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Staircase or linear scans: two options for reliable electrochemical experiments

Staircase or linear scans: two options for reliable electrochemical experiments

Electrochemical experiments are performed by delivering and controlling a potential or current signal to the electrochemical cell/device under test and measuring its response through a potentiostat/galvanostat (PGSTAT). Here, two different options for performing different electrochemical experiments are discussed: linear and staircase scans, as well as some applications where one may be preferred over another.

From analog to digital

Before modern digital electronics were widely available, PGSTATs worked with analog electronics, and therefore delivered analog signals. Analog boards were expensive and time-consuming to produce and test. Moreover, controlling the equipment from a computer is done via digital communication and requires digital electronics.

An analog signal is continuous, and it has virtually infinite resolution. On the other hand, a digital signal is written in discrete bits (0 and 1), so it is not continuous.

Linear scans

To better explain an analog signal, consider a linear sweep voltammetry (LSV) in potentiostatic mode, performed with an analog scan. Here, the applied voltage E versus time plot consists of a straight line between the initial and end potentials. The potential interval between two consecutive data points and the scan rate define the interval time—the slope of the E versus time plot (Figure 1).

Figure 1. A typical linear scan from an initial and an end potential. The interval time and the measurement time are also shown here.

The current resulting from the application of the LSV is measured at the end of the interval time. The measurement time defines the duration of the sampling. The current is composed of a capacitive part ic (given by the charging of the double layer), and a faradaic part if.

A double layer is formed when a potential is applied to an electrode. Then, current flows to the electrode, which becomes charged. Ions from the bulk solution migrate to the surface to balance this charge. Therefore, a layer of ions at the interface between the electrode and the electrolyte builds up, forming the equivalent of a capacitor.

Learn more about the principles and characterization of capacitors in our free Application Note.

The faradaic current is the result of the electrochemical reactions occurring at the working electrode | electrode and counter electrode | electrolyte interfaces, and it changes with the scan rate either linearly or with the square root of the scan rate, depending on the type of electron transfer.

The capacitive current resulting from a linear scan iC,ls is a constant value given by the product of the double layer capacitance Cdl and the scan rate.

Find out more about the differences between linear and staircase cyclic voltammetry on a commercial capacitor in our free Application Note.

Staircase scans

When modern digital electronics became more commercially available and economically feasible, PGSTAT manufacturers adopted them, together with personal computers, to control PGSTATs. This allowed researchers to create more complex procedures as well as to perform data analysis via software. Metrohm Autolab was the first company to deliver computer controlled PGSTATs to the market back in 1989.

In the case of a digital scan, the applied potential versus time plot between an initial and end potential has the typical «staircase» shape of a digitized signal. The interval time tint defines the duration of each step, while the step potential Estep defines the potential difference between two consecutive steps (Figure 2).

Figure 2. A typical staircase scan profile. The step potential Estep is shown along with the interval time and the measurement time.

The resulting current is measured at the end of the step. The measurement time defines the sampling time.

In a digital scan, the step potential  Estep results in a capacitive current iC,ss which rises almost immediately up to the maximum value allowed by the current range, lim(CR), and then it decays exponentially as time constant t = RC. After the decay of the capacitive current, the faradaic current if is predominant.

The current is measured at the end of the step in order to remove the capacitive current and collect only the faradaic one (Figure 3).

Figure 3. Potential step (in blue) and current profile for a staircase scan. The current profile is divided into capacitive current iC,ss (black line) and faradaic current if (purple line). Total current itot is shown in dark red. The measurement (sampling) time is also shown here. For clarity, the decay of the capacitive current and the decay of the faradaic current are not in scale.

Application examples: staircase or linear scan?


Some electrochemical processes can result in a capacitive current, having a characteristic time comparable to the charging of the double layer. In such cases a digital scan would neglect such capacitive currents and all of the information contained within them.

This is the case of highly capacitive cells, such as capacitors and supercapacitors.

In Figure 4, cyclic voltammograms at different scan rates of a commercial 1 µF capacitor are shown. The diagram on the left shows the results from the digital scan, and on the right are the results from the analog scan [1].

Figure 4. Cyclic voltammograms of a 1 µF capacitor at different scan rates. Left: the cyclic voltammogram resulting from a digital scan. Right: the cyclic voltammogram resulting from an analog scan.

It is pretty clear that the digital scan results do not contain any information about the charge/discharge of the capacitor, while the analog scan results have the expected shape of a capacitor’s cyclic voltammograms.

Adsorption/desorption processes

Another application example includes cells in which fast adsorption/desorption of species at the electrode surface occurs in a short time, like the adsorption/desorption of hydrogen as part of the electrochemical behavior of platinum submerged in an aqueous solution of sulfuric acid (Figure 5).

Figure 5. The cyclic voltammogram of a Pt working electrode immersed in a 0.5 mol/L H2SO4 aqueous solution. The reference is a Ag/AgCl 3M KCl electrode, while the counter electrode is a Pt electrode.

Here, the fast adsorption/desorption of hydrogen occurs at time scales that are similar to the charging of the double layer in the capacitor example. Therefore, the linear scan is the preferred option, compared to the digital staircase scan which is unable to capture the hydrogen adsorption/desorption (Figure 6) [2].

Figure 6Top: linear cyclic voltammograms of a Pt working electrode immersed in a 0.5 mol/L H2SO4 aqueous solution at different scan rates. Bottom: staircase cyclic voltammograms of the same setup at the same scan rates.

Redox reactions

Another example of experiments in which the capacitive current should not be neglected are redox reactions in which the electron transfer is very fast. In these situations, the charge transfer resistance is very small and the cyclic voltammogram results in redox peaks which are symmetrical over the potential axes. Examples include redox reactions on species adsorbed on the working electrode surface [3].

VIONIC: the future of electrochemistry

The most recent generation of PGSTATs, such as VIONIC, are equipped with electronics that allow to users perform analog scans without the drawbacks mentioned earlier. This gives researchers the opportunity to choose the type of scan according to the type of systems being studied, the materials, and the importance of the capacitive current for the outcomes of the research.  

Learn more about VIONIC

Maximum experimental possibilities, intelligent software, and the most complete data.


[1] Locati, C. Comparison between linear and staircase cyclic voltammetry on a commercial capacitor, Metrohm AG: Herisau, Switzerland, 2021. AN-EC-026

[2] Locati, C. Study of the hydrogen region at platinum electrodes with linear scan cyclic voltammetry – How VIONIC powered by INTELLO can be used to characterize processes at the Pt-electrolyte interface, Metrohm AG: Herisau, Switzerland, 2021. AN-EC-025

[3] Chi, Q.; Zhang, J.; Andersen, J. E. T.; Ulstrup, J. Ordered Assembly and Controlled Electron Transfer of the Blue Copper Protein Azurin at Gold (111) Single-Crystal Substrates. J. Phys. Chem. B 2001, 105 (20), 4669–4679.

Post written by Dr. Corrado Locati, Application Specialist 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



Fermentation end point

~62 hours

56 hours

Batch capacity

37,850 L

37,850 L

Batches per year



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.


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)


[1]  Annual Fuel Ethanol Production U.S. and World Ethanol Production. Renewable Fuels Association: Washington, DC, 2021.

[2]  Essential Energy: 2021 Ethanol Industry Outlook. Renewable Fuels Association: Washington, DC, 2021.

[3]  Determining the Cost of Producing Ethanol from Corn Starch and Lignocellulosic Feedstocks. National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL): Golden, Colorado, USA, 2000.

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).

Fast and fundamental: influences on reliable electrochemical measurements

Fast and fundamental: influences on reliable electrochemical measurements

The ultimate goal of any researcher is to contribute to the progress of society by pioneering exploration beyond the known limits. Depending on the research type and application field, one way to fulfill this is to collect reliable experimental data on rapidly occurring processes (less than 1 ms).

Having insight into the fundamentals of these reaction mechanisms can ultimately lead to the discovery of new materials or the improvement of current solutions. In electrochemical research, reaction mechanisms and intermediates are investigated by measuring the kinetics and dynamics of the electrochemical processes happening at the surface of the electrode on a sub-ms timescale.

This article provides a short overview of the factors that have a direct influence on fast and ultra-fast electrochemical measurements from an experimental setup perspective.

Considering the following factors in the experimental design and execution is the first condition to obtain reliable experimental results for such measurements.

Additional challenges which researchers must be aware of when experimenting with «transient electrochemistry», i.e. doing electrochemical measurements at very low time scales, is presented in the featured article from E. Maisonhaute et al. [1].

Main factors that influence the reliability of fast electrochemical experimental results

The primary components of an electrochemical experimental setup are:

  • The electrochemical cell including the electrodes and electrolyte
  • The electrochemical instrument, i.e., the potentiostat/galvanostat (PGSTAT)

To perform reliable electrochemical experiments in general, and fast electrochemical measurements in particular, the specifications of the complete work system must be considered and the optimal settings must be used for all of the individual parts of the experimental setup.

Time constant of the electrochemical cell

The electrochemical cell and its specifications must be taken into account as it is an important element of the experimental setup.

Transient electrochemical experiments are not meaningful unless the cell time constant is small relative to the timescale of the measurement, regardless of the high-frequency characteristics of the control circuitry.

The cell time constant RuCdl (s) depends directly on the uncompensated resistance Ru (Ω) (i.e. the resistance of the electrolyte between the reference and the working electrode) and the double-layer capacitance Cdl (F) of the electrode [2].

As a consequence, when the potential is stepped or scanned rapidly, the true measured potential Etrue (V) lags behind the applied potential Eappl (V), according to the following equation:

Where RuCdl (s) is the time constant of the cell and t (s) is the time at which the measurement is taken.

Figure 1. Theoretical and true waveform applied to a real electrochemical cell [1].

For fast scan rates (i.e. when 𝑡 is much smaller than RuCdl ), the exponential term approaches 1 and significant errors in 𝐸true with respect to 𝐸appl can arise. For slow scan rates (i.e. when 𝑡 is much larger than RuCdl), the exponential approaches 0 and the errors become negligible.

The time constant of the cell can be reduced in three ways:

  • Reduce Ru via increasing the conductivity of the electrolyte by either increasing concentration of supporting electrolyte or decreasing viscosity
  • Reduce the size of the working electrode (e.g., by using microelectrodes) so that Cdl will be minimized
  • Move the reference electrode as close as possible to the working electrode (e.g., by using a Luggin capillary) so that Ru will be minimized

The electrochemical instrument: potentiostat/galvanostat (PGSTAT)

The potentiostat/galvanostat (PGSTAT) is used to accurately control the applied signal (potential or current) and measure the response (current or potential, respectively) from the electrochemical cell. The accurate control of the applied signals is achieved by using a control loop (or feedback loop) circuit.

When fast electrochemical measurements are executed, the following specifications will have a direct influence on the results and must be considered.

Bandwidth of the control loop of the PGSTAT

In general terms, bandwidth can be described as the parameter that defines how fast the instrument is able to react to any changes in the signal.

In electrochemical terms, the bandwidth is the frequency beyond which the performance of the system is degraded.

The bandwidth of the control loop of the PGSTAT (i.e. bandwidth of the instrument) indicates how fast the applied signal is controlled through the feedback loop.

Higher bandwidth means that the instrument uses a faster control loop (faster feedback). As a result, the applied signal will reach the desired set point faster, and in ideal circumstances the output signal will be identical to the theoretical waveform. However, depending on the properties of the electrochemical cell connected to the instrument, the applied signal might overshoot. In extreme cases, the instrument feedback loop might get out of control causing the potentiostat to oscillate. This is more likely when high-capacitance electrochemical cells are connected to the PGSTAT.

When a Lower bandwidth is used, the overall stability of the PGSTAT increases by reducing the speed of the control loop. In this case, the consequence is that at very high measurement speeds, the output of the applied signal may be slightly less accurate due to a slower slew rate. Nevertheless, when measuring fast transients is not within the scope of the experiment, using the instrument with a lower bandwidth setting is recommended for highly accurate experimental results.

Figure 2. Schematic representation of the applied signal when Low bandwidth (Low speed) and High bandwidth (High speed) settings are used compared with the theoretical response.

Therefore, it is important to choose the control loop bandwidth settings according to the type of the measurement. For ultra-high speed measurements, a higher bandwidth setting must be used with the following considerations:

  • The higher the bandwidth, the higher the noise and the probability that the control loop will go out of control and oscillate.
  • When working with a High bandwidth setting, it is necessary to pay special attention and use adequate cell shielding and electrode connectors. The use of a Faraday cage is recommended in these cases.
  • The use of a high impedance reference electrode (RE) (e.g., double junction reference electrode, a salt bridge with frit) in combination with a High bandwidth of the control loop might lead to instability of the PGSTAT and even to oscillations.
Bandwidth of the current sensor (current range)

The measurement of the current response of an electrochemical cell (in potentiostatic mode) and the control of the applied current value (in galvanostatic mode) is executed with specially designed current sensors. In order to achieve the best sensitivity and resolution for the measurement, individual current sensors are used depending on the magnitude of the measured (or applied) current.

Each current sensor circuit (which corresponds to a current range) has a specific bandwidth or response time. Therefore for the most accurate results (especially important for fast, time resolved experiments), the current range must be selected so that the bandwidth of the current sensor will not be the limiting factor for the time response (speed) of the measurement.

In general, the lower the measured currents, the lower the bandwidth of the current sensor.

Data sampling interval vs the timescale of the investigated transient signal

The measured electrochemical response can have a complex shape with components at many frequencies. The highest frequency component of the measured or applied signal determines the bandwidth of that signal. The bandwidth of the signal should not be higher than the bandwidth of the measuring device.

If the highest frequency component of the signal is fSIGNAL, then according to the Nyquist Theorem [3] the sampling rate fSAMPLE must be at least 2 fSIGNAL (i.e. two times higher than the highest frequency component of the signal).

Figure 3. Effect of the sampling frequency of an ideal sinusoidal signal [3]. Shown here are the theoretical signal (dashed line), sample points, and resulting measured signal (orange line).

In other words, the data sampling interval must be lower than the timescale in which the time resolved (transient) measurement from the investigated electrochemical process is expected to occur. There is a practical correlation between the sampling interval and instrument bandwidth. When the sampling interval is:

  • higher than 100 μs: the 10 kHz (High Stability) bandwidth should be selected.
  • between 10–100 μs: the 100 kHz (Fast) bandwidth should be selected.
  • smaller than 10 μs: the 1 MHz bandwidth (Ultra-Fast) should be selected.


To measure reliable experimental data, all elements of the experimental setup must be considered with their own specifications and limitations. The overview above highlights the main factors and parameters which can have a direct influence on fast electrochemical measurements.

Fast measurements start here!

Visit our website to learn more about the variety of potentiostats/galvanostats from Metrohm Autolab.


[1] Maisonhaute, E.; et al. Transient electrochemistry: beyond simply temporal resolution, Chem.Commun., 2016, 52, 251—263. doi:10.1039/C5CC07953E

[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] Keim, R. The Nyquist–Shannon Theorem: Understanding Sampled Systems. All About Circuits, May 26, 2020. 

Post written by Dr. Iosif Fromondi, Product Manager and Head of Marketing and Sales Support at Metrohm Autolab, Utrecht, The Netherlands.

Nonaqueous acid-base titrations – Common mistakes and how to avoid them

Nonaqueous acid-base titrations – Common mistakes and how to avoid them

Nonaqueous acid-base titrations are widely used in several industries, including the petrochemical  and pharmaceutical sectors. Whether you are determining the acid or base number (AN or BN) in oils or fats, titrating substances that are insoluble in water, or quantifying products with different strengths of acidity or alkalinity separately, nonaqueous acid-base titration is the method of choice.

If you already have some experience performing nonaqueous acid-base titrations, you may remember that there are several challenges to overcome in comparison to aqueous acid-base titrations.

In this blog post, I would like to cover some of the most typical issues that could pop up during nonaqueous acid-base titrations and discuss how to best avoid them. An important point to note is that there is no single solution regarding how to perform any nonaqueous acid-base titration correctly. The right procedure depends highly on the solvent and titrant used.

What is a nonaqueous acid-base titration?

Before discussing nonaqueous titrations, first let’s talk a little bit about aqueous acid-base titrations.

Here, a sample is dissolved in water, and depending of the nature of the sample (whether it is acidic or basic) a titration is performed either using aqueous base or aqueous acid as titrant. For indication, a glass pH electrode is used.

However, sometimes due to the nature of the sample, aqueous titration is not possible. Nonaqueous acid-base titration is used when:

  • the substance of interest is not soluble in water
  • samples are fats or oils
  • components of mixtures of acids or bases have to be determined separately by titration

In these cases, a suitable organic solvent is used to dissolve the sample instead of water. The solvent:

  • should dissolve the sample and not react with it
  • permits the determination of components in a mixture
  • if possible, should not be toxic

The solvents that are most often used include ethanol, methanol, isopropanol, toluene, and glacial acetic acid (or a mixture of these). Titrants are not prepared with water but rather in solvent. Frequently used nonaqueous basic titrants are potassium hydroxide in isopropyl alcohol or sodium hydroxide in ethanol, and a common nonaqueous acidic titrant is perchloric acid in glacial acetic acid.

Due to the nature of nonaqueous solvents, they are normally poor conductors and do not buffer well. This makes indication a bit challenging because the electrode must be suitable for such sample types. Therefore, Metrohm offers the Solvotrode which is developed specifically for nonaqueous titrations.

This pH electrode offers the following advantages over a standard pH electrode:

  • Large membrane surface and a small membrane resistance for accurate reading, also in poorly buffered solutions
  • A flexible ground-joint diaphragm which can easily be cleaned even when contaminated with oily or sticky samples, additionally it offers a symmetrical outflow for outstanding reproducibility
  • The electrode is shielded and is therefore less sensitive to electrostatic interferences
  • It can be used with any nonaqueous electrolyte such as lithium chloride in ethanol

In the following sections I will discuss the most common mistakes when performing potentiometric nonaqueous acid-base titrations and how you can avoid them.

Electrostatic effects

The influence of electrostatic effects during analysis is normally negligible. However, maybe you have once seen a curve like the one below which looks relatively normal until suddenly a spike occurs.

Figure 1. Titration curve with a spike which might have occurred from an electrostatic interference.

This is then an indication of an electrostatic effect. However, where does it come from and how can we overcome this?

Electrostatic charge can be generated from many sources, such as friction. For example, while walking across a surface you will generate an electrostatic charge which will be stored in your body. You have probably touched the doorknob after walking across a carpeted space in your socks and obtained a small electric shock—this is the discharge of built up electrostatic charge. If we now assume that you are electrostatically charged and then you approach an electrode that is currently measuring (in use), this will result in a spike (Figure 1). Therefore, it is essential to make sure that you are either properly discharged or that you do not approach the electrode during measurement. You can avoid this issue by wearing the appropriate clothes. ESD (electrostatic discharge) clothes and shoes are mostly recommended when performing nonaqueous titrations.

Blocked diaphragm

A blocked diaphragm is another point which occurs more regularly during nonaqueous titrations. Due to the oily and sticky sample, you might have seen that the electrode diaphragm is clogged and cannot be opened anymore. What should you do then?

In most cases, you can place the electrode in a beaker of warm water overnight. This treatment often helps to loosen the diaphragm. To completely prevent the diaphragm from clogging, a Solvotrode with easyClean technology should be used. With this electrode, electrolyte is released by pressing the head ensuring that the diaphragm is not blocked.

Choice of electrolyte and storage solution

We recommend two types of electrolyte for nonaqueous titrations.

For titrations with alkaline titrants: tetraethylammonium bromide c(TEABr) = 0.4 mol/L in ethylene glycol

For titrations with acidic titrants: lithium chloride c(LiCl) = 2 mol/L in ethanol

Please make sure to store the electrode in the same electrolyte with which it is filled.

Checking the electrode according to ASTM D664

To check whether the Solvotrode is still in good working condition, perform a test according to ASTM D664 using aqueous buffer solutions of pH 4 and 7. The procedure is as follows:

  • Measure the potential of buffer pH 4.0 while stirring and note the value after 1 minute
  • Remove the electrode and rinse it well with deionized water
  • Measure the potential of buffer pH 7.0 while stirring and note the value after 1 minute
  • Calculate the mV difference between the reading of buffers 4.0 and 7.0
  • The difference must be larger than 162 mV (20–25 °C) to indicate an electrode in good shape

If the measured potential difference is less than 162 mV, the electrode requires maintenance. Lift the flexible sleeve of the ground-joint diaphragm to let some electrolyte flow out. Repeat the measurement according to the steps above. If the value is still less than 162 mV, clean the electrode or replace it.

Proper rinsing and cleaning

Proper rinsing is essential if you want to obtain reliable results. Otherwise, the curve might flatten and the equivalence points are no longer recognizable. Figure 2 illustrates this phenomenon well.

Figure 2. Different determinations according to ASTM D664. With time, the start potential of the curves shifts which indicates an unsuitable cleaning procedure.

The sample is the same, however, you see that the equivalence point and starting potential begin to shift and the curves become flatter. This indicates an improper cleaning procedure between measurements. The corresponding electrode is shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3. Appearance of the electrode used in Figure 2 after five measurements.

This electrode was certainly not cleaned properly! Anyone who performs a nonaqueous titration must consider which solvent might best dissolve the residue—this is not an issue that other analysts can easily solve due to the nature of each individual sample. However, do not ignore an electrode with such an appearance.

Conditioning the glass membrane correctly

As you may remember from our previous blog post about pH measurement, it is essential that the hydration layer of the glass membrane stays intact. Nonaqueous solvents dehydrate the glass membrane rather quickly. A change in the hydration layer can have an impact on the measured potential, therefore it is important that the hydration layer is always in the same state before starting a titration to achieve the most reproducible results.

Proper electrode immersion depth

This can be established with a conditioning step of the glass membrane to rebuild the hydration layer. However, if the solvent is able to remove the hydration layer faster than it takes to perform a titration, this can lead to ghost equivalence points. Therefore, the electrode should be completely dehydrated and kept like this for all further titrations.


Polar solvents (e.g., ethanol, acetone, isopropyl alcohol, or mixtures with toluene)

Water-free solvents (e.g., dimethylformamide, acetonitrile, acetic anhydride, or mixtures of these)

Preparation of electrode

Store only the pH membrane (not the diaphragm) in deionized water overnight to build up a proper hydration layer.

Lift the flexible sleeve to allow some electrolyte to flow out.

Dehydrate the pH membrane by placing only the pH membrane (not the diaphragm) in the solvent you will use afterwards for titration.

Lift the flexible sleeve to allow some electrolyte to flow out.

Conditioning of glass membrane Place the pH membrane (bulb only) into deionized water for 1 minute. Place the pH membrane (bulb only) into the corresponding solvent for 1 minute.
Rinsing procedure Rinse electrode with 50–70% ethanol. If this does not help, use a suitable solvent to rinse the electrode and then clean afterwards with 50–70% ethanol. Rinse electrode with glacial acetic acid. If this does not help, use a suitable solvent to rinse the electrode and then clean afterwards with glacial acetic acid.
Remarks Make sure to always keep the bulb of the electrode in deionized water for the same time duration, otherwise the thickness of the hydrated layer (and therefore the response) may vary. Avoid any contact of the electrode with water as this can induce a reaction with the solvent causing ghost equivalence points and irreproducible results.

Maintenance of burets

It is not only the electrode that needs some special attention when performing nonaqueous titrations, but also the electrical buret. Some special maintenance is required since alkaline nonaqueous titrants are especially aggressive and they tend to crystallize, therefore leakage of the buret is likely.

The buret must be maintained on a regular basis according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Metrohm recommends the following procedure:

  • For shorter titration breaks, it is recommended to refill the cylinder with titrant (especially with OMNIS)
  • Clean the buret with deionized water at the end of the day
  • Lubricate the cylinder unit on the centering tube and on the cylinder disc

Also check the corresponding manual of the buret. The most important points are mentioned there which will lead to a longer working life of the buret.

Thermometric titration as an alternative

One alternative to using potentiometric nonaqueous acid-base titration is thermometric titration (TET), depending on the sample and analyte to be measured. Thermometric titration monitors the endothermic or exothermic reaction of a sample with the titrant using a very sensitive thermistor.

The benefit of TET over potentiometric titration is clearly the maintenance-free sensor which does not require any conditioning nor electrolyte refilling. More information about thermometric titration can be found in our previous blog posts below.


Hopefully this article has provided you with information about the main problems encountered during nonaqueous titrations. First, make sure that all electrostatic influences are eliminated. This will save a significant amount of troubleshooting. Then prepare and treat your electrode correctly before, during, and after titration. Make sure to condition the electrode right before your first measurement!

Of special importance here is the solvent you plan to use. If it is a polar solvent, the electrode should be conditioned in deionized water. If nonpolar solvents like acetic anhydride are used, the electrode should be dehydrated first. Between measurements, the electrode should be cleaned with a suitable solvent and the diaphragm should be opened on occasion.

Last but not least, take care of your buret. Maintain it regularly and replace it whenever necessary. With this advice, performing nonaqueous titrations should be a breeze!

For more information

about nonaqueous titrations, download our monograph:

Nonaqueous titration of acids and bases with potentiometric endpoint indication

Post written by Iris Kalkman (Product Specialist Titration at Metrohm International Headquarters, Herisau, Switzerland) and Dr. Sabrina Gschwind (Head of R&D at Metroglas, Affoltern, Switzerland).

Validation of titration methods

Validation of titration methods

Manufacturing products of the highest quality is a must, especially in the pharmaceutical and food industries. This requires accurate, reproducible, and simple analysis methods that eliminate human errors as much as possible. Automated titration is one such solution that offers additional time and cost savings to laboratories.

After applying automation to a titration method, how can you ensure that the chosen method also delivers a reliable result? And how do you know that it is suitable for the analysis of your analyte(s)? This requires method validation of a titration, which includes standardization of the titrant as well as determination of accuracy and precision, linearity, and specificity.

USP General Chapter <1225> Validation of Compendial Procedures and ICH Guidance Q2(R1) Validation of Analytical Procedures: Text and Methodology define the validation elements – some of the most important ones are described in the following article.

These include (click to go to each section):


Dilution and weighing errors as well as the constant aging of all titrants lead to changes in the concentration of the titrant. To obtain results that are as reliable as possible, the most accurate titrant concentration is a prerequisite. Standardization of the titrant is therefore an integral part of a titration method validation. The standardization procedures for various titrants are described in the Volumetric Solution section of USP – NF as well as in the Metrohm Application Bulletin AB-206 regarding the titer determination in potentiometry.

The titrant to be used in the validation must first be standardized against a primary standard or a pre-standardized titrant. It is important that the standardization step and the sample titration are carried out at the same temperature.

Primary standards are characterized by the following properties:

  • high purity and stability
  • low hygroscopicity (to minimize weight changes)
  • high molecular weight (to minimize weighing errors)

The use of a standard substance (primary standard) allows accuracy to be assessed.

For more information about titrant standardization, check out our blog posts «What to consider when standardizing titrant» (for potentiometric titration) and «Titer determination in Karl Fischer titration».

Accuracy and precision

Accuracy is defined as the proximity of the result to the true value. Therefore, it provides information about the bias of a method under validation. Accuracy should be determined over the entire concentration range.

Precision is usually expressed as the standard deviation (SD) or relative standard deviation (RSD). It expresses how well the individual results agree within an analysis of a homogeneous sample. Here, it is important that not only the analysis itself but also all sample preparation steps are performed independently for each analysis.

Precision is evaluated in three levels:

  1. Repeatability: the precision achieved by a single analyst for the same sample in a short period of time using the same equipment for all determinations.
  2. Intermediate precision: analysis of the same sample on different days, by different analysts and with different equipment, if possible, within the same laboratory.
  3. Reproducibility: precision obtained by analyzing the same sample in different laboratories.

Determination of both accuracy and precision is necessary, as only the combination of both factors ensures correct results (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Only when both precision and accuracy are high can correct results be obtained, as high precision does not necessarily mean good accuracy, and vice versa.

For titration, accuracy and repeatability are usually determined together. At least two to three determinations at three different concentration levels (in total six to nine determinations) are recommended. For assays, the recommendation is to use a concentration range of 80% to 120% of the intended sample weight.


Linearity expresses whether a particular method gives the correct results over the concentration range of interest. Since titration is an absolute method, linearity can usually be determined directly by varying the sample size and thus the analyte concentration.

To determine the linearity of a titration method in the range of interest, titrate at least five different sample sizes and plot a linear regression of the sample volume against the titration volume consumed (Figure 2). The coefficient of determination (R2) is used to assess linearity. The recommendation is to use a concentration range of 80% to 120% of the intended sample weight.

Figure 2. Linear regression curve for the assay of potassium bicarbonate.


Impurities, excipients, or degradation products are among the many components that may be present in a sample. Specificity is the ability to evaluate the analyte without interference from these other components. Therefore, it is necessary to demonstrate that the analytical procedure is not affected by such compounds. This is the case when either the equivalence point (EP) found is not shifted by the added impurities or excipients, or in the event it is shifted that a second EP corresponding to these added components can be observed when a potentiometric sensor is used for indication.

Specificity may be achieved by using suitable solvents (e.g., non-aqueous titration instead of aqueous titration for acid-base titration) or titration at a suitable pH value (e.g., complexometric titration of calcium at pH 12, where magnesium precipitates as magnesium hydroxide).

How can this be implemented in practice? The titrimetric determination of potassium bicarbonate with hydrochloric acid will serve as an example here.

In this case, potassium carbonate is expected as an impurity with pkb values of 8.3 and 3.89. This makes it possible to separate the two species during the acid-base titration. Figure 3 shows the comparison of a curve overlay of the titration curves of potassium bicarbonate with and without added potassium carbonate.

Figure 3. Curve overlay of the specificity test using 1 g KHCO3 with and without 0.5 g K2CO3 (green and orange = no K2CO3 added; blue and yellow = K2CO3 added). Click to enlarge.

The lower titration curve corresponds to the solution containing both potassium bicarbonate and potassium carbonate. Two EPs are found here: the first EP can be assigned to the added potassium carbonate, while the second corresponds to the sum of potassium bicarbonate and potassium carbonate. The curve at the top of the figure clearly shows only one EP for the potassium bicarbonate solution without impurities.

Find out more about the proper recognition of endpoints (EP) in our previous blog post.


If you follow the recommendations above, you will be ready for titration method validation – and now it`s time to get started!

Using potentiometric autotitration instead of manual titration increases the accuracy and reliability of your results. In addition, the use of an autotitrator ensures that critical regulatory compliance requirements, such as data integrity are met.

Right from the start, Metrohm products provide peace of mind and confidence in the quality of the data you produce with proper IQ/OQ.

If you would like to learn more about Metrohm Analytical Instrument Qualification, have a look at our two blog posts dedicated to this important topic.

Additional security is also provided, e.g., by Metrohm Buret Calibration which ensures that the accuracy and precision of your dosing device are within the required tolerances. Traceable monitoring of the performance and function of the instrument through regular re-qualifications and tests is therefore a given.

Watch our free webinar

available on demand!

How to convert from manual to automated titration procedures

Post written by Doris Hoffmann, Product Manager Titration at Metrohm International Headquarters, Herisau, Switzerland.

How much do pipes rust in a year?

How much do pipes rust in a year?

Why is corrosion important?

According to the Association of Materials Protection and Performance (AMPP) the total estimated annual cost of corrosion is as high as 3.5% of a country’s GDP [1]. An AMPP international study [2] found that in the United States alone, the corrosion related cost can be as high as $1.4 billion USD annually in the oil and gas exploration and production sector. This figure climbs even higher, up to $40 billion USD for gas and drinking water distribution plus sewer systems. This is an unavoidable problem with a high cost to bear.

Even though the corrosion itself isn’t unavoidable, it can be controlled by using the right material in the right place. Using a reliable test method that evaluates the material’s resistance against corrosion and predicts its potential failure is of the utmost importance. This test method should also be cost-effective and practicable.

What is corrosion?

Corrosion refers to a naturally occurring process that involves the deterioration or degradation of metals and alloys through a chemical reaction. The corrosion rate is highly dependent on the type of material, ambient temperature, contaminants/impurities, and other environmental factors. Most corrosion phenomena are electrochemical in nature and consist of at least two reactions on the surface of the metals or alloys.

For example:

These electrochemical process require three main elements:

  • Anode: where the metal corrosion occurs.
  • Cathode: the electrical conductor, which is not consumed during the corrosion process in the real-life electrochemical cell configuration.
  • Electrolyte: the corrosive medium that enables the transfer of electrons between the anode and the cathode.

Depending on the materials and environment, corrosion can occur in different ways, such as uniform corrosion, pitting corrosion, crevice corrosion, galvanic corrosion, or microbiologically induced corrosion to name just a few. Learn more about the different types of corrosion in our free white paper.

This white paper also includes details about relevant electrochemical techniques including Linear Sweep Voltammetry (LSV), Electrochemical Impedance Spectroscopy (EIS), and Electrochemical Noise (ECN or ZRA). These techniques allow for the exploration of corrosion mechanisms, the behavior of different materials, the rate at which corrosion occurs, and also to determine the suitability of the corrosion protection solutions such as protective coatings and inhibitors, among others.

Find out more about these subjects individually with our selection of free Application Notes (AN).
Calculation of corrosion parameters with NOVA – Tafel plot corresponding to corrosion behavior of iron in seawater. (Click to enlarge)

Creating pipe-flow conditions in your corrosion laboratory

Internal corrosion is the most problematic cause of pipeline failure. To understand the fundamentals about corrosion failure and its root causes within pipelines, a similar environment should be created in the lab.

The Rotating Cylinder Electrode (RCE) is an integral part of creating hydrodynamic electrochemical experiments in the lab that create turbulent flow conditions which realistically simulate the situation for liquids flowing through pipes. The RCE can be used with most electrochemical techniques such as chronoamperometry, chronopotentiometry, and potential sweep.

Study of the corrosion rate as a function of rotation speed (convective flux) is one of the most common applications for the RCE. Corrosion studies can be performed using linear or cyclic polarization measurements (LP, DPD, CP), electrochemical impedance spectroscopy (EIS), and electrochemical noise (ECN) with respect to the rotation speed.

Results obtained by electrochemical methods are more accurate and are obtained much faster than conventional corrosion investigation methods (e.g. salt spray), providing more efficiency and productivity to any corrosion measurement laboratory. Learn about the RCE and how to simulate realistic pipe-flow conditions in the lab combined with electrochemical corrosion techniques in our free white paper.

One typical method in electrochemical corrosion studies is linear polarization (LP). With this method, it is possible to evaluate the corrosion behavior of a sample under pipe-flow (i.e. turbulent flow) conditions and learn about the corrosion rate of the sample at a specific flow rate.

Metrohm offers two Application Notes that use this technique specifically:

The Tafel plot obtained from LP measurement gives an indication of the corrosion potential. Using dedicated analysis tools in the NOVA software from Metrohm Autolab, the corrosion rate analysis can be performed and corrosion rate can be calculated, giving an indication of how much the pipe will rust in a year (in mm/year) under given conditions. Once this information is available for a certain material, a more corrosion resistive environment can be developed by applying a certain coating or a corrosion inhibitor.

Tafel plot created by Metrohm Autolab’s NOVA software. Blue line is measured without corrosion inhibitor and red line is measured with corrosion inhibitor.
Tafel plot created by Metrohm Autolab’s NOVA software corresponding to the measurements done in quiescent electrolyte (blue) and under 500 RPM rotation rate (red). All other experimental parameters were kept the same.

A second evaluation can be performed to learn how much the pipe will rust in a year, under these resistive conditions. In the example below, under standard conditions, the corrosion rate of carbon steel is measured at 0.25 mm/yr. However, when a specific corrosion inhibitor is used (tryptamine in this case), the performance is significantly improved and the corrosion rate drops to 0.065 mm/yr. These results can be achieved in a matter of minutes by using electrochemical methods, whereas by conventional methods (e.g., salt spray chamber combined with weight loss analysis), it takes up to a few months to conclude the results. That is a huge difference in efficiency!

Corrosion Parameter No Inhibitor With Inhibitor
Ecorr (V) from linear regression -0.479 -0.392
Ecorr (V) from Tafel analysis -0.482 -0.396
Rp (Ω) from linear regression 42.62 135.96
Rp (Ω) from Tafel analysis 43.32 136.39
Corrosion rate (mm/year) from Tafel analysis 0.25 0.065
Linear regression and Tafel analysis data resulting from experiments with and without corrosion inhibitor.


Understanding the corrosion behavior of a material under real-life conditions helps manufacturers to more quickly optimize the material design in terms of corrosion resistance, either by using a more suitable material for the pipes or by using adequate corrosion protection methods (i.e., coatings or corrosion inhibitors), which results in significant cost savings and safer operation.

Post written by Dr. Reza Fathi, Product Specialist at Metrohm Autolab, Utrecht, The Netherlands.