valuable information can be found in the respective column leaflet. Instructions about equilibration, regeneration, operating limits, and much more can be found in the column leaflet which is provided for every IC column type offered by Metrohm.

You can download an example of a column leaflet here, where the information is provided in several different languages (DE, EN, FR, and ES).

Storage

Depending on the operation conditions and the properties of the ion exchanger material, different storage conditions are recommended for different column types. These conditions (storage temperature and storage eluent) are described on the respective column leaflet and should be strictly followed.

Please note that storing a new column for long time periods as well as frequently switching between storage and operation can actually be more stressful to the column than operating it 24/7! It is therefore not recommended to stock a column for a long time without using it.

Column guards

To protect your separation column from sample contamination and to extend its lifetime, it is critical to use a guard column. The guard column should be exchanged at regular intervals—a general rule of thumb is that about four guard columns will be used over the lifetime of an IC column.

Guard columns are offered in two designs: «on column» (e.g. Metrosep A Supp 17 Guard/4.0, on the left) and as a separate guard that is connected to the IC column with a capillary (e.g. Metrosep A Supp 17 S-Guard/4.0, on the right). For microbore separation columns, the corresponding microbore column guards are recommended (e.g. Metrosep A Supp 10 Guard/2.0).

By default, a guard column with the same material as the column should be used. However, for special applications, combining different ion exchange materials by using a different guard column can help to optimize the separation. One such example is in the case of sulfate and sulfite, as shown below.

Pulsation absorber

With the exception of the Eco IC product line, all Metrohm ion chromatography instruments are equipped with a pulsation absorber. For the Eco IC, it is strongly recommended to add the pulsation absorber as an option. As mentioned earlier, IC columns do not like repeated mechanical stress, especially those based on polyvinyl alcohol or polymethacrylate stationary phases. Therefore, the pulsation absorber is a useful tool to protect the column from possible pressure fluctuations in the system and enhance the column lifetime.

Find out more about the full line of Metrohm ion chromatography products and accessories on our website!

Chemical quality

In ion chromatography, the ratio between the volume of sample and the volume of eluent that flows through the column is very small, usually in the range of 1:1000. Therefore the quality of the chemical reagents used in the eluent preparation plays a crucial role for the column lifetime. To guarantee optimal performance, use chemicals denominated as «for IC» whenever possible as they are tested particularly on impurities (e.g. metals) that could harm the chromatographic column.

For dilution of the eluent components, ultrapure water is typically used in ion chromatography. To ensure good chromatographic results, the ultrapure water should have a specific resistance greater than 18 MΩ · cm and be free from particles. The ultrapure water is filtered through a 0.45 µm filter and treated with UV. Modern ultrapure water sources for laboratory use guarantee this level of water quality (Type I).

Sample preparation

With the Metrohm Inline Sample Preparation (MISP) options, Metrohm provides a large number of sample preparation techniques that are beneficial to the separation column, as well as analysts. Instead of loading the full sample onto the column, these techniques ensure the reduction of several sample matrix effects, thus avoiding potential harm to the column.

One of the most prominent MISP techniques is Inline Ultrafiltration (illustrated here), which efficiently removes particles from the sample in a fully automated way, before they ever reach the column. In that way, column blockage from dirty samples can be avoided without any manual effort.

iColumn features

All Metrosep columns offered by Metrohm are equipped with an intelligent chip containing useful information about various column operation conditions (e.g., equilibration, standard operation conditions, operation limits, and more) and tracks certain parameters (e.g., set to work, number of injections, number of working hours, and maximum working values such as pressure and flow rate) over the column lifetime. It is beneficial to attach the column chip to the chip reader as illustrated here for proper monitoring as well as support.

Column shelf life

How many injections are possible on a specific column? Unfortunately, it is not possible to deliver an exact answer to this question. This is because the column lifetime strongly depends on the sample matrix and elution conditions. Due to the multitude of different applications and samples that can be covered with a single IC column, it is not possible to predict the column life for every application and sample type.

During column development, several endurance tests are performed under standard conditions with a guard column using appropriate standards. Under these conditions, the column must withstand at least 2000 injections.

For more information about column care, check out our blog post for different tips and tricks.

Hungry for more information about the best way to treat your IC column? Stay tuned for Part 2!

The History of Metrohm IC

Metrohm ion chromatography: bringing top quality and exceptional analytical performance to the lab since 1987. 

Post written by Dr. Vincent Diederich (Jr. Product Manager IC Columns) and Dr. Anne Katharina Riess (Head of Column Division) at Metrohm International Headquarters, Herisau, Switzerland.

Does counter electrode (CE) size matter?

Does counter electrode (CE) size matter?

To begin, let’s go back to the year 1950 when metallurgists and chemists tried to shine a light on a fascinating electrochemical phenomenon originally discovered in the 17th century by the chemist Sir Humphry Davy [1].

Sir Humphry Davy (1778–1829) was credited with many discoveries in the field of electrochemistry.

If you dip a wire made of iron (or as electrochemists say: an iron electrode) into diluted sulfuric acid (which is considered the electrolyte), it instantly starts to dissolve—it corrodes. If you then insert another electrode which does not corrode (e.g. platinum), and connect the iron electrode to the negative pole of a current source, and the platinum wire (electrode) to the positive pole, the iron dissolution will slow down or even stop, depending on the voltage applied.

On the other hand, if you connect the iron electrode to the positive pole and raise the voltage from very low values to higher ones, the dissolution grows exponentially with the increasing voltage.

However, above a certain current limit (and depending on the electrode area, electrolyte composition, and temperature), the current suddenly drops to very low values, and the iron electrode stops dissolving. This phenomenon was detected by Michael Faraday, and he called it «passivation». This phenomenon has been subject of controversy and disputes until the 1950s when a better understanding was possible with the invention of the modern potentiostat (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Basic line diagram of a potentiostat/galvanostat.

In experiments where the ohmic drop may be high (e.g., in large-scale electrolytic or galvanic cells or in experiments involving nonaqueous solutions with low conductivities), a three-electrode electrochemical cell is preferable. In this arrangement, the current is passed between the working electrode (WE) and a counter (or auxiliary) electrode (CE).

Learn more about the ohmic drop in our free Application Notes.

The counter electrode can be made of any available electrode material because its electrochemical properties do not affect the behavior of the working electrode of interest. It is best to choose an inert electrode so that it does not produce any substances by electrolysis that will reach the working electrode surface and cause interfering reactions there (e.g., platinum or carbon). Because the current flows between the WE and the CE, the total surface area of the CE (source/sink of electrons) must be larger than the area of the WE so that it will not be a limiting factor in the kinetics of the electrochemical processes under investigation.

Sometimes it is placed in a compartment separated from the working electrode by a sintered-glass disk or other separator (Figure 2). Bulk electrolysis experiments typically require much longer times than electroanalytical experiments, so separation of the counter electrode is required.

Figure 2. Gastight electrochemical cell for CO2 reduction study (click to enlarge).

The potential of the working electrode is monitored relative to a separate reference electrode (RE), positioned with its tip nearby (with a Luggin capillary as shown in Figure 3). The potentiostat used to control the potential difference between the working electrode and the reference electrode has a very high input impedance so that a negligible current flows through the reference electrode. Consequently, the potential of the reference electrode will remain constant and equal to its open-circuit value. This three-electrode arrangement is used in most electrochemical experiments.

The counter electrode is used to close the current circuit in the electrochemical cell. It is usually made of an inert material (e.g., Pt, Au, graphite, or glassy carbon) and it hosts a redox reaction which occurs at the CE surface that balances the redox reaction at the surface of the WE. The products of this reaction can diffuse to the WE and interfere with the redox reaction occurring at that site. However, in electroanalytical experiments such as cyclic voltammetry (CV), the time scale of the experiment is too short for this diffusion to be able to cause significant interferences. Therefore, in most cases there is no need to place the CE in a separate compartment, as shown in the electrochemical cell in Figure 3.

Figure 3. Metrohm Autolab 1 liter corrosion cell labelled with electrodes.

The potential profile in an actual cell depends on the electrode shapes, geometry, solution conductance, and more. If the reference electrode is placed anywhere except precisely at the electrode surface, some fraction of an uncompensated potential, iRu (due to the uncompensated resistance, Ru) will be included in the measured potential. Even when the tip of the reference electrode is designed for very close placement to the working electrode by use of a fine tip (Luggin capillary, also known as a Luggin-Haber capillary), some uncompensated resistance usually remains. Modern electrochemical instrumentation includes circuitry for electronic compensation of the iRu term [2].

As mentioned earlier, the electrochemical reaction of interest takes place on the working electrode, and the electron transfer there will generate the measured current which flows between the WE and CE. As a general rule for accurate current measurements and an unhindered flow of electrons in the cell, the counter electrode should be three times larger than the working electrode. The kinetics of solvent electrolysis are generally slow, so the only way to ensure the CE reaction can sustain the required cell current is to significantly increase the surface area (e.g., with Pt gauze or a Pt rod/sheet).

However, in poorly conductive media (or high currents), when positioning the counter electrode in the cell (i.e., for the cell geometry), it is worth considering where the field lines between the WE and CE will go, and whether the WE will experience a uniform field. It is generally recommended to move the counter electrode away from the working electrode, or even to put it behind a separator, unless you are certain that the WE reaction is insensitive to pH. The CE reaction sustains the current flow, but it is often unknown exactly what kind of reactions are occurring at the counter electrode. For most aqueous electrochemistry experiments this is likely to be solvent electrolysis, which leads to a change in the pH.

When the application requires, the potential of the counter electrode can be monitored during the experiment with the S2 electrode of VIONIC. Find out more in our free Application Note.

Alternative counter electrode materials

Platinum is expensive, and it is too costly to use for large CE areas. Suitable alternative electrode materials include nickel-based alloys or carbon. Be aware that nickel-based alloys may passivate, and carbon will be oxidized at high potentials of the CE. Therefore, those materials should have a sufficient area to avoid strong polarization.

Platinized titanium is a good choice when larger counter electrode areas are required. Platinized titanium is produced either in the form of sheets or mesh grids. Mesh grids (Figure 4) have very desirable properties: a large active area compared to the geometric area, and the electrolyte is able to flow through the counter electrode.

Figure 4. Example of wire mesh grid suitable for use as a counter electrode.

 Also, at the counter electrode, a voltage drop occurs across the metal-electrolyte interface. To reduce this drop, it may be useful to use platinum covered with platinum black to increase the roughness, and consequently, the active surface area.

Final notes

Size matters in typical electrochemical measurements. Larger counter electrodes create an unconstrained current flow between WE and the CE, leading to more stable and insightful experiments. It is equally important that the overall cell configuration provides the required current density distribution. Thus, a counter electrode of the same size as the working electrode, mounted parallel to it, may optimize the current distribution without significant adverse effects from the size of the counter electrode.

The reaction occurring at the CE should be fast so that the potential drop between the counter electrode and the electrolyte does not limit the polarization that can be applied.

The products of the reaction occurring at the CE should not contaminate the solution. In practice, there will always be an electrochemical reaction at the counter electrode, and the products of that reaction should be harmless or able to be easily removed. Inert electrodes such as platinum or graphite are often used, in which case the reaction products are usually gases (oxygen or chlorine when anodic, or hydrogen when cathodic) that can be removed by bubbling air or nitrogen past the counter electrode (although there may also be a pH change at the CE).

Curious about electrochemistry?

Metrohm has you covered.

References and suggested further reading

[1] Knight, D. Humphry Davy: Science and Power (Volume 2 of Cambridge Science Biographies); Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, UK, 1998.

[2] Bard, A. J.; Faulkner, L. R. Electrochemical Methods: Fundamentals and Applications, New York: Wiley, 2001, 2nd ed. Russian Journal of Electrochemistry, 2002, 38, 1364–1365. doi:10.1023/A:1021637209564

[3] Yang, W., Dastafkan, K., Jia, C., et al. Design of Electrocatalysts and Electrochemical Cells for Carbon Dioxide Reduction Reactions. Adv. Mater. Technol. 2018, 3, 1700377. doi:10.1002/admt.201700377

[4] Cottis, R. A. 2.30 – Electrochemical Methods. In Shreir’s Corrosion; Cottis, B., Graham, M., Lindsay, R., Lyon, S., Richardson, T., Scantlebury, D., Stott, H., Eds.; University of Manchester: Manchester, UK, 2010; Vol. 2, pp 1341–1373. doi:10.1016/B978-044452787-5.00068-8

[5] Vanýsek, P. Impact of electrode geometry, depth of immersion, and size on impedance measurements. Canadian Journal of Chemistry 1997, 75(11), 1635–1642. doi:10.1139/v97-194

Post written by Martijn van Dijk, Area Manager Electrochemistry at Metrohm Autolab, Utrecht, The Netherlands.

From corn to ethanol: improving the fermentation process with NIRS

From corn to ethanol: improving the fermentation process with NIRS

The production of biofuels from renewable feedstock has grown immensely in the past several years. Bioethanol is one of the most interesting alternatives for fossil fuels, since it can be produced from (renewable) raw materials rich in sugars and starch.

Fermenting corn starch to produce ethanol for fuel is a complex biochemical process that requires monitoring of several parameters to ensure optimal production. Measuring these parameters via traditional laboratory techniques takes about an hour to complete and is a limiting step for increasing plant capacity and efficiency. Near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) can replace routine laboratory analysis, decreasing operating costs and increasing plant efficiency and capacity.

Learn more about this fast, non-destructive analysis technique in our different series of blog posts, including the benefits of using NIRS and some frequently asked questions.

Producing high quality ethanol as a fuel additive

Ethanol is an increasingly important component in the global fuel market, with countries looking to secure domestic fuel supplies and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions relative to fossil fuels. The United States and Brazil lead world bioethanol production, accounting for 83% of the supply.

According to the Renewable Fuels Association, approximately 26 billion gallons (nearly 100 billion liters) of ethanol were produced globally in 2020 [1], slightly reduced from a 2019 peak due to the global pandemic crushing demand for gasoline and ethanol as well. Demand for corn to transform into ethanol is still likely to rise as the United States increases adoption of E15 blends (15% ethanol in gasoline) [2]. Ethanol for export is also likely to increase in demand, with countries such as China implementing a E10 fuel standard for motor vehicles.

One of the primary ways to meet increasing product demand while maintaining price competitiveness is to increase plant capacity. However, the standard laboratory analytical workflow for monitoring the different parts of the fermentation process can be a limiting factor for growing a production site or improving its efficiency. Another consideration is the seasonal, and even regional variation of feedstock quality, requiring ethanol producers to closely monitor the fermentation process to ensure the same quality product is achieved.

A report from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimated that nearly 40% of the production cost of fuel ethanol from corn comes from labor, supplies, overhead, and variable operating costs [3]. Optimization of these costs, which include routine quality checks of the fermentation broth, regular maintenance of the fermenters and distillation towers, and triaging process upsets in a timely manner, leads to higher profitability of the ethanol production facility.

To maximize bioethanol production and profitability, laboratory limitations must be overcome. Near-infrared (NIR) spectroscopy is a proven economical, rapid, and operator friendly way to overcome common laboratory limitations. First, a bit of background information about the production of bioethanol is needed before jumping into how to optimize the process.

Ethanol process: wet vs. dry milling

There are two main production processes when it comes to creating ethanol from sugars and starches from starting materials such as corn: the wet milling process and the dry milling process (shown in Figure 1). Nearly all ethanol produced for fuel in the U.S. (the largest bioethanol manufacturer in the world) is made using the dry mill process [2].

Figure 1. Schematic representation of the dry mill ethanol process.

Grains are first ground into smaller, more homogenous particles in the dry milling process, which allows the husk or shell to be more easily penetrated. Water and enzymes are then added to create a slurry called a «mash». To facilitate the conversion of starches to sugars, the mash is heated to specific temperatures, then cooled before yeast is added. The yeast performs the work of creating ethanol from the converted sugars via the process of fermentation. However, the percentage of ethanol is still quite low, and therefore the solution must be distilled and dehydrated to obtain the concentration and purity necessary for fuel additives.

Wet milling differs from this process by first soaking the grains before grinding and separating out the various components. The starches are then converted to sugars which are used for the fermentation process, just as with dry milling.

If you want to know more about the fermentation process, read our blog post about optimization of beer brewing.

Lab analysis shortfalls

The lab serves many functions, but one of the key ones is to monitor the progress of the fermentation in each fermentation tank. This typically requires many different technologies, because several parameters must be checked to ensure that a fermentation is on track. Tight monitoring and control over the various sugars present (e.g., glucose, maltose, DP3, etc.) throughout the fermentation process is necessary to understand the breakdown pathway of the starch (glucose generation) present in the mash and optimize ethanol production. Understanding this pathway enables the proper dosage of enzymes and yeast to the mash in the slurry tanks (Figure 1) to accelerate breakdown. Therefore, optimizing the enzyme and yeast blend is crucial for this process. These are the highest consumable costs for ethanol production and significantly affect the rate of production and final yield of ethanol.

Some of the most common analytical instruments and their use cases are listed in Table 1.

Table 1. Typical instruments and parameters that are measured during fermentation of corn to ethanol.
Parameter Measurement technique Analysis time (min) incl. sample prep.
Dissolved solids (°Bx) Refractometer 3–5
pH pH meter 3–5
Solids (non-volatiles) Infrared balance 15–20
Ethanol HPLC 30–45

Sugar profile 
(DP2, DP3, DP4+, glucose, total sugar)

HPLC 30–45
Glycerol HPLC 30–45
Lactic acid Ion chromatography 30–45
Acetic acid Ion chromatography 30–45
Water content Karl Fischer titration 5–10

If all the properties in Table 1 are to be measured, it can easily take an hour using six different pieces of equipment. Factor in conditioning steps and reference scans to ensure proper calibration, and the time for a routine fermentation analysis increases. For a single corn fermentation, this can take upwards of 55 hours—one hour to perform the analysis and six hours between each measurement. However, increasing the number of concurrent fermentations to four or six means that measurements from the different tanks will begin to overlap.

Overlapping instrument demand combined with long analysis times results in a number of different challenges for bioethanol producers. First, if scheduled sampling times overlap, then sampling must either be delayed or samples must age while waiting for analysis. Second, the long analysis time means that data is no longer current, but minimally one hour or older by the time it has been communicated to the plant control center, which decreases the ability to deal with deviations. Neither of these situations is ideal for manufacturers—time is money, after all.

Long laboratory analysis times and infrequent measurements reduce the ability to perform interventions or to adjust other critical parameters (e.g., enzyme addition rate or process temperature). Additionally, such long wait times can impede the decision to end a fermentation early and begin anew if the batch is judged to be beyond recovery.

Faster measurements equal higher profits

The most obvious way to overcome measurement time challenges is to increase the number of tools in the lab and/or to add automation. However, this approach has costs in time; twice the sample preparation increases operating expenses and still fails to give high-speed feedback to the plant operations team.

A better way to overcome measurement time delays is to deploy near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS), which can make all of the traditional laboratory measurements with one piece of equipment, at the same time, in less than five minutes.

Figure 2 displays the average ethanol concentration from HPLC measurements during several fermentations from one plant. The data shows apparent discontinuities in the first 12 hours, with spikes in glucose and dissolved solids. It is also apparent that the total solids measurement at 48 hours is erroneous. However, because the lab data requires so much time to collect, this spike is ignored instead of retested.

Figure 2. Key parameters measured for corn fermentation to ethanol as reported by the primary analysis methods listed in Table 1.

The NIRS alternative to traditional measurements shown in Figure 3 is of a single fermentation monitored in near real time. This high-speed analysis is possible because sample preparation is trivial for NIRS. Compared to the combination of HPLC and other analytical methods that consume about 60 minutes of operator time per sample, NIRS measures the same parameters and produces a quality result in about a minute. The ability to collect many NIR spectra in the early stages of the fermentation process provides a higher fidelity picture, enabling more timely interventions to maximize ethanol production.

The NIRS alternative to traditional measurements shown in Figure 3 is of a single fermentation monitored in near real time. This high-speed analysis is possible because sample preparation is trivial for NIRS. Compared to the combination of HPLC and other analytical methods that consume about 60 minutes of operator time per sample, NIRS measures the same parameters and produces a quality result in about a minute. The ability to collect many NIR spectra in the early stages of the fermentation process provides a higher fidelity picture, enabling more timely interventions to maximize ethanol production.

Figure 3. Corn fermentation to ethanol as measured by near-infrared spectroscopy.

The higher speed NIRS analysis can be used to increase total plant throughput by growing the number of batches and revenue, as shown in Table 2. With the traditional analysis, the fermentation is allowed to run 62–65 hours, depending on the final laboratory results (Figure 2).

With NIRS analysis, this fermentation is shown to be complete in around 56 hours (Figure 3). Reducing fermentation time by six hours expands the potential number of batches by 13 over the course of a year, representing a potential plant capacity increase of 10%.

Table 2. Comparison of the apparent fermentation time based on primary lab analyses vs NIRS analysis.
Traditional Lab Analysis NIRS Analysis

Total measurement time

12 hours

5 hours

Number of measurements

12

62

Fermentation end point

~62 hours

56 hours

Batch capacity

37,850 L

37,850 L

Batches per year

129

142

Download our free White Paper to learn more.

Near-infrared spectroscopic solutions for ethanol producers

Metrohm offers several NIRS solutions for ethanol producers to make analysis easier and optimize production. The DS2500 Solid Analyzer (Figure 4) is ideal for rapid laboratory analysis of several critical quality parameters in the fermentation process.

Download our free Application Note below to learn more about how Metrohm NIRS laboratory instruments perform quality control measurements for the fermentation process.

Figure 4. The Metrohm DS2500 Solid Analyzer.

Additionally, Metrohm also manufactures NIRS instruments for measurements directly in the process, eliminating the need for removing samples and transporting them to the laboratory. Measurements taken in this way are the most representative of actual process conditions and therefore provide the highest quality data to operators. Learn more here about our different ranges of NIRS process analyzers and accessories.

Data communication between the process analyzer and the control room allows a direct overview of current conditions without delays and offers the possibility of integrating warnings when readings are out of specification or informing operators when the fermentation process is deemed to be complete.

For more information about the usage of NIRS for process analysis in bioethanol production, download our free Application Note.

Summary

Near-infrared analysis decreases measurement time for in-process fermentation samples by approximately 90%, from one hour to five minutes. Faster measurements allow the fermentation process to be followed much more closely, saving operator time to reduce costs and to optimize process conditions and plant operations. Capacity improvements of 10% are possible by being able to stop the fermentations based on rapid determination of the different parameters in the fermenter with NIRS rather than by slower traditional laboratory methods.

NIR methodology can provide benefits across the ethanol plant beyond fermentation monitoring to measure the performance of other plant components such as a centrifuge or dryer, making it a valuable tool to improve operations across the facility.

For more information about utilizing NIRS analysis in the bioethanol process as well as the available precalibrations for various quality parameters, download our free White Paper.

Free White Paper

Improving the corn to ethanol fermentation process with near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS)

References

[1]  Annual Fuel Ethanol Production U.S. and World Ethanol Production. Renewable Fuels Association: Washington, DC, 2021. https://ethanolrfa.org/statistics/annual-ethanol-production/

[2]  Essential Energy: 2021 Ethanol Industry Outlook. Renewable Fuels Association: Washington, DC, 2021.  https://ethanolrfa.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/RFA_Outlook_2021_fin_low.pdf

[3]  Determining the Cost of Producing Ethanol from Corn Starch and Lignocellulosic Feedstocks. National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL): Golden, Colorado, USA, 2000. https://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy01osti/28893.pdf

Post written by Dr. Adam J. Hopkins (PM Spectroscopy at Metrohm USA, Riverview, FL) and Dr. Alyson Lanciki (Scientific Editor at Metrohm International Headquarters, Herisau, Switzerland).