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Frequently asked questions in Karl Fischer titration – Part 1

Frequently asked questions in Karl Fischer titration – Part 1

Since I started working at Metrohm more than 15 years ago, I have received many questions about Karl Fischer titration. Some of those questions have been asked repeatedly from several people in different locations around the world. Therefore, I have chosen 20 of the most frequent questions received over the years concerning Karl Fischer equipment and arranged them into three categories: instrument preparation and handling, titration troubleshooting, and the oven technique. Part 1 will cover instrument preparation and handling, and Part 2 will cover the other two topics.

Summary of questions in the FAQ (click to go directly to each question):

Instrument preparation and handling

1.  How can I check if the electrode is working correctly?

I recommend carrying out a volumetric or coulometric Karl Fischer titration using a certified water standard as sample. In volumetry, you can carry out a threefold titer determination followed by a determination of a different standard. Then, you can calculate the recovery of the water content determination of the standard.

To check a coulometric system, carry out a threefold determination with a certified water standard and calculate the recovery. If the recovery is between 97–103%, this indicated that the system, including the electrode, is working fine.

The color of the working medium is an additional indicator as to whether the indication is working properly.

Pale yellow is perfect, whereas dark yellow or even pale brown suggests indication problems. If this happens, then the indicator electrode should be cleaned.

Check out questions 7 and 8 for tips on the cleaning of the indicator electrode.

2.  How long can an electrode be stored in KF reagent?

Karl Fischer electrodes are made from glass and platinum. Therefore, the KF reagent does not affect the electrode. It can be stored in reagent as long as you want.

3.  Can the molecular sieve be dried and reused, or should it be replaced?

The molecular sieve can of course be dried and reused. I recommend drying it for at least 24 hours at a temperature between 200–300 °C. Afterwards, let it cool down in a desiccator and then transfer it into a glass bottle with an airtight seal for storage. 

4.  How long does conditioning normally take?

Conditioning of a freshly filled titration vessel normally takes around 2–4 minutes for volumetry, depending on the reaction speed (type of reagent), and around 15–30 minutes for coulometry. In combination with an oven, it might take a bit longer to reach a stable drift owing to the constant gas flow. I recommend stabilizing the entire oven system for at least 1 hour before the first titration.

Between single measurements in the same working medium, conditioning takes approximately 1–2 minutes. Take care that the original drift level is reached again.

5.  When conditioning, many bubbles form in the coulometric titration cell with a very high drift, also when using fresh reagent. What could be the reason for this effect?

At the anode, the generator electrode produces iodine from the iodide-containing reagent. The bubbles you see at the cathode are the result of the reduction of H+ ions to hydrogen gas.

After opening the titration cell or after filling it with fresh reagent, the conditioning step removes any moisture brought into the system, avoiding a bias in the water content determination of the sample. Removing the water results in an increased drift level. During conditioning, the aforementioned H2 is generated. The gas bubbles are therefore completely normal and not a cause for concern. Generally, the following rule applies: The more moisture present in the titration vessel, the higher the drift value will be, and the more hydrogen will form.

6.  What is the best frequency to clean the Karl Fischer equipment?

There is no strict rule as to when you should clean the KF equipment. The cleaning intervals strongly depend on the type and the amount of sample added to the titration cell. Poor solubility and contamination of the indicator electrode (deposition layer on its surface) or memory effects due to large amounts of sample can be good reasons for cleaning the equipment.

The drift can be a good indicator as well. In case you observe higher and unstable drift values, I would recommend cleaning the titration cell or at least refilling the working medium.

7.  How do I clean the Karl Fischer equipment?

For a mounted titration vessel, it can be as simple as rinsing with alcohol. For an intense cleaning, the vessel should be removed from the titrator. Water, solvents like methanol, or cleaning agents are fine to clean the KF equipment. Even concentrated nitric acid can be used as an oxidizing agent, e.g. in case of contaminated indicator electrodes or coulometric generator electrodes.

All of these options are fine, but keep in mind that the last cleaning step should always be rinsing with alcohol followed by proper drying in a drying oven or with a hair dryer at max. 50 °C to remove as much adherent water as possible.

You should never use ketones (e.g., acetone) to clean Karl Fischer equipment, as they react with methanol. This reaction releases water. If there are still traces of ketones left in the titration cell after cleaning, they will react with the methanol in the KF reagent and might cause the drift to be too high to start any titration.

8.  Is it also possible to use a cleaning agent like «CIF» or toothpaste to clean the double Pt electrode?

Normally, rinsing with alcoholic solvents and polishing with paper tissue should be enough to clean the indicator electrode. You may also use detergents, toothpaste, or the polishing set offered by Metrohm! Just make sure that you rinse the electrode properly after the cleaning process to remove all traces of your chosen cleaning agent before using the electrode again.

Cleaning instructions can also be found in our video about metal and KF electrode maintenance:

9.  How do I clean a generator electrode with a diaphragm?

After removing the generator electrode from the titration vessel, dispose the catholyte solution, then rinse the electrode with water. Place the generator electrode upright (e.g., in an Erlenmeyer flask) and cover the connector with the protection cap to prevent corrosion. Fill the generator electrode with some milliliters of concentrated nitric acid, and let the acid flow through the diaphragm. Then fill the cathode compartment with water, and again allow the liquid to flow through the diaphragm. Repeat the rinsing step with water several times to make sure that all traces of nitric acid are washed out of the diaphragm.

Please note that the nitric acid treatment can be left out if the level of contamination does not require it.

Finally, pour some methanol into the generator electrode to remove the water. Repeat this step a few times to remove all traces of water. The last step is properly drying the electrode in a drying oven or with a hair dryer at max. 50 °C. After this cleaning procedure, the electrode is as good as new and can be used again for titrations.

Keep on the lookout for our next installment in this two-part series, or subscribe to the blog below so you’re sure not to miss it! In Part 2, I will cover the topics of KF titration troubleshooting and the Karl Fischer oven technique.

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

The role of process automation in an interconnected world – Part 2

The role of process automation in an interconnected world – Part 2

The following scenario sounds like a fictional dystopian narrative, but it is a lived reality. A catastrophe, much like the current COVID-19 crisis, is dramatically impacting society. The normality, as was known before, has suddenly changed: streets are swept empty, shops are closed, and manufacturing is reduced or at a complete standstill. But what happens to safety-related systems, e.g. in the pharmaceutical or food industry, which must not stand still and are designed in such a way that they cannot fail? How can the risk of breakdowns and downtimes be minimized? Or in the event of failure, how can the damage to people and the environment be limited or, in general, the operational sequence maintained?

Digitalization: curse or blessing? 

When considering process engineering plants, one is repeatedly confronted with buzzwords such as «Industry 4.0», «digitalization», «digital transformation», «IoT», «smart manufacturing», etc. The topic is often discussed controversially and often it is about an either-or dichotomy: either man or the machine and the associated fears. No matter what name you give to digitalization, each term here has one thing in common: intelligently networking separate locations and processes in industrial production using modern information and communication technologies. Process automation is a small but important building block that needs attention. Data can only be consistently recorded, forwarded, and reproduced with robust and reliable measurement technology.

For some time already, topics including sensors, automation, and process control have been discussed in the process industry (PAT) with the aim of reducing downtimes and optimizing the use of resources. However, it is not just about the pure collection of data, but also about their meaningful interpretation and integration into the QM system. Only a consequent assessment and evaluation can lead to a significant increase in efficiency and optimization.

This represents a real opportunity to maintain production processes with reduced manpower in times of crisis. Relevant analyses are automatically and fully transferred to the process. This enables high availability and rapid intervention, as well as the assurance of high quality requirements for both process security and process optimization. In addition, online monitoring of all system components and preventive maintenance activities effectively counteracts a failure.

Digitally networked production plants

Even though digitalization is relatively well-established in the private sector under the catchphrase «smart home», in many production areas the topic is still very much in its infancy. In order to intelligently network different processes, high demands are made. Process analysis systems make a major contribution to the analysis of critical parameters. Forwarding the data to the control room is crucial for process control and optimization. In order to correspond to the state-of-the-art, process analysis systems must meet the following requirements:

Transparent communication / operational maintenance

Processes must be continuously monitored and plant safety guaranteed. Downtimes are associated with high expenditure and costs and therefore cannot be tolerated. In order to effectively minimize the risk of failures, device-specific diagnostic data must be continuously transmitted as part of the self-check, or failures must be prevented with the help of preventive maintenance activities. Ideally, the response must be quick, and faults remedied without having to shut down the system (even remotely).

Future-proof automation

If you consider how many years (or even decades) process plants are in operation, it is self-explanatory that extensions and optimizations must be possible within their lifetime. This includes both the implementation of state-of-the-art analyzers and the communication between the systems.

Redundant systems

In order to prevent faults from endangering the entire system operation, redundancy concepts are generally used.

Practical example: Smart concepts for fermentation processes

Fermenters or bioreactors are used in a wide variety of industries to cultivate microorganisms or cells. Bacteria, yeasts, mammalian cells, or their components serve as important active ingredients in pharmaeuticals or as basic chemicals in the chemical industry. In addition, there are also degradation processes in wastewater treatment assisted by using bioreactors. Brewing kettles in beer production can also be considered as a kind of bioreactor. In order to meet the high requirements for a corresponding product yield and the maintenance of the ideal conditions for proper metabolism, critical parameters have to be checked closely, and often.

The conditions must be optimally adapted to those of the organism’s natural habitat. In addition to the pH value and temperature, this also includes the composition of the matrix, the turbidity, or the content of O2 and CO2. The creation of optimal environmental conditions is crucial for a successful cultivation of the organisms. The smallest deviations have devastating consequences for their survival, and can cause significant economic damage.

As a rule, many of the parameters mentioned are measured directly in the medium using inline probes and sensors. However, their application has a major disadvantage. Mechanical loads (e.g., glass breakage) or solids can lead to rapid material wear and contaminated batches, resulting in high operational costs. With the advent of ​​smart technologies, online analysis systems and maintenance-free sensors have become indispensable to ensure the survival of the microorganisms. In this way, reliably measured values ​​are delivered around the clock, and it is ensured that these are transferred directly to all common process control systems or integrated into existing QM systems.

Rather than manual offline measurement in a separate laboratory, the analysis is moved to an external measuring cell. The sample stream is fed to the analysis system by suction with peristaltic pumps or bypass lines. Online analysis not only enables the possibility of 24/7 operation and thus a close control of the critical parameters, but also the combination of different analysis methods and the determination of further parameters. This means that several parameters as well as multiple measuring points can be monitored with one system.

The heart of the analysis systems is the intelligent sensor technology, whose robustness is crucial for the reliable generation of measured values.

pH measurement as a vital key parameter in bioreactors

Knowledge of the exact pH value is crucial for the product yield, especially in fermentation processes. The activity of the organism and its metabolism are directly dependent on the pH value. The ideal conditions for optimal cell growth and proper metabolism are within a limited pH tolerance range, which must be continuously monitored and adjusted with the help of highly accurate sensors.

However, the exact measurement of the pH value is subject to a number of chemical, physical, and mechanical influencing factors, which means that the determination with conventional inline sensors is often too imprecise and can lead to expensive failures for users. For example, compliance with hygiene measures is of fundamental importance in the pharmaceutical and food industries. Pipelines in the production are cleaned with solutions at elevated temperatures. Fixed sensors that are exposed to these solutions see detrimental effects: significantly reduced lifespan, sensitivity, and accuracy.

Intelligent and maintenance-free pH electrodes

Glass electrodes are most commonly used for pH measurement because they are still by far the most resistant, versatile, and reliable solution. However, in many cases changes due to aging processes or contamination in the diaphragm remain undetected. Glass breakage also poses a high risk, because it may result in the entire production batch being discarded.

The aging of the pH-sensitive glass relates to the change in the hydration layer, which becomes thicker as time goes on. The consequence is a sluggish response, drift effects, or a decrease in slope. In this case, calibration or adjustment with suitable buffer solutions is necessary. Especially if there are no empirical values ​​available, short intervals are recommended, which significantly increase the effort for maintenance work.

With online process analyzers, the measurement is transferred from the process to an external measuring cell. This enables a long-lasting pH measurement to be achieved with an accuracy that is not possible with classic inline probes.

In many process solutions, measurement with process sensors takes place directly in the medium. This inevitably means that the calibration and maintenance of electrodes is particularly challenging in places that are difficult to access, leading to expensive maintenance work and downtimes. Regular calibration of the electrodes is recommended, especially when used under extreme conditions or on the edge of the defined specifications.

If the measurement is carried out with online process analyzers, then calibration, adjustment and cleaning are carried out fully automatically. The system continuously monitors the condition of the electrode. Between measurements, the electrode is immersed in a membrane-friendly storage solution that avoids drying out, and at the same time prevents the hydration layer from swelling further as it does not contain alkali ions. The electrode is always ready for use and does not have to be removed from the process for maintenance work.

The 2026 pH Analyzer from Metrohm Process Analytics is a fully automatic analysis system, e.g., for determining the pH value as an individual process parameter.

Maintenance and digitalization

In addition to the automatic monitoring of critical process parameters, transparent communication between the system and the analyzer also plays a decisive role in terms of maintenance measures. The collection of vital data from the analyzer to assess the state of the system is only one component. The continuous monitoring of relevant system components enables conclusions to be drawn about any necessary maintenance work. For example, routine checks on the condition of the electrodes (slope / zero point check, possibly automatic calibration) are carried out regularly during the analysis process. Based on the data, calibration and cleaning processes are performed fully automatically, which allow robust measurement even at measuring points that are difficult to access or in aggressive process media. This means that the operator is outside the danger zone, which contributes to increased safety.

Summary

The linking of production processes with digital technology holds a particularly large potential and contributes to the economic security of companies. In addition, the pressure is growing steadily for companies to face the demands of digitalization in production. As an example, in the area of ​​fermentation processes, the survival of the microorganisms is ensured by closely monitoring relevant parameters. Intelligent systems increase the degree of automation and can make the process along the entire value chain more efficient.

Find out in the next installment how functional safety concepts help to act before a worst case scenario comes true where errors occur and systems fail.

Want to learn more about the history of process analysis technology at Metrohm? Check out our previous blog posts:

Read what our customers have to say!

We have supported customers even in the most unlikely of places⁠—from the production floor to the desert and even on active ships!

Post written by Dr. Kerstin Dreblow, Product Manager Wet Chemical Process Analyzers, Deutsche Metrohm Prozessanalytik (Germany).

Best practice for electrodes in titration

Best practice for electrodes in titration

After my earlier blog post on the topic of «Avoiding the most common mistakes in pH measurement», I will now cover the subject of electrodes that are relevant for titration. Here you will not only find out how to select the right electrode for your application – but also how to clean and to maintain it, and most importantly, how you can assure that your electrode is still ok to be used.

The following topics will be covered (click to go directly to the topic):

 

How to select the right sensor

You might wonder what you need to consider when selecting a suitable sensor for your titration, as a huge variety of different sensors exist. The right sensor needs to be selected based on the type of titration that you want to carry out. For a redox titration, you will need a different sensor than for a complexometric titration.

Furthermore, the sensor selection is highly dependent on matrix, the sample volume, or possible interferences. If you are working in non-aqueous media, you must especially consider any electrostatic effects that might arise. Therefore, I recommend working with an electrode that offers an internal electrical shielding.

The sensor has to show a fast response time, and needs to be robust enough for the application, meaning it needs to be resistant to the chemicals used and the applied cleaning procedure.

Table 1. Overview of suggested sensors for various types of titration (click to enlarge).

For further guidelines regarding how to select the right electrode, either consult our online electrode finder or check out our flyer about «Electrodes in titration» which includes practical tips on care and maintenance.

Maintenance and cleaning

Proper cleaning between your titrations is a key factor for obtaining reliable results. The rinsing step has to assure that neither sample nor titrant contaminates the electrode, leading to carry-over and false results. Therefore, between titrations the electrode (as well as buret tip) has to be rinsed with a suitable solvent, such as deionized water, detergent solution, or any other solvent that removes remaining residues. For non-aqueous titrations, it is furthermore important to condition the glass membrane of the electrode in deionized water after each titration.

Furthermore, both the reference and measuring electrode require regular maintenance. For the reference electrode, it is very important that it is filled up to the opening with the correct (and uncontaminated) electrolyte. A daily check of the electrolyte level should be performed, and if necessary, the reference electrolyte should be topped up. Always refill the reference electrolyte level up to the filler opening. This assures a proper electrolyte outflow and reduced contamination of the electrolyte.

Figure 1. Always refill your electrolyte up to the filler opening for the best performance!

In addition to the regular refilling, the electrolyte should be replaced at least on a monthly basis to guarantee a clean electrolyte with the correct concentration (e.g., evaporation of water can increase the concentration of the electrolyte). Usage of old or contaminated electrolyte leads to an undesired change in the measured potential.

Also ensure that the diaphragm is clean, otherwise you might experience a blockage, leading to an unstable potential caused by the missing contact between electrolyte and sample. Figure 2 shows an example of a contaminated diaphragm. Table 2 suggests some possible cleaning agents to remove sticky substances from the diaphragm. After cleaning the diaphragm, always replace the electrolyte.

Figure 2. Close-up view of a dirty diaphragm.
Table 2. Common electrode contaminants and suggested cleaning agents for each situation. Contact your local Metrohm representative for further questions.

The measuring electrode needs a thorough cleaning at least weekly. Uncoated metal ring or ISE electrodes require regular polishing to maintain a quick response. Glass membranes or polymer membranes must not be polished or cleaned with abrasives. If the electrode is used in oily or sticky samples, degreasing or removing proteins might be necessary by using a suitable solvent.

Correct storage of your electrode

Another important point to consider is the right storage for your electrode. Incorrect storage reduces the lifetime of an electrode, and therefore it needs replacement more frequently. Unfortunately, there is not one single storage solution which covers all electrode types. The right storage solution highly depends upon the electrode type.

If it is a separate indicator or only a reference electrode, then it is much easier to determine the correct storage solution, as the perfect solution for only one part must be found. For combined electrodes, the situation is a bit more complicated. Combined electrodes contain a reference electrode and a measuring electrode that each have different preferences. Therefore, sometimes a compromise is necessary. The reference electrode prefers to be stored in reference electrolyte to remain ready to use, whereas an indicator glass membrane prefers deionized water. On the other hand, a metal indicator electrode prefers to be stored dry.

For combined pH electrodes with c(KCl) = 3 mol/L as reference electrolyte, a special storage solution was developed by Metrohm, which maintains the glass membrane as quickly as possible without impairing the performance of the reference system. All other pH electrodes are stored in their respective reference electrolyte (normally indicated on the head of the electrode, see Figure 3).

Figure 3. Different reference electrolytes for different electrode types.

Metal electrodes are also stored differently, depending on the type. Combined metal ring electrodes are stored in reference electrolyte to maintain the diaphragm properly, whereas Titrodes are stored in deionized water, as these electrodes contain a pH glass membrane that needs to be kept hydrated. Always fill the storage vessel of your electrode with approximately 12 mL of storage solution and exchange it regularly as it might be contaminated by sample or cleaning solution.

The table below shows typical storage conditions depending on the type of the electrode. 

Table 3. Storage conditions for various electrode types.

If you are not sure how to store your electrode correctly, check the information in the electrode flyer or on the Metrohm website.

Check your electrode

The easiest way to check the performance of your electrode is to monitor it during a standardized titration (e.g., titer determination) which is performed regularly (e.g., weekly) and where prerequisites such as sample size, concentration of titrant, and volume of added water are always very similar. Otherwise, you can also follow a procedure recommended by Metrohm. To check metal electrodes, you can find a test procedure in application bulletin AB-048, for surfactant electrodes in application bulletin AB-305 and for ion selective electrodes, a check procedure is given in the ISE manual.

As an example, I will explain the test procedure of a silver electrode a bit more in detail. Silver electrodes can easily be checked by a standardized titration using hydrochloric acid (c(HCl) = 0.1 mol/L) as sample, and silver nitrate (c(AgNO3) = 0.1 mol/L) as titrant. Perform a threefold determination with the recommended titration parameters and sample size.

The following parameters are evaluated and compared to optimal values:

  • added volume of titrant at equivalence point (EP)
  • time until equivalence point is reached
  • potential jump (potential difference) between the potential measured at 90% and 110% of the EP volume
Figure 4. Example testing procedure for evaluation of electrode performance.

If the evaluated data cannot meet the specified values, clean the electrode thoroughly and repeat the test. If no improvement is observed, the sensor must be replaced.

Further symptoms can indicate a necessary replacement: sluggish response, unstable or drifting signal, longer duration of titration, smaller potential jumps, and worse shape of the titration curve. In Figure 5 below,  two different titration curves for calcium and magnesium in water are shown using a combined Calcium ISE. In Figure 5, the upper curve is obtained with a new Ca-ISE; the titration is fast and you will obtain 2 equivalence points: one each for calcium and magnesium. In the lower curve, an old electrode was used. The titration takes much longer and the second equivalence point for magnesium cannot be recognized anymore due to the lack of sensitivity of the electrode.

Figure 5. Comparison of the response of a new ISE vs. an aged ISE.

To summarize

  • Select the right indication for your titration type.
  • The quality of the electrode highly influences the quality of your titration results.
  • Proper maintenance and storage can increase the lifetime of the electrode.
  • Check the electrode performance regularly or monitor the titration performance (duration, potential jump) over time to reduce downtime of your instrumentation.

 

If you would like to get some more information and practical tips on electrodes in titration, please check out our white paper on «Basics of potentiometry» or our webinar «Avoid titration mistakes through best practice sensor handling». 

On-demand Metrohm webinar

«Avoid titration mistakes through best practice sensor handling»

Post written by Dr. Sabrina Gschwind, Jr. PM Titration (Sensors) at Metrohm International Headquarters, Herisau, Switzerland.

Combat food fraud: Meet Misa

Combat food fraud: Meet Misa

What’s on your plate?

Food fraud is an ever-present danger around the world. Despite increased regulations, huge scandals still occur regularly, such as deliberately tainted infant formula (2008), or the horse meat affair in the UK due to improper labelling (2013). Other more common examples include the adulteration of highly valued items with lower cost substitutes, or the illegal enhancement of color in foods and beverages with unsafe dyes.

As the population continues to increase, driving the demand for high quality food and beverage choices, so will the amount of food fraud cases. Only a concerted effort to test foodstuffs more frequently in an efficient manner along the supply chain with accurate and precise analytical techniques will bring these cases to light before more people come to harm.

Misa to the rescue

Meet the newest addition to the Metrohm Instant Raman Analyzer family: Misa, the Metrohm Instant SERS Analyzer. Misa is fast, smart, and portable with powerful algorithms that simplify high-tech analyses for non-technicians. Misa is designed with safety in mind, purposefully designed to detect illicit drugs and food additives in complex matrices.

The SERS Principle

Surface Enhanced Raman Scattering (SERS) is an extension of Raman. Perhaps you read in my previous blog post about Raman spectroscopy that «If you can see it, Raman can ID it»… well, SERS amplifies the Raman signal of trace analytes, making it an extremely sensitive method for «ID when you can’t see it.»

When SERS-active analytes adsorb to silver or gold nanoparticles, their Raman signal is enhanced as much as a million-fold, providing incredibly sensitive detection abilities.

SERS is used in biosensor applications, including single-cell sensing, antibody detection, and pathogen monitoring. It can be used to detect chemical warfare agents and illicit drug laboratory residues. Additionally, SERS is a particularly powerful technique for detecting trace contaminants in foodstuffs such as antibiotics fungicides, pesticides, herbicides, illicit dyes, and other additives.

If you know ID Kit for Mira DS, then you already know a little about SERS. SERS is an «enhancement» technique to Raman that enables detection of trace materials. For example, ID Kit was developed as a method for identifying heroin and fentanyl in street drug samples. The cutting agents and added stimulants that constitute the bulk of street heroin fluoresce under investigation with Raman and overwhelm the signal coming from heroin. SERS sees right through the cutting agents and identifies the drug.

Overlaid Raman and SERS spectra demonstrating the ability of SERS to detect the active ingredient in street heroin.

Another example of how Raman and SERS complement each other can be seen with Yaba, a common street drug in southeast Asia. Yaba is a red tablet that contains significant caffeine with a small amount of methamphetamine. When a red Yaba tablet is analyzed with Raman, caffeine and the red dye in the coating are the primary identification targets. This makes sense, because Raman is very good at identifying bulk materials.

However, when a Yaba tablet is subjected to SERS analysis, the story is very different (reminder: these are both also capabilities of Mira DS!) Only SERS can ID the methamphetamine in Yaba and complete the story.

Protecting Consumer Safety with Misa

Consumer safety relies on the ability of food inspectors to detect unwanted additives and assure the quality of the products. Trace detection of food adulterants is traditionally very involved laboratory work, using HPLC, GC/MS, and other techniques requiring extensive sample preparation and scientific training. Misa is designed to simplify food testing, from sample preparation, to sharing results.

The unique capabilities of Misa and SERS analysis in food testing deserve some explanation. Raman is used in food testing in some incredible ways: identifying counterfeit honey, distinguishing scotch from different producers, discriminating between very similar sugars, even making a distinction between grass- and grain-fed beef. However, these are bulk, inherent qualities of a food.

Looking for trace levels of pesticides is a very different science. A successful SERS analyte must interact with nanoparticles—target molecules with amine, carboxyl, and thiol groups often have the required interaction. Fortunately, many food additives fit this definition. Metrohm Raman sponsored a year-long study to identify 82 different food adulterants that can be successfully detected with our SERS substrates. That was just the beginning.

Are you looking for applications suitable for Misa? Check out our free selection of application notes available on the Metrohm website: 

Additionally, reference spectra for several other analytes can be obtained by contacting your local Metrohm  sales organization. 

The next step was to determine the foods which were typically treated with these illicit substances, then how to simplify sample preparation for potentially demanding food matrices. Metrohm Raman is taking two different approaches to this challenge. First, Misa will be released with 17 different «real world» food safety applications (click to download):

Misa is a unique instrument, which is reflected in this broad collection of Application Notes (AN). In addition to standard spectra and experiments, each AN includes a special section titled «Field Test Protocol». Briefly, the Field Test Protocol guides any user through a complete experiment using Misa and the tools in the ID Kits. ID Kits for Misa contain dedicated SERS substrates, in addition to the basic tools required for field testing. These, combined with companion Operating Procedures included on Misa, make food safety testing accessible to anyone, anywhere.

Our second approach to application development for Misa is a very interactive process with our users as we identify the target and food matrix, provide standard spectra for library building, advise sample preparation, and help to optimize results. This approach acknowledges that food is different around the world, adulterants vary, and concerns may be localized. These ANs that accompany Misa at release are intended to give the user an idea of how to use SERS and when it is a useful technique for detection of food contaminants, but custom applications will certainly increase demand for Misa.

Metrohm Raman is excited to introduce you to Misa. Misa has all of the qualities that you appreciate about Mira—intuitive user interface, simple guided workflow, and smart attachments to facilitate onsite testing by non-chemists. Our approach to simplifying food testing includes libraries, dozens of reference spectra, and developed applications targeting food adulterants.

Visit our website

and discover more about how Misa can help the fight against food adulteration scandals.

Post written by Dr. Melissa Gelwicks, Technical Writer at Metrohm Raman, Laramie, Wyoming (USA).

Trace metal analysis with solid-state electrodes – Part 1

Trace metal analysis with solid-state electrodes – Part 1

This new series of blog posts covers a range of new sensors suitable for the determination of «heavy metals» using voltammetric methods.

The quantification of heavy metal ions plays an important role in many applications, including environmental monitoring, waste management, research studies, or even in clinical tests. Heavy metals occur naturally, but the rise of industrialization and urbanization in the past two centuries are responsible for increased levels in our environment. These dangerous elements are released and accumulate in the soil, and in ground or surface water. They enter the food chain directly from drinking water or through bioaccumulation in plants and animals. It is for this reason that pregnant women are discouraged from eating seafood, on the basis of mercury (Hg) accumulation through the food chain.

The degree of toxicity depends on the type of metal, its biological role, and most importantly, its concentration. Increased concentrations of lead, iron, cadmium, copper, arsenic, chromium, or nickel in drinking water are most often responsible for human poisoning. To highlight the toxicity of certain heavy metals in drinking water and to protect human health, guideline values or limit values for the heavy metal concentration in drinking water have been set by international organizations as the World Health Organization (WHO) or by such authorities as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or the European Commission.

Several techniques have been developed for heavy metal ion analysis in the past. Commonly used techniques include atomic absorption spectrometry (AAS), inductively coupled plasma (ICP), or fluorescence spectrometry. However, these techniques require expensive equipment combined with high maintenance costs and trained personnel. Therefore, a price-effective, straightforward and sensitive method that allows detection of metal ions in water samples is highly desired.

Stripping voltammetry is the right solution for these challenges providing a simple, rapid, and cost-effective alternative for the aforementioned techniques that is also suited for untrained personnel. In addition, detection limits in the ng/L range and the possibility to determine the trace levels of heavy metals in the field make it so interesting and valuable.

The principle of stripping voltammetry

Voltammetric determination of heavy metals consists of two steps. In the first step, the analyte is preconcentrated on the surface of the working electrode as shown using the example of anodic stripping voltammetric determination of lead (Pb) in Figure 1.

Figure 1. Anodic stripping voltammetry – deposition of lead (solution stirred).

In the subsequent stripping step (Figure 2), the analyte is released. This can be achieved by oxidation or reduction depending on the method used for the determination. This step generates the analytical signal, which has to be proportional to the deposited amount of analyte.

Figure 2. Anodic stripping voltammetry – stripping of lead (solution not stirred).

Besides anodic stripping voltammetry, cathodic stripping voltammetry or adsorptive stripping voltammetry are also possible to utilize and work in a similar manner. All of these methods have something in common: every voltammetric determination is as good as the sensor used for the measurement. Therefore, in this series of posts we want to introduce our powerful sensors and demonstrate the outstanding performance with a few typical applications.

Need for new sensors

The need for heavy metal ion determinations in the field, sensor costs, and environmental issues are the main triggers for research on new sensors in voltammetry. Non-toxic and inexpensive materials are preferred for new sensors. The properties of these materials, however, can lead to some restrictions. First is the limited number of elements that can be detected on a particular electrode material (e.g., gold, carbon or bismuth). In addition, it is difficult to determine several elements simultaneously at the same mercury-free sensor. The choice of the most suitable electrode material in combination with the optimum sensor design helps to overcome these issues.

Bismuth as an alternative electrode material

In the past, there were many attempts to find less toxic electrode materials than mercury for the determination of heavy metal ions, but none have achieved exceptional electroanalytical performance. Twenty years ago (2000), an American researcher by the name of Joseph Wang reported a bismuth film electrode for the first time (Joseph Wang, 2000).

Figure 3. Bismuth crystal.

After this initial revolutionary report, bismuth-based electrodes prepared as in-situ and ex-situ films on solid-state electrodes such as carbon, have been growing in popularity. The broad electrochemical window and low toxicity of bismuth were key factors. In addition, bismuth is able to form alloys with quite a high number of heavy metals and it exhibits high hydrogen overpotential, similar to mercury. These properties are particularly interesting for stripping voltammetry. The hydrogen evolution is suppressed very efficiently with the consequence that noise-free measurements at negative potentials can be carried out. Bismuth electrodes based on bismuth films are a good option. However, film deposition is an additional step that is time-consuming.

New sensor in VA: the Bi drop electrode

With the Bi drop electrode, a novel solid-state electrode is now available for the determination of heavy metal ions in drinking water. A bismuth drop of approximately 2 mm diameter serves as the working electrode within the voltammetric measurement.

The electrode works without the need for polishing or film deposition—only electrochemical activation is required. This significantly shortens the entire analysis time. Once activated, series of heavy metal determinations with high repeatability in the low μg/L and even ng/L range are possible.

The Bi drop electrode allows for mercury-free monitoring of the limit values of the heavy metals cadmium, lead, nickel, cobalt, and iron in drinking water. Since the electrode does not require mechanical treatment, it is especially suitable for online applications. Another advantage of the Bi drop electrode is fact that cadmium and lead as well as nickel and cobalt can be determined simultaneously.

The sensor is cost-efficient, stable, extremely sensitive, and is able to deliver more reproducible results than other previously examined bismuth-based electrodes. To demonstrate the broad possibilities and flexibility of the Bi drop electrode, examples for anodic stripping voltammetry, adsorptive stripping voltammetry, and direct voltammetric determination will be presented and discussed.

Applications

Anodic stripping voltammetric determination of cadmium and lead

To reduce the toxic effects of cadmium on the kidneys, skeleton, and respiratory system, as well as the neurotoxic effects of lead, the provisional guideline values in the World Health Organization’s «Guidelines for Drinking-water Quality» are set to a maximum concentration of 3 µg/L for cadmium and 10 µg/L for lead.

Figure 5. Example for determination of cadmium and lead in tap water spiked with β(Cd) = 2 µg/L and β(Pb) = 2 µg/L.

A completely mercury‑free sensor, the Bi drop electrode allows the simultaneous determination of cadmium and lead in drinking water without any additional film plating step. With a 60 s deposition time, a limit of detection (LOD) of 0.1 µg/L for cadmium and 0.5 µg/L for lead can be achieved. This outstanding sensitivity is more than sufficient to monitor the provisional WHO guideline values.

Not only is the sensitivity impressive, but also the reproducibility and accuracy. The relative standard deviation for 10 measurements in a check standard solution (β(Cd) = 1 µg/L and β(Pb) = 5 µg/L) is 5% and 3%, and the recovery rate is 90% and 100% for cadmium and lead, respectively.

Direct determination of iron

The presence of iron in drinking water can lead to an unpleasant, harsh metallic taste or reddish-brown stains. In addition, «iron bacteria» which can grow in waters containing iron as low as 100 µg/L, create a reddish-brown slime that can clog plumbing and cause an offensive odor. Over a longer period, the formation of insoluble iron deposits is problematic in many industrial and agricultural applications, such as water supply, system cooling, or field irrigation. To avoid these problems, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines the Secondary Maximum Contaminant Level (SMCL) for water treatment and processing plants as 300 µg/L iron in drinking water.

Figure 6. Example for determination of iron in tap water spiked with β(Fe) = 20 µg/L.

The voltammetric determination of the iron triethanolamine complex on the non-toxic Bi drop electrode does not require enrichment. The system uses catalytic signal enhancement, allowing both the detection at very low levels with a limit of detection of 5 µg/L and measurements in a wide range of concentrations up to 500 µg/L.

This method is best suited for automated systems or process analyzers, allowing fully automatic determination of iron in a large sample series and providing stable results. The relative standard deviation for 10 measurements in a check standard solution (β(Fe) = 50 µg/L) is 3% and the recovery rate is 111%.

Adsorptive stripping voltammetric determination of nickel and cobalt

The main sources of nickel pollution are from electroplating processes, metallurgical operations, or leaching from pipes and fittings. Catalysts used in the petroleum and chemical industries are major application fields for cobalt. In both cases, the metal is either released directly, or via the wastewater–river pathway into the drinking water system. Therefore in the EU, the legislation specifies 20 µg/L as the limit value for the nickel concentration in drinking water.

The simultaneous and straightforward determination of nickel and cobalt is based on adsorptive stripping voltammetry (AdSV). The unique properties of the non-toxic Bi drop electrode combined with AdSV results in an excellent performance in terms of sensitivity. The limit of detection for 30 s deposition time is approximately 0.2 µg/L for nickel and 0.1 µg/L for cobalt, and can be lowered further by increasing the deposition time.

Figure 7. Determination of nickel and cobalt in tap water spiked with β(Ni) = 0.5 µg/L and β(Co) = 0.5 µg/L.

This method is best suited for automated systems or process analyzers, allowing fully automatic determination of these metals in large sample series and providing stable and accurate results. The relative standard deviation for 10 subsequent measurements in a check standard solution (β(Ni) = 1 µg/L β(Co) = 1 µg/L) is 4% and 5% and the recovery rate is 106% for nickel and 88% for cobalt.

Key features of the Bi drop electrode

  • Non-toxic, completely mercury-free alternative for trace metal determination
  • Simultaneous determination of Ni and Co, as well as Cd and Pb
  • Limit of detection in low μg/L and even ng/L range
  • Suitable for automated and online systems

What’s next?

In the next installment, we will take a look at a cost-efficient and semi-disposable sensor for heavy metal detection: the scTRACE Gold and its associated applications.

Post written by Dr. Jakub TymoczkoApplication Specialist VA/CVS at Metrohm International Headquarters, Herisau, Switzerland.

Comprehensive water analysis: combining titration, IC, and direct measurement in one setup

Comprehensive water analysis: combining titration, IC, and direct measurement in one setup

If you perform water analyses on a regular basis, then you know that analyzing different parameters for drinking water can be quite time-consuming, expensive, and it requires significant manual labor. In this article, I’d like to show you an example of wider possibilities in automated sample analysis when it comes to combining different analytical techniques, especially for our drinking water.

Water is the source and basis of all life. It is essential for metabolism and is our most important foodstuff.

As a solvent and transporting agent it carries not only the vital minerals and nutrients, but also, increasingly, harmful pollutants, which accumulate in aquatic or terrestrial organisms.

Within the context of quality control and risk assessment, there is a need in the water laboratory for cost-effective and fast instruments and methods that can deal with the ever more complex spectrum of harmful substances, the increasing throughput of samples, and the decreasing detection limits.

Comprehensive analysis of ionic components in liquid samples such as water involves four analytical techniques:

  • Direct measurement
  • Titration
  • Ion chromatography
  • Voltammetry

Each of these techniques has its own particular strengths. However, applying them one after the other on discrete systems in the laboratory is a rather complex task that takes up significant time.

Back in 1998, Metrohm accepted the challenge of combining different analytical techniques in a single fully automated system, and the first TitrIC system was introduced.

What is TitrIC?

The TitrIC system from Metrohm combines direct measurement, titration, and ion chromatography in a fully automated system.

Direct measurements include temperature, conductivity, and pH. The acid capacity (m and p values) is determined titrimetrically. Major anions and cations are quantified by ion chromatography. Calcium and magnesium, which are used to calculate total hardness, can be determined by titration or ion chromatography.

The results are displayed in a common table, and a shared report is given out at the end of the analysis. All methods in TitrIC utilize the same liquid handling units and a common sample changer.

For more detailed information about the newest TitrIC system, which is available in two predefined packages (TitrIC flex I and TitrIC flex II), take a look at our informative brochure:

Efficient: Titrations and ion chromatography are performed simultaneously with the TitrIC flex system.

Figure 1. Flowchart of TitrIC flex II automated analysis and data acquisition.

How does TitrIC work?

Each water sample analysis is performed fully automated at the push of a button—fill up a sample beaker with the sample, place it on the sample rack, and start the measurement. The liquid handling units transfer the required sample volume (per measurement technique) for reproducible results. TitrIC carries out all the work, and analyzes up to 175 samples in a row without any manual intervention required, no matter what time the measurement series has begun. The high degree of automation reduces costs and increases both productivity and the precision of the analysis.

Figure 2. The Metrohm TitrIC flex II system with OMNIS Sample Robot S and Dis-Cover functionality.

To learn more about how to perform comprehensive water analysis with TitrIC flex II, download our free application note AN-S-387:

Would you like to know more about why automation should be preferred over manual titration? Check out our previous blog post on this topic:

Calculations with TitrIC

With the TitrIC system, not only are sample analyses simplified, but the result calculations are performed automatically. This saves time and most importantly, avoids sources of human error due to erroneously noting the measurement data or performing incorrect calculations.

Selection of calculations which can be automatically performed with TitrIC: 

  • Molar concentrations of all cations
  • Molar concentrations of all anions
  • Ionic balance
  • Total water hardness (Ca & Mg)
  • … and more

Ionic balances provide clarity

The calculation of the ion balance helps to determine the accuracy of your water analysis. The calculations are based on the principle of electro-neutrality, which requires that the sum in eq/L or meq/L of the positive ions (cations) must equal the sum of negative ions (anions) in solution.

TitrIC can deliver all necessary data required to calculate the ion balance out of one sample. Both anions and cations are analyzed by IC, and the carbonate concentration (indicative of the acid capacity of water) is determined by titration.

If the value for the difference in the above equation is almost zero, then this indicates that you have accurately determined the major anions and cations in your sample.

Advantages of a combined system like TitrIC

  • Utmost accuracy: all results come from the same sample beaker

  • Completely automated, leaving analysts more time for other tasks

  • One shared sample changer saves benchtop space and costs

  • Save time with parallel titration and IC analysis

  • Flexibility: use titration, direct measurement, or IC either alone or combined with the other techniques

  • Single database for all results and calculation of the ionic balance, which is only possible with such a combined system, and gives further credibility to the sample results

Even more possibility in sample analysis

TitrIC has been developed especially for automated drinking water analysis but can be adapted to suit any number of analytical requirements in food, electroplating, or pharmaceutical industries. Your application determines the parameters that are of interest.

If the combination of direct measurement, titration, and IC does not suit your needs, perhaps a combination of voltammetry and ion chromatography in a single, fully automatic system might be more fitting. Luckily, there is the VoltIC Professional from Metrohm which fulfills these requirements.

Check out our website to learn more about this system:

As you see, the possibility of combining different analysis techniques is almost endless. Metrohm, as a leading manufacturer of instruments for chemical analysis, is aware of your analytical challenges. For this reason, we offer not only the most advanced instruments, but complete solutions for very specific analytical issues. Get the best out of your daily work in the laboratory!

Discover even more

about combined analytical systems from Metrohm

Post written by Jennifer Lüber, Jr. Product Specialist Titration/TitrIC at Metrohm International Headquarters, Herisau, Switzerland.