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What to consider during back-titration

What to consider during back-titration

Titrations can be classified in various ways: by their chemical reaction (e.g., acid-base titration or redox titration), the indication method (e.g., potentiometric titration or photometric titration), and last but not least by their titration principle (direct titration or indirect titration). In this article, I want to elaborate on a specific titration principle – the back-titration – which is also called «residual titration». Learn more about when it is used and how you should calculate results when using the back-titration principle.

What is a back-titration?

In contrast to direct titrations, where analyte A directly reacts with titrant T, back-titrations are a subcategory of indirect titrations. Indirect titrations are used when, for example, no suitable sensor is available or the reaction is too slow for a practical direct titration.

During a back-titration, an exact volume of reagent B is added to the analyte A. Reagent B is usually a common titrant itself. The amount of reagent B is chosen in such a way that an excess remains after its interaction with analyte A. This excess is then titrated with titrant T. The amount of analyte A can then be determined from the difference between the added amount of reagent B and the remaining excess of reagent B.

As with any titration, both involved reactions must be quantitative, and stoichiometric factors involved for both reactions must be known.

Figure 1. Reaction principle of a back-titration: Reagent B is added in excess to analyte A. After a defined waiting period which allows for the reaction between A and B, the excess of reagent B is titrated with titrant T.

When are back-titrations used?

Back titrations are mainly used in the following cases:

  • if the analyte is volatile (e.g., NH3) or an insoluble salt (e.g., Li2CO3)
  • if the reaction between analyte A and titrant T is too slow for a practical direct titration
  • if weak acid – weak base reactions are involved
  • when no suitable indication method is available for a direct titration

Typical examples are complexometric titrations, for example aluminum with EDTA. This direct titration is only feasible at elevated temperatures. However, adding EDTA in excess to aluminum and back-titrating the residual EDTA with copper sulfate allows a titration at room temperature. This is not only true for aluminum, but for other metals as well.

Learn which metals can be titrated directly, and for which a back-titration is more feasible in our free monograph on complexometric titration.

Other examples include the saponification value and iodine value for edible fats and oils. For the saponification value, ethanolic KOH is added in excess to the fat or oil. After a determined refluxing time to saponify the oil or fat, the remaining excess is back-titrated with hydrochloric acid. The process is similar for the iodine value, where the remaining excess of iodine chloride (Wijs-solution) is back-titrated with sodium thiosulfate.

For more information on the analysis of edible fats and oils, take a look at our corresponding free Application Bulletin AB-141.

How is a back-titration performed?

A back titration is performed according to the following general principle:

  1. Add reagent B in excess to analyte A.
  2. Allow reagent B to react with analyte A. This might require a certain waiting time or even refluxing (e.g., saponification value).
  3. Titration of remaining excess of reagent B with titrant T.

For the first step, it is important to precisely add the volume of reagent B. Therefore, it is important to use a buret for this addition (Fig. 2).

Figure 2. Example of a Titrator equipped with an additional buret for the addition of reagent B.

Furthermore, it is important that the exact molar amount of reagent B is known. This can be achieved in two ways. The first way is to carry out a blank determination in the same manner as the back-titration of the sample, however, omitting the sample. If reagent B is a common titrant (e.g., EDTA), it is also possible to carry out a standardization of reagent B before the back-titration.

In any case, as standardization of titrant T is required. This then gives us the following two general analysis procedures:

Back-titration with blank
  1. Titer determination of titrant T
  2. Blank determination (back-titration omitting sample)
  3. Back-titration of sample
Back-titration with standardizations
  1. Titer determination of titrant T
  2. Titer determination of reagent B
  3. Back-titration of sample

Be aware: since you are performing a back-titration, the blank volume will be larger than the equivalence point (EP) volume, unlike a blank in a direct titration. This is why the EP volume must be subtracted from the blank or the added volume of reagent B, respectively.

For more information on titrant standardization, please have a look at our blog entry on this topic.

How to calculate the result for a back-titration?

As with direct titrations, to calculate the result of a back-titration it is necessary to know the involved stoichiometric reactions, aside from the exact concentrations and the volumes. Depending on which analysis procedure described above is used, the calculation of the result is slightly different.

For a back-titration with a blank, use the following formula to obtain a result in mass-%:

VBlank:  Volume of the equivalence point from the blank determination in mL

VEP Volume at the equivalence point in mL

cTitrant:  Nominal titrant concentration in mol/L

fTitrant Titer factor of the titrant (unitless)

r:  Stoichiometric ratio (unitless)

MA Molecular weight of analyte A in g/mol

mSample Weight of sample in mg

100:  Conversion factor, to obtain the result in %

The stoichiometric ratio r considers both reactions, analyte A with reagent B and reagent B with titrant T. If the stoichiometric factor is always 1, such as for complexometric back-titrations or the saponification value, then the reaction ratio is also 1. However, if the stoichiometric factor for one reaction is not equal to 1, then the reaction ratio must be determined. The reaction ratio can be determined in the following manner:

 

  1. Reaction equation between A and B
  2. Reaction equation between B and T
  3. Multiplication of the two reaction quotients
Example 1

Reaction ratio: 

Example 2

Reaction ratio: 

Below is an actual example of lithium carbonate, which can be determined by back-titration using sulfuric acid and sodium hydroxide.

The lithium carbonate reacts in a 1:1 ratio with sulfuric acid. To determine the excess sulfuric acid, two moles of sodium hydroxide are required per mole of sulfuric acid, resulting in a 1:2 ratio. This gives a stoichiometric ratio r of 0.5 for this titration.

 For a back-titration with a standardization of reagent B, use the following formula to obtain a result in mass-%:

VB Added volume of the reagent B in mL

cB:  Nominal concentration of reagent B in mol/L

fB:  Titer factor of reagent B (unitless)

VEP:  Volume at the equivalence point in mL

cT:  Nominal concentration of titrant T in mol/L

fT Titer factor of the titrant T (unitless)

sBT Stoichiometric factor between reagent B and titrant T

sAB:  Stoichiometric factor between analyte A and reagent B

MA:  Molecular weight of analyte A in g/mol

mSample:  Weight of sample in mg

100:  Conversion factor, to obtain the result in %

Modern titrators are capable of automatically calculating the results of back-titrations. All information concerning the used variables (e.g., blank value) are stored together with the result for full traceability.

To summarize:

Back-titrations are not so different from regular titrations, and the same general principles apply. The following points are necessary for a back-titration: 

  • Know the stoichiometric reactions between your analyte and reagent B, as well as between reagent B and titrant T.
  • Know the exact concentration of your titrant T.
  • Know the exact concentration of your reagent B, or carry out a blank determination.
  • Use appropriate titration parameters depending on your analysis.

If you want to learn more about how you can improve your titration, have a look at our blog entry “How to transfer manual titration to autotitration”, where you can find practical tips about how to improve your titrations.

If you are unsure how to determine the exact concentration of your titrant T or reagent B by standardization, then take a look at our blog entry “What to consider when standardizing titrant”.

Post written by Lucia Meier, Product Specialist Titration at Metrohm International Headquarters, Herisau, Switzerland.

Titer determination in Karl Fischer Titration

Titer determination in Karl Fischer Titration

In a recent post, we have discussed the importance of titer determinations for potentiometric titrations.

Without a titer determination, you will not obtain correct results. The same applies for volumetric Karl Fischer (KF) titrations. In this blog post, I will cover the following topics (click to jump directly to each):

Why should I do titer determinations?

Why is a titer determination necessary? Well, the answer is quite simple. Without knowing the titer of a KF titrant, the water content of the sample cannot be calculated correctly. In Karl Fischer titration, the titer states how many mg of water can be titrated with one mL of titrant. Therefore, the KF titer has the unit «mg/mL».

You might say: “Now, ok, let’s determine the titer. That isn’t too much work and afterwards, I know the titer value and I don’t need to repeat the titer determination.

I agree this would be very nice. However, reality is somewhat different. You must carry out titer determinations on a regular basis. In closed bottles, KF titrants are very stable and the titer does not change appreciably. Once you open the bottle, the KF titrant starts to change significantly. Air will enter the bottle, and considering that 1 L of air contains several milligrams of water, you can imagine that this moisture has an influence on the titer. To prevent moist air from getting into the titrant, the bottle must be either tightly closed after use with the original cap, or should be protected with an absorber tube filled with a molecular sieve (0.3 nm).

Please be aware that temperature changes also have an influence on the titer. A temperature increase of the titrant by 1 °C leads to a titer decrease of approximately 0.1% due to volume expansion. Consider this, in case the temperature in your laboratory fluctuates during the working day.

Do not forget: if your titration system is stopped overnight, the reagent in the tubes and in the cylinder is affected and the titer is no longer equal to the titrant in the bottle. Therefore, I recommend first running a preparation step to flush all tubes before the first titration.

How often should I perform titer determinations?

This question is asked frequently, and unfortunately has no simple answer. In other words, I cannot recommend a single fixed interval for titer determinations. The frequency depends on various factors:

  • the type of reagent (two-component titrants are more stable than single-component titrants)
  • the tightness of the seals between the titration vessel and the titrant bottle
  • how accurate the water content in the sample must be determined

In the beginning, I would recommend performing a titer determination on a daily basis. After a few days, it will become apparent whether the titer remains stable or decreases. Then you can decide to adjust the interval between successive titer determinations.

What equipment do I need for a titer determination?

You need a fully equipped titrator for volumetric KF titration, as well as the KF reagents (titrant and solvent). Another prerequisite for accurate titer determinations is an analytical balance with a minimal resolution of 0.1 mg. Last but not least, you need a standard containing a known amount of water and some tools to add the standard to the titration vessel. These tools are discussed in the next section.

How to carry out a titer determination

Three different water standards are available for titer determinations. There are both liquid and solid standards available from various reagent suppliers. The third possibility is available in every laboratory: distilled water. Below, we will take a closer look at the individual handling of these three standards. For determination of appropriate sample sizes, you can download our free Application Bulletin AB-424, Titer determination in volumetric Karl Fischer titration.

1. Liquid water standard

For the addition of a liquid water standard, you need a syringe and a needle.

There are two possibilities to add liquid standard. One is to inject it with the tip of the needle placed above the reagent level. In this case, aspirate the last drop back into the syringe. Otherwise, it will be dropped off at the septum. The droplet is included in the sample weight, but the water content in the drop is not determined. This will lead to false results.

If the needle is long enough, you can immerse the tip in the reagent during the standard addition. In this case, there is no last droplet to consider, and you can pull the needle out of the titration vessel without any additional aspiration step.

Step-by-step – how to carry out a titer determination:

  1. Open the ampoule containing the standard as recommended by the manufacturer.
  2. Aspirate approximately 1 mL of the standard into the syringe.
  3. Remove the tip of the needle from the liquid and pull the plunger back to the maximum volume. Sway the syringe to rinse it with standard. Then eject the 1 mL of standard into the waste.
  4. Aspirate the remaining content of the ampoule into the needle.
  5. Remove any excess liquid from the outside of the needle with a paper tissue.
  6. Place the needle on a balance, and tare the balance.
  7. Then, start the determination and inject a suitable amount of standard through the septum into the titration vessel. Please take care that the standard is injected into the reagent and not at the electrode or the wall of the titration vessel. This leads to unreproducible results.
  8. After injecting the standard, place the syringe again on the balance.
  9. Enter the sample weight in the software.
2. Solid water standard

It is not possible to add the solid water standard with a syringe. For this, different tools are required. Here, examples are shown of a weighing boat and the Metrohm OMNIS spoon for paste.

Place the weighing boat on the balance, then tare the balance. Weigh in an appropriate amount of the solid standard, and tare the balance again. Start the titration, quickly remove the stopper with septum, add the solid standard and quickly replace the stopper. When adding the standard, take care that no standard sticks to the electrode or the walls of the titration vessel. In case that happens, gently swirl the titration vessel to wash down the standard. After the addition of the standard, place the weighing boat on the balance again and enter the sample weight in the software.

3. Pure water

Pure water can be added to the titration vessel either by weight or by volume.

For a titer determination with pure water, only a few drops are required. Such small volumes can be difficult to add precisely, and results strongly depend on the user. Moreover, addition by weight requires a balance capable of weighing a few milligrams. I personally prefer using water standards, and suggest that you use them as well.

By weight

Fill a small syringe (~1 mL) with water. Due to the very small amounts of pure water added for the titer determination, I recommend using a very thin needle to more accurately add small volumes. After filling the syringe, place it on a balance and tare the balance. Then start the titration, and inject an appropriate amount of water through the septum into the titration vessel. Aspirate the last droplet back into the syringe. Remove the needle, place the syringe on the balance again, and enter the sample weight in the software.

By volume

Fill a microliter syringe with an appropriate volume of water. Make sure there are no air bubbles in the syringe, as they will falsify the result. Begin the titration and inject the syringe contents through the septum into the titration vessel. Enter the added sample size in the software.

Acceptable results

During trainings, I am often asked if the obtained result is acceptable. I recommend carrying out a threefold titer determination. Ideally, the relative standard deviation of those three determinations is smaller than 0.3%.

How long can the reagent be used?

As long as you carry out regular titer determinations, the titer change will be considered in the calculation, and the results will be correct. Just keep in mind: the lower the titer, the larger the volume needed for the determination.

I hope I was able to convince you that titer determination is essential to obtain correct results in volumetric Karl Fischer titration, and that it is not that difficult to perform.

In case you still have unanswered questions, please download Metrohm Application Bulletin AB-424 to get additional information, tips, and tricks on performing titer determination.

Still have questions?

Check out our Application Bulletin: Titer determination in volumetric Karl Fischer titration.

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

What to consider when standardizing titrant

What to consider when standardizing titrant

If you perform titrations on a regular basis, then you’ve certainly heard about standardization of the titrant. When carrying out a standardization you determine the titer, which is a correction factor for your titrant concentration, as it is normally not exactly the value written on the reagent bottle label. In this blog entry, I want to give you some valuable information about why standardization is important and how to determine the titer.

Please note this blog entry will not deal with the standardization of Karl Fischer titrants.

What is the titer factor?

Titration is an absolute method (or primary method), meaning it is of utmost importance to know the exact concentration of the titrant you are using for your results to be accurate and repeatable by other analysts. This is why you need to carry out a standardization.

Usually the difference between the nominal concentration (e.g., 0.1 mol/L) and the absolute concentration (e.g., 0.0998 mol/L) is given by a dimensionless factor (e.g., 0.0998). The absolute concentration is obtained by multiplying the nominal concentration with this factor, which is usually called «titer». In some cases, it is the absolute concentration which is called «titer».

Over the following sections I will present you the essentials on standardization, regardless if you use the word «titer» for the correction factor or for the absolute concentration.

Why should you standardize your titrant?

Knowing the exact titrant concentration is important for correct titration results. This is especially true for self-made titrants, but this is also an important step for commercially available titrants. Titrants can age over time, and thus their concentrations will change.

For example: alkaline titrants, such as NaOH or KOH, will absorb CO2 from ambient air, or iodine-rich solutions will release iodine. Therefore, standardization will give you more security to obtain the correct results for your titrations. 

What can I do to prevent changes to the titer factor?

This depends on which titrant you use for the analysis. The easiest thing to consider is the bottle you plan to store your titrant inside. Some titrants are light-sensitive, and should be stored in dark brown or opaque glass bottles. Others may react with glass, and are best stored in plastic bottles.

Titrants best stored in brown glass bottles:

  • Iodine (I2)
  • Potassium permanganate (KMnO4)
  • Silver nitrate (AgNO3)

Titrants best stored in plastic bottles:

  • Aqueous bases (e.g., NaOH, KOH)
  • Non-aqueous bases (e.g., TBAOH)

Another preventive measure is the use of absorber or adsorber material filled into a tube which is connected to the ventilation part of your buret. This is especially important for titrants which react with CO2 or water from the air.

Use soda lime to absorb CO2 and a molecular sieve for moisture. Even if your titrant is not sensitive, it is still recommended to fill the tube with cotton, which will prevent the entry of dust into the bottle.

The image shown here (click to enlarge) shows an example of an absorber tube filled with soda lime attached to a buret for NaOH. This will avoid the solution losing strength due to carbon dioxide in the ambient air.

Titrants for which soda lime for CO2 absorption should be used:

  • Aqueous and non-aqueous bases (e.g., NaOH, KOH, TBAOH)
  • Sodium thiosulfate (Na2S2O3)

Titrants for which molecular sieve for moisture adsorption should be used:

  • Perchloric acid (HClO4) in glacial acetic acid

How often should I standardize my titrant?

This question cannot be answered with a general number. Frequency of titrant standardization depends on multiple factors, such as titrant stability, the number of titrations per day/week/month, and the required accuracy for your results.

You should always carry out a standardization when you open a titrant bottle for the first time.

The following table is a guideline which should help you to select the frequency for standardizing your titrants. If you are unsure about the stability of your titrant, carry out frequent standardizations (e.g., daily) over a longer period of time until you are able to establish a standardization frequency based on your obtained titer data. The obtained data will show you how much your titer changes over time, and you can then select a suitable determination frequency. Newer software offers the possibility of monitoring your titer. This will help you as well during this task.

Stable titrants:

  • Aqueous acids (e.g., HCl, H2SO4)
  • EDTA
  • Silver nitrate (AgNO3)
  • Sodium thiosulfate (Na2S2O3)
  • Cationic and anionic surfactants

Unstable titrants:

  • Aqueous and non-aqueous bases (e.g., NaOH, KOH, TBAOH)
  • Non-aqueous acids (e.g., HClO4)
  • Iodine (I2)
  • Potassium permanganate (KMnO4)

How to determine the titer

The titer is determined using a primary standard or an already standardized titrant. In either case, be sure to carry out the standardization at the same temperature as the sample titration, as the temperature influences the density of the titrant. Titrants expand at higher temperatures, and thus their titer factor decreases.

Describing the titer determination for every titrant would be beyond the scope of this blog. I will therefore only describe the titer determination procedure here for both cases – using a primary standard or an already standardized titrant – in a general way. If you want to know more about which primary standard is recommended for which titrant, then check out our corresponding Application Bulletin. 

Download the free Metrohm Application Bulletin here:

If you are using a primary standard, dry it at a suitable temperature for a few hours. Allow it to cool down in a desiccator until the substance reaches room temperature, then weigh out an appropriate amount of dried standard for the titration. The weight of the standard depends on the titrant concentration and on the buret volume. I recommend a standard weight which leads to an equivalence point at approximately 50% of the buret volume. If your weight is less than 100 mg, I recommend to prepare a standard solution with your primary standard, as otherwise the weighing error becomes too large.

After you have weighed out your standard or pipetted your standard solution into a beaker, add enough diluent (solvent or water) to immerse the measuring and reference part of the sensor, and start the titration.

If you are using an already standardized titrant, the procedure is a bit simpler. Don’t forget, this titrant should be freshly standardized with a primary standard. Accurately pipette an appropriate amount of standardized titrant into a titration beaker. Add enough diluent (solvent or water) to immerse the measuring and reference part of the sensor, and start the titration.

Shifting gears: What are primary standards?

Primary standards fulfill several criteria which makes them ideal for the standardization of titrants. Primary standards are of:

  • High purity and stability
  • Low hygroscopy (to minimize weight changes)
  • High molecular weight (to minimize weighing errors)

Additionally, they are traceable to standard reference materials (e.g., NIST traceable).

How to calculate the titer factor

After you’ve finished the titrations for the standardization, now it’s time to calculate the titer factor. Again, the formula for the calculation differs slightly depending on whether you have used a solid, dry primary standard or a standard solution / standardized titrant.

 

For a solid, dry primary standard use the following formula:

mSTD:  Weight of primary standard in mg

MSTD:  Molecular weight of primary standard in g/mol

VEP:  Volume at the equivalence point in mL

cTitrant:  Nominal titrant concentration in mol/L

s:  Stoichiometric factor

For a standard solution / standardized titrant use the following formula:

VSTD:  Volume of standard solution / standardized titrant in mL

cSTD:  Absolute concentration of standard solution / standardized titrant in mol/L

VEP:  Volume at the equivalence point in mL

cTitrant:  Nominal titrant concentration in mol/L

s:  Stoichiometric factor

Modern titrators are capable of automatically calculating the titer factor and saving the result together with other relevant titrant data such as concentration and sample name, further improving the data security in your lab.

To summarize:

Standardization of the titrant is not so difficult, just keep in mind to:

  • Carry out standardization regularly — even for ready-made titrants to improve result accuracy of your results.
  • Use dry primary standards or freshly standardized titrants.
  • Carry out the standardization at the same temperature as the sample titration.

If you want to learn more about how you can improve your titration, have a look at our blog entry “How to transfer manual titration to autotitration”, where you can find practical tips about how to improve your titrations.

Want to learn more?

Download our free monograph:

Practical aspects of modern titration

Post written by Lucia Meier, Product Specialist Titration at Metrohm International Headquarters, Herisau, Switzerland.

Tips and Tricks for IC Columns

Tips and Tricks for IC Columns

Monitoring and maintaining column performance

One of the basic requirements for ensuring reliable chromatographic analyses is a high-performance separation column. Ion chromatography (IC) users should regularly check the performance of their column. This way, if a drop in performance becomes apparent, steps can be taken in good time to restore or maintain the proper functioning of the column, reducing downtimes in sample throughput. In this blog post, we explain how you can assess column performance, which parameters you should monitor, and which measures you can take to ensure excellent column performance.

 

First-time use of a new separation column

When you use a column for the very first time, we recommend that you check its initial performance. The Certificate of Analysis (CoA), which you receive with every purchase of a Metrohm column, is your source of reference here. Record a chromatogram and use the analysis conditions specified in the CoA: these include flow rate, temperature, eluent (mobile phase), analyte concentration, sample loop size, and suppression.

You can evaluate the column’s performance by comparing some of the result parameters with the values listed in the CoA (e.g. retention time, theoretical plates, asymmetry, resolution, and peak height).

Regular monitoring of column performance

Columns that are already in use should be monitored regularly, too! We recommend carrying out these tests with check standards under the application conditions you normally use, because performance varies depending on the type of analysis and associated analysis conditions as well as the instrumental setup. If a reduction in performance is observed, the requirements of the application are crucial to determine whether it can still be used.

Below, we explain how to determine your column performance based on five performance indicators. You will also find out how you can prevent or rectify a decline in performance.

Click to jump directly to a topic:

 

Backpressure

Monitor the backpressure: When you use your new column for the first time, save the backpressure value under the analysis conditions of your application as a reference («common variable» in MagIC Net). Then use the user-defined results to monitor the difference between the initial backpressure and the one displayed during the current determination.

If you identify an increase in the backpressure in comparison with the saved initial value, this indicates that particles have been deposited in either the guard column or separation column. If the measured increase is greater than 1 MPa, action must be taken. First, you should check which of the columns is affected (guard vs. separation). If the guard column is contaminated, it should be replaced, as this is its primary function. If the separation column is affected, remove it from the system, turn it around and reinstall, and then rinse it for several hours in this reversed flow direction. If this doesn’t help, we strongly recommend that you consider replacing the column. This will be essential if the maximum permitted backpressure for the column is reached.

Retention time

To track changes in the retention time (which signal a decrease in column performance), the retention time of the last analyte peak is monitored in the chromatogram. Sulfate, for example, is suitable for this, as it usually elutes right at the end of standard anion chromatograms. Here too, work with a common variable in MagIC Net to save the initial value.

Unstable retention times can be caused by carbon dioxide introduced from the ambient air or from air bubbles present in the eluent. Luckily, these problems can be resolved easily (see Table 1).

Table 1. Preventing and correcting performance loss in IC columns (click to enlarge).

The column may also have lost some capacity. This capacity loss can be caused by the presence of high-valency ions which are difficult to remove due to their strong attraction to the stationary phase. The column should then be regenerated in accordance with the column leaflet to remove any contamination. If this doesn’t lead to any improvement, then consider replacing the column depending on the requirements of the application, particularly in the event of progressive capacity loss.

Capacity loss can also occur if the functional groups are permanently detached from the stationary phase. In such a case, the column cannot be regenerated and must be replaced.

Resolution

Monitor the chromatographic resolution by comparing measurements from a predefined check standard with an initial reference value. If the resolution is R > 1.5, the signal is considered baseline-separated (see illustration below). However, in cases involving highly concentrated matrices and for peaks that are more widely spread, the resolution value must be higher to ensure baseline separation.

If a loss of resolution occurs, first make sure that it is not caused by the eluent or the IC system. Once these have been ruled out, it is possible that the adsorptive effect of contaminations in the guard column or separation column may be responsible. A contaminated guard column should be replaced. If the cause of the problem is found to be the separation column, this should be regenerated in accordance with the column leaflet to free it from any organic or inorganic contamination. If the loss of resolution progresses, a column replacement is inevitable.

Theoretical plates

Save the initial number of theoretical plates in MagIC Net as a common variable, as mentioned earlier for other parameters. Usually, the last eluting peak is used – in anion chromatograms, sulfate would yet again prove to be a suitable candidate. Theoretical plates also depend on the analyte concentration. Therefore, it is ideal to monitor this parameter during check standard measurements and not during sample measurements. You can track the development of any changes to the number of theoretical plates via the user-defined results in MagIC Net.

A decrease in the theoretical plates can suggest dead volume in the IC system (see Table 1). A low number of theoretical plates may also be observed if the column has been overloaded by a high salt concentration in the sample matrix, for instance. If the theoretical plates decrease by more than 20%, this indicates that column performance is declining. Depending on the requirements of the application, action may need to be taken.

If the guard column is the reason for the drop in performance, it should be replaced. If the problem is with the separation column, we recommend regenerating the column in accordance with the column leaflet to eliminate any organic or inorganic contamination. If this doesn’t help, you should consider replacing the column, particularly if a trend toward lower theoretical plates is observed.

Asymmetry

Determine the initial asymmetry of the analytes by measuring a predefined check standard under the analysis conditions of your application. Save it as a common variable, then track the user-defined results to observe the development of asymmetry over time. The maximum acceptable values for the asymmetry vary depending on the analyte. For example, calcium and magnesium peaks initially present relatively high asymmetry values.

Asymmetry is defined as the distance from the centerline of the peak to the descending side of the peak (B in the figure below) divided by the distance from the centerline of the peak to the ascending side of the peak (A in the figure below), where both distances are measured at 10% of the peak height. Some pharmacopoeia may use other figures – please check to be sure of the requirements in your country.

AS > 1 means a peak has tailing, and AS < 1 equates to peak fronting. Optimum chromatography is achieved with peak asymmetries as close as possible to 1. As a general rule, column performance is considered in decline when the asymmetry is AS > 2 or AS < 0.5. Depending on the requirements of the application, measures have to be taken in this case in order to improve symmetry and to enable better integration.

The reason for high asymmetry values may be down to the ion chromatograph – due to dead volume, for example. If this is not the case, it is important to find out whether the asymmetry is caused by problems with the guard column or with the separation column. If the guard column causes the asymmetry, it should be replaced. If it is the separation column, it should first be regenerated in accordance with the column leaflet to remove any organic or inorganic contamination. If this doesn’t help, you should consider replacing the column. If a trend toward higher asymmetry values can be observed, replacement is unavoidable.

In summary, there are many ways in which you can estimate the performance of the column and track concrete figures over its lifetime. Proper maintenance can extend the lifetime of the separation column, as well as always using a guard column for extra protection.

Need help choosing the right column for your application?

Look no further!

Try the Metrohm Column Finder here:

For further guidance about IC column maintenance, you can watch our tutorial videos here:

Post written by Dr. Alyson Lanciki, Scientific Editor at Metrohm International Headquarters, Herisau, Switzerland. Primary research and content contribution done by Stephanie Kappes.

Determining the total sulfite in food and beverages: faster and easier than ever

Determining the total sulfite in food and beverages: faster and easier than ever

The chances are good that if you’re reading this, you are an analytical chemist or somehow connected to the food science sector. Maybe you have had the lucky experience of measuring sulfite (SO32-) before in the laboratory. I certainly have, and the adventure regarding tedious sample preparation and proper measurement of such a finicky analyte still haunts me today, years later.

Why sulfite?

Sulfite is a preservative added to a vast range of foods and beverages to prevent browning or oxidation. Some individuals are sensitive to sulfite additives and may experience a range of allergic reactions. Therefore, both the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and European Union (EU) laws require that the presence of sulfites be declared on food labels when the concentration exceeds 10 mg/L.

To put this into perspective, an Olympic size swimming pool can hold about 2,500,000 liters, meaning anything beyond 25 kilograms (the average mass of one young child!) would need to be reported.

So, which foods contain sulfite?

Many foods and beverages contain sulfite – whether added to prolong the freshness, or occurring naturally as a byproduct from processes like fermentation. Typically, the first things that come to mind are wine, beer, or dried fruit snacks. However, many pickled and otherwise preserved items such as sauerkraut, canned fruits and vegetables, and even frozen foods contain significant levels of sulfites. Processed meats, several condiments, and some prepared doughs are also high on the list of offenders, so beware at your next picnic!

If you think you may be sensitive to sulfites, don’t forget to check the nutrition facts, and try to avoid such foodstuffs.

How is sulfite usually measured?

Several analytical methods exist to measure sulfite in food and beverages, however they suffer from repeatability issues, and can be quite cumbersome to perform.

Traditionally, the optimized Monier-Williams (OMW) AOAC Official Method 990.28 was used for quantification of sulfite in most foodstuffs, but the method detection limit now lies at the regulatory labeling threshold. Automated discrete analysis methods have been reported for sulfite analysis, but they are limited by their strong dependence on sample matrix type. Therefore these methods are less than ideal for laboratories where sulfite analysis is required for a wide variety of food and beverage products.

Methods based on ion chromatography (IC) with conductivity detection exhibit a lack of selectivity combined with an extended analysis time due to separation challenges. A newer method developed by AOAC (Method 990.31) focuses on the use of ion-exclusion chromatography followed by electrochemical (amperometric) detection of samples.

Another issue arises concerning the sensitivity of the detector. After a few injections, fouling from contaminants rapidly decreases the electrode sensitivity. Frequent reconditioning of the working electrode is necessary due to a rising background and baseline noise, and can be accomplished in a couple of ways. Manual polishing and utilizing pulsed amperometric detection (PAD) pulse sequences are the most common choices to recondition the surface of the working electrode, while other methods opt for disposable electrodes to avoid this step altogether.

What has improved?

Metrohm has filed a patent for an innovative, fast, and accurate ion chromatographic (IC) method based on direct current (DC) mode electrochemical detection. It works with the implementation of a unique working electrode conditioning function (patent pending) in the newest version of chromatographic software (MagIC Net 3.3) offered by Metrohm. A great diversity of food and beverage products were analyzed with sulfite recovery values near 100% in all cases. Using a single, robust chromatographic method, any sample can be treated identically, saving time and making laboratory work much easier.

Sample of garlic analyzed for sulfite content (spiked: red, unspiked: black). Recovery was calculated at 100%.
(Click to enlarge)

No matter what type of sample (solid, liquid), the preparation steps are nearly identical, and much simpler to perform than ever before. Additionally, the retention time of sulfite in the method does not shift. This saves even more time for analysts as they do not have to reprocess data. Since the electrode is automatically reconditioned after each analysis, results are both reliable and reproducible. Waste from disposable electrodes is reduced, as well as costs incurred by the materials and excess working hours which would generally be spent performing other manual steps. This is truly a win-win situation for food analysis!

Benefits to QC laboratories and beyond

In real terms, this improved method allows for up to 10x the throughput of samples compared to conventional methods. Previously, the contract laboratories involved in this study could measure 5 samples, with 2 analysts per 8-hour shift (15 samples per 24 hours, if you like). With our patent-pending technique, at 10 minutes per sample, including fully automatic regeneration of the electrode surface, this allows for up to 144 samples to be analyzed every day.

Whether you work in the food and beverage industry, wastewater analysis, or in daily analytical laboratory work, you can appreciate the numerous benefits this method offers. Robustness, reproducibility, time savings, cost savings, and a simpler procedure for sample preparation across the board – are you interested? With our expertise in ion chromatography as well as electrochemistry, among other techniques, Metrohm is able to offer such cutting edge methods for the most challenging applications.

Want to learn more?

Download our free Application Note:

Sulfite determination in food and beverages applying amperometric detection

Post written by Dr. Alyson Lanciki, Scientific Editor at Metrohm International Headquarters, Herisau, Switzerland.

Special thanks are given to Miguel Espinosa, Product Manager Ion Chromatography, at Metrohm Hispania (Madrid, Spain) for his assistance in providing the laboratory data for the study.

Avoiding the most common mistakes in pH measurement

Avoiding the most common mistakes in pH measurement

If you’re reading this, then I’m sure you have already performed at least one pH measurement in your lifetime, since it is one of the most important parameters in analytical chemistry. I remember my first contact with a potentiometric pH meter and a pH electrode – and I can still remember how I felt back then.

I was young and completely unsure how I should handle the instrument and the electrode. Was I doing everything correctly? Consequently I had many questions about the best practices.

Today, I am much more confident! Therefore, I would love to share with you some of the most common uncertainties and mistakes I see during my daily work when potentiometric pH measurements are performed. By the end of this article, I am certain that you will agree with me: pH measurement can be just as easy as it looks. I will cover the following topics (click to go directly to each topic):

Is this the correct electrode for your application?

Troubleshooting already starts before you put the sensor into your sample solution. A wide variety of electrodes are available on the market, and it can be quite difficult to determine which electrode is the best for your application. Many different diaphragm types as well as glass membrane materials exist:

We’ve prepared a flyer for you to help find the perfect electrode for your application. Additionally, we have provided valuable information about maintenance and storage. You can download the flyer in several languages: English, German, French, or Spanish.

What’s most important when preparing the electrode for calibration or measurement?

Before starting your measurement, check the electrode for cracks or contaminations. Open the plug to ensure that the electrolyte can flow out (otherwise you may observe unstable results), and check the level of the electrolyte.

The electrolyte should always be filled up to the opening in order to ensure an outflow from the hydrostatic pressure. If the level of the sample is higher than the level of electrolyte within the sensor, then sample will enter the reference system of your electrode. This causes the reference potential to shift, and results are no longer reproducible.

Make sure that you insert your sensor deep enough into the sample. At least the glass membrane and the diaphragm need to be covered, as shown in this example.

Calibration: When is it necessary, and what must I consider?

Calibrations must be performed on a regular basis. Depending on the number of measurements and the sample matrix, I recommend calibrating at least weekly. If used often, or if the sample matrix is contaminating the sensor, then you should calibrate daily or even more frequently. Of course you should always calibrate your sensor if you have received a new one, after maintenance, or after a longer storage period.

For calibration, consider the following points:

  • Always use fresh (not expired) buffers – the calibration can only be as good as the buffers used!
  • Perform at least a 2-point calibration.
  • Your sample pH should be within the calibration buffer pH value.
  • Always measure the temperature, as the pH value is temperature-dependent.
  • Most manufacturers already include buffer table templates with their instruments. Make sure that you select the correct one.

How should you store the pH electrode?

The correct storage of the pH electrode can increase its lifetime significantly. Never store the pH electrode dry! The glass membrane builds up a hydration layer, which is necessary for proper pH measurement. If you store the electrode dry, this hydration layer will be destroyed. Even though the layer can be recovered by conditioning the sensor in deionized water, the sensor will become slower.

For electrodes filled with potassium chloride (c(KCl) = 3 mol/L) as reference electrolyte, we have developed a dedicated storage solution which keeps the glass membrane in top quality without impairing the performance of the diaphragm.

The figure above shows how quickly the sensor responds when placed in a sample after a storage period. You can clearly see that storing the sensor in the dedicated solution leads to a much faster response time in comparison to storage in c(KCl) = 3 mol/L. This means even more productivity and less waiting.

All electrodes which are filled with another reference electrolyte than c(KCl) = 3 mol/L are stored in their reference electrolyte.

How should the pH electrode be cleaned?

Between the measurements, the electrode must be rinsed well with deionized water. If the sample is sticky or contains proteins, use a suitable solvent to remove the contamination. From time to time, it is important to give the electrode a «special treat» and clean it with the pHit Kit, shown below. This set includes everything that is necessary to gently and efficiently clean the electrode.

Very important: Never wipe the sensor off with a tissue! Similar to rubbing the surface of a balloon, you will charge the surface of the glass membrane. The built-up electrostatic energy will influence your measurement, which will get significantly longer. Additionally, you can scratch the sensitive glass membrane surface, thus destroying it.

To stir or not to stir?

Depending on the electrode type you are using, it is recommended to always stir constantly, at the same speed, during analysis. The following graph illustrates why:

The upper curve shows the measurement with an electrode having a fixed ground-joint diaphragm, and the lower curve utilized a very common electrode with a ceramic pin diaphragm. 

Not only does the top electrode show less signal noise, the signal remains nearly unchanged once the stirrer is switched off. However, there is a significant signal drop for the ceramic pin diaphragm (bottom). Therefore, the stirring speed should be identical for all buffers and samples to minimize such effects. 

Is my electrode still ok to use?

To get an idea about whether your electrode is still ok to use or not, it is generally enough to check the slope and the pH(0) after calibration. The slope should be between 95–103%, whereas the pH(0) should lie between pH 6.8–7.2. Further information can be gained if a pH electrode test is performed, which is implemented in some of Metrohm’s instruments, or a test according to application bulletin AB-188.

If the electrode does not meet the specifications, clean it according to the instructions and perform the test again. If the sensor still does not pass, a replacement is inevitable.

Check out our webinars:

«Basic of pH measurements» or «Troubleshooting of pH measurement

You can also download our whitepaper WP-003 «pH measurement: Six technical tips»  for free: 

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