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Recipes with Raman

Recipes with Raman

Many of us have spent more time in the kitchen in the past year than usual, (re)discovering our culinary skills with varying degrees of success. Our pantries have been kept full, and our stoves on for a year (and counting) since our normal, social ways of life have been curtailed by home office regulations, online schooling, and the sweeping closures of bars and restaurants.

Cooking at home can mean a number of things. Some people rely on «Chef Mike» (i.e., the microwave) to prepare their meals, while others turn humble ingredients into haute cuisine dishes. However, most people would probably agree that the keys to delicious and nutritious meals are fresh, high quality ingredients.

What is on your menu today? For breakfast, perhaps toast and some fresh pressed orange juice, lunch is maybe a quiche with tomatoes and cheese, and for dinner, stir-fried vegetables accompanied by a glass of good wine. Hungry yet?

With all of this talk about food, how can you be certain that the ingredients you are using in the kitchen are of the highest quality? You may trust in the grocery store, the brand, or the farmer at your local market, but do you know how different food quality parameters are measured?

One technique provides rapid, non-destructive and specific food quality testing: Raman spectroscopy. Whether you are looking to determine the ripeness of fruits or vegetables, the adulteration of spices or dairy products, or contamination of foods with banned pesticides, Raman spectroscopy is at the cutting edge of food quality analysis.

If you want to refresh your knowledge about Raman spectroscopy, have a look at our previous blog post about Mira, which includes some history about the technique.

To learn more about the analysis of trace adulterants in foods and beverages, read our blog post all about measurement with SERS (surface‐enhanced Raman scattering).

Are you confused about the differences between Raman spectroscopy and SERS? You’re not alone! Check out our blog post about these two techniques and learn about their benefits.

Here, we share a selection of peer-reviewed articles from the scientific community using Raman spectroscopy and portable instrumentation from B&W Tek, a Metrohm Group Company and Metrohm Raman to address quality issues of food. Enjoy your meal! Bon appetit!

~~ Starter ~~

To begin, maybe you would be interested in sharing a bottle of red wine with your companion as you snack on some crispy bread sticks. Red wines are made from red varieties of grapes, whose color is imparted through the crushing process as the skins soak in the sugary juices. Phenolic compounds derived from the grape skins can be beneficial to human health, and can be determined with Raman spectroscopy [1].

It’s not only beneficial compounds but also harmful contaminants that can be measured in beverages with Raman spectroscopy. Fungicides can also be detected in wine with SERS. Download our free Application Note if you want to find out more.

Watch our video below to see how methanol in alcoholic drinks is quantified rapidly without sample preparation – right at the bottle!

Snacking on prepackaged foods when you are on the go, or when you don’t feel like cooking at the moment, is something we have all done. The moisture levels in most of these foods is kept to a minimum, especially in those meant to have long shelf lives. Water content above certain levels allows harmful bacteria to grow, which is one of the major reasons to always consult the date of packaged foods before consumption. Eating contaminated foods can cause severe sickness and even death. It is possible to determine whether such low moisture foods (LMFs) contain harmful levels of these bacteria with SERS [2].

What else do both of these applications have in common? Both of them utilize the portable i-Raman Plus instrument from B&W Tek. For more information, download our free application note: Portable Raman for Quantification of Methanol in Contaminated Spirits.

~~Main Course~~

Depending on what you are in the mood for, anything is possible. Some tomatoes, vegetables, spices, perhaps meat (if you eat it) and a starch are on the menu today, ready to be turned into almost any dish.

Determining whether fresh foods are at peak ripeness can be a tricky process, not necessarily just the change of a color. The ripeness of a fruit or vegetable indicates its antioxidant content, as well as nutrients and other beneficial compounds. Monitoring the ripening process is possible with portable Raman spectroscopy [3], such as the B&W Tek i-Raman Pro.

Some of us like a little heat in our meals. Unfortunately, the adulteration of spices like chili powder (sometimes known as cayenne powder) is common, as cheap and harmful coloring agents are added to achieve more profits at the cost of human health. These synthetic dyes are able to be determined easily even at trace levels with SERS [4].

Download our free Application Note to learn more about the detection of trace levels of Rhodamine B in cayenne powder with SERS.

Some types of cheese command a high price for what seems like just a small pinch. One such type is Parmigiano Reggiano, an Italian cheese with a protected denomination of origin (PDO) quality marker, made in compliance with several production rules. These cheeses are subject to counterfeiting, but luckily this is easy to determine on-site without damaging the sample using handheld Raman spectroscopy [5].

The price of meat varies according to several reasons, even for the same animal source, section (cut), and portion size. Among these is the origin of the meat, as well as how it was produced (e.g., organic or a factory farm). Determining the difference between premium meat products and lower quality ones is possible with handheld Raman systems [6] such as Mira from Metrohm Raman. Not only these differences but also the freshness of meat during the production process can be measured with portable Raman devices [7] like the i-Raman Plus from B&W Tek.

Using lower quality cooking oil with a low smoke point at high temperatures can result in consumption of harmful byproducts formed during cooking. Older oils have a lower antioxidant content as a result of the aging process, and can become rancid when the antioxidant properties vanish. For these reasons, high quality edible oils full of antioxidants are worth much more, but are also susceptible to adulteration with cheaper ingredients. It is possible to not only determine the purity of edible oils by Raman spectroscopy [8] but also the heat stability of different types of oils [9].

For more information about the analysis of edible oils by Raman spectroscopy, download our free Application Notes and our White Paper below!

~~ Dessert ~~

After dinner is over, a hot beverage like tea can be nice to cleanse the palate. How can you be sure that the tea is free of banned pesticides, other than buying from a trusted organic label? SERS allows rapid identification of such substances in tea leaves [10].

To learn more about detecting illegal compounds such as herbicides on tea leaves, download our free Application Note.

The honey you put in your tea or drizzle over your dessert can also be subjected to tampering. Depending on the type of flower or the origin of the honey, costs can vary widely for the same volume. Some honeys (e.g., Manuka) claim to impart certain health benefits, and therefore many lower quality products with cheap sweeteners (e.g., high fructose corn syrup) are falsely labeled as such and sold at a higher price point to unsuspecting consumers. It is possible to detect honey adulteration [11] and even its botanical origin [12] with Raman spectroscopy.

Not only tea and honey, but also coffee and the milk added to it can be analyzed with Raman spectroscopy to determine various quality markers and adulterants.

The protein content of milk can be falsely enhanced with the addition of melamine. This compound is now monitored in dairy products due to scandals which led to deaths from kidney damage. Melamine [13] and other substances which can contribute to ill health effects [14] can be easily determined in milk with SERS.

Want to learn more about Melamine and how to measure it with SERS? Check out our free Application Note for further information.

Download our free Application Note to learn about the rapid detection of the alkaloid trigonelline in coffee, which reduces in concentration the darker the beans are roasted.

The ripeness of fruits and vegetables is not just important information when planning meals, but it is also critical for food transport. Perishable fruits and vegetables are often shipped in an unripened state so they arrive at their destination in top condition.

Freshness in citrus fruits can be determined with portable Raman instruments by measuring the carotenoid content [15].

Aside from the freshness, it is also possible to detect if pesticides, fungicides, herbicides or other harmful substances have been sprayed onto fruits using SERS [16].

Check out our selection of free Application Notes below about the determination of these kinds of substances on different fruits with Misa.

Several food quality parameters can be measured quickly and easily with Raman spectroscopy without the need to open bottles or destroy samples. Portable and handheld instruments make measurements simple to perform nearly anywhere. Visit the Metrohm website to learn more about the possibilities with Raman!

Learn more about rapid food analysis with Raman spectroscopy

Download free applications directly from our website.


[1] Dranca, F.; Oroian, M. Kinetic Improvement of Bioactive Compounds Extraction from Red Grape (Vitis vinifera Moldova) Pomace by Ultrasonic Treatment. Foods 2019, 8, 353. doi:10.3390/foods8080353

[2] Pan, C.; Zhu, B.; Yu, C. A Dual Immunological Raman-Enabled Crosschecking Test (DIRECT) for Detection of Bacteria in Low Moisture Food. Biosensors 2020, 10, 200. doi:10.3390/bios10120200

[3] Trebolazabala, J.; Maguregui, M.; Morillas, H.; et al. Portable Raman spectroscopy for an in-situ monitoring the ripening of tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) fruits. Spectrochimica Acta Part A: Molecular and Biomolecular Spectroscopy 2017, 180, 138–143. doi:10.1016/j.saa.2017.03.024

[4] Lin, S.; Hasi, W.-L.-J.; Lin, X.; et al. Rapid and sensitive SERS method for determination of Rhodamine B in chili powder with paper-based substrates. Analytical Methods 2015, 7, 5289–5294. doi:10.1039/c5ay00028a

[5] Li Vigni, M.; Durante, C.; Michelini, S.; et al. Preliminary Assessment of Parmigiano Reggiano Authenticity by Handheld Raman Spectroscopy. Foods 2020, 9(11), 1563. doi:10.3390/foods9111563

[6] Logan, B.; Hopkins, D.; Schmidtke, L.; et al. Authenticating common Australian beef production systems using Raman spectroscopy. Food Control 2021, 121, 107652. doi:10.1016/j.foodcont.2020.107652

[7] Santos, C; Zhao, J.; Dong, X.; et al. Predicting aged pork quality using a portable Raman device. Meat Science 2018, 145, 79–85. doi:10.1016/j.meatsci.2018.05.021

[8] Liu, Z.; Yu, S.; Xu, S.; et al. Ultrasensitive Detection of Capsaicin in Oil for Fast Identification of Illegal Cooking Oil by SERRS. ACS Omega 2017, 2, 8401–8406. doi:10.1021/acsomega.7b01457

[9] Alvarenga, B.; Xavier, F.; Soares, F.; et al. Thermal Stability Assessment of Vegetable Oils by Raman Spectroscopy and Chemometrics. Food Analytical Methods 2018, 11, 1969–1976. doi:10.1007/s12161-018-1160-y

[10] Yao, C.; Cheng, F.; Wang, C.; et al. Separation, identification and fast determination of organophosphate pesticide methidathion in tea leaves by thin layer chromatography–surface-enhanced Raman scattering. Analytical Methods 2013, 5, 5560. doi:10.1039/c3ay41152d

[11] Li, S.; Shan, Y.; Zhu, X.; et al. Detection of honey adulteration by high fructose corn syrup and maltose syrup using Raman spectroscopy. Journal of Food Composition and Analysis 2012, 28, 69–74. doi:10.1016/j.jfca.2012.07.006

[12] Oroian, M.; Ropciuc, S. Botanical authentication of honeys based on Raman spectra. Journal of Food Measurement and Characterization 2017, 12, 545–554. doi:10.1007/s11694-017-9666-3

[13] Nieuwoudt, M.; Holroyd, S.; McGoverin, C.; et al. Rapid, sensitive, and reproducible screening of liquid milk for adulterants using a portable Raman spectrometer and a simple, optimized sample well. Journal of Dairy Science 2016, 99, 7821–7831. doi:10.3168/jds.2016-11100

[14] Lin, X.; Hasi, W.-L.-J.; Lou, X.-T.; et al. Rapid and simple detection of sodium thiocyanate in milk using surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy based on silver aggregates. Journal of Raman Spectroscopy 2014, 45, 162–167. doi:10.1002/jrs.4436

[15] Nekvapil, F.; Brezestean, I.; Barchewitz, D.; et al. Citrus fruits freshness assessment using Raman spectroscopy. Food Chemistry 2018, 242, 560–567. doi:10.1016/j.foodchem.2017.09.105

[16] Xie, J.; Li, L.; Khan, I.; et al. Flexible paper-based SERS substrate strategy for rapid detection of methyl parathion on the surface of fruit. Spectrochimica Acta Part A: Molecular and Biomolecular Spectroscopy 2020, 231, 118104. doi:10.1016/j.saa.2020.118104

Post written by Dr. Sara Seiffert (Product Specialist Spectroscopy at Metrohm Deutschland) and Dr. Alyson Lanciki (Scientific Editor at Metrohm International Headquarters).

ASTM D6304: Easier determination of moisture in petroleum products

ASTM D6304: Easier determination of moisture in petroleum products

Water in petroleum products, such as lubricating oils, jet fuel, or other similar products can have deleterious effects. Moisture is often associated with corrosion and engine wear. Knowing the water content of petroleum products can prevent damage to costly infrastructure and ensure safer operations.

ASTM D6304 «Standard Test Method for Determination of Water in Petroleum Products, Lubricating Oils, and Additives by Coulometric Karl Fischer Titration» is a standard that is often cited for moisture determination in the specifications of various petroleum products. It has been recently updated (January 2021) and now offers three procedures for accurate moisture determination.

The direct sample injection into the titration cell (Procedure A) is recommended for low viscosity samples without expected interferences. An oven (Procedure B) or water evaporator accessory (Procedure C) can be used to analyze samples that do not readily dissolve in Karl Fischer reagent, viscous samples, and samples with components that are expected to interfere with the Karl Fischer reaction.

In this blog post I want to introduce these three procedures, and then discuss when it is appropriate to use each of them.

Determining the moisture content in petroleum products doesn’t have to be messy. Visit our website to learn more about the new automated measurement capabilities allowed with ASTM D6304.

A coulometric Karl Fischer Titrator such as the 851 Titrando from Metrohm is the basis for all three procedures of ASTM D6304.

Direct injection (Procedure A)

The direct sample injection into the titration cell is recommended for low viscosity samples without expected interferences. An aliquot of known mass or volume is injected into the conditioned titration cell of a coulometric Karl Fischer apparatus, where it is titrated automatically, and the results calculated.

Method D6304 permits the use of coulometric generator electrodes with and without diaphragm. We recommend the use of the generator electrode with diaphragm, due to the low water content of the samples.

Not all petroleum products are soluble in Karl Fischer reagent and phase separation can occur when using Procedure A. If phase separation occurs, the reagents need to be replaced. The number of samples which can be analyzed without phase separation depends on the volume and type of sample, the volume of reagent, and the sample solubility in the reagent.

The generator electrode with diaphragm is recommended for water determination according to ASTM D6304 Procedure A.

However, for these kinds of samples, Procedures B or C are often the better solution. The same is the case if your sample contains interfering substances.

For more information about ASTM D6304 Procedure A, download our free Application Bulletin (AB-209). For more tips and tricks about how to improve your Karl Fischer titration, have a look at our blog series: «Frequently asked questions in Karl Fischer titration».

Water extraction using an oven (Procedure B)

An oven (Procedure B) can be used to analyze samples that do not readily dissolve in Karl Fischer reagent, viscous samples, and samples with components that are expected to interfere with the Karl Fischer reaction.

For the analysis, a representative sample is weighed into a glass vial, which is sealed immediately. The vial is then heated in an oven to extract any water. The vaporized water is carried into the conditioned Karl Fischer titration cell by means of a dry carrier gas where it is titrated.

Schematic drawing of the Karl Fischer oven method.

The ideal temperature used for the evaporation depends on the sample. The 874 Oven Sample Processor can perform a temperature gradient test to determine the optimal temperature for removing water without degrading the sample.

To learn more about the oven method, its working principle and its advantages, check out our blog post: «Oven method for sample preparation in Karl Fischer titration».

Watch our LabCast video below to see the working principle and advantages of using Procedure B.

For more information about using the KF oven method for ASTM D6304 Procedure B, download our free Application Bulletin (AB-209) or free Application Note (AN-K-070).

Just want the highlights? Have a look at our short flyer about how ASTM D6304 has become much easier!

Water extraction using an evaporator (Procedure C)

Instead of using an oven, Procedure C explains how a water evaporator can be used for the water extraction of samples that do not readily dissolve in Karl Fischer reagent, viscous samples, and samples with components that are expected to interfere with the Karl Fischer reaction.

In this procedure, an aliquot of sample is transferred into a heated chamber containing a suitable solvent (most often, toluene). The temperature of the heated chamber depends on the solvent used. The water vaporizes along with the solvent in an azeotrope distillation. The azeotrope is then transferred into the conditioned Karl Fischer titration cell via a dry non-reactive carrier gas. 

Schematic drawing of the evaporator method.

If you wish to read more about the three procedures and their advantages and disadvantages, download our White Paper: «Moisture in petroleum products according to ASTM D6304».

When to use which procedure

Procedure A is mainly suited for liquid samples with a low viscosity, such as diesel fuel, jet fuel, or aromatics. A low viscosity is required in order to be able to add the sample easily into the Karl Fischer titration cell. Furthermore, the samples require a good solubility in Karl Fischer reagent. Otherwise phase separation will occur, which requires the replacement of the Karl Fischer reagents. While the reagent exchange can be automated, time is still required until the reagents reach dryness again.

Even if samples are soluble in Karl Fischer reagents, there might still be issues with using Procedure A due to the sample matrix creating side reactions and thus false results. In this case Procedure B or C are the better option.

Procedure B is suitable for all kinds of samples, regardless of their viscosity or matrix composition. It is only the evaporated water that is transferred into the titration cell, leaving the sample as well as interfering matrix components remaining in the sealed vial, which can be simply disposed of after the analysis. For this reason, the reagent exchange frequency is greatly reduced, saving costs, as less reagent is required. Depending on the workload in your lab, it is even possible to fully automate the analysis including reagent exchange using an automated Karl Fischer oven.

The 874 Karl Fischer Oven Processor with an 851 Titrando for a fully automated analysis according to ASTM D6304 Procedure B.

Procedure C, like Procedure B, is suitable for all kinds of samples, regardless of their viscosity or matrix constitution. It is only the evaporated water in an azeotrope with the solvent that is transferred into the titration cell. The sample, as well as interfering matrix components, remain in the evaporation chamber. However, it is necessary to manually empty and refill the evaporation chamber from time to time, which is time consuming, as the chamber needs to cool down before the content can be exchanged. Furthermore, walk-away automation is not possible with this method.

For a more detailed comparison of the various factors for each procedure, download our free White Paper: «Moisture in petroleum products according to ASTM D6304».

Visit our website

Save time with the new automated measurement capabilities allowed with ASTM D6304

Post written by Lucia Meier, Technical Editor at Metrohm International Headquarters, Herisau, Switzerland.

Raman vs SERS… What’s the Difference?

Raman vs SERS… What’s the Difference?

If you’ve ever had a conversation with a Raman spectroscopist about the feasibility of a low-concentration sensing application, chances are you’ve heard them say “well, Raman may not be sensitive enough…but maybe SERS will work!” But what’s the actual difference between these two techniques, and why is SERS (surface-enhanced Raman scattering, or alternatively surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy) recommended for low-concentration applications? Let’s explore the technical differences between Raman and SERS spectroscopies, as well as some of the practical considerations for how we regard the data for each.

In normal Raman spectroscopy, a laser source is incident directly on a sample (Fig. 1a). The laser light is scattered by the bonds of the analyte, and the inelastically scattered light is collected and processed into a Raman spectrum. The non-destructive nature of the technique, the selectivity of Raman bands, and the insensitivity to water make Raman a useful analytical tool for both qualitative and quantitative studies of both organic and inorganic systems.

Figure 1. 

However, for decades Raman spectroscopy was an underutilized technique in real-world applications. This can be attributed to its two major limitations: 1) the inherent insensitivity of Raman, as only ~1 in 106 incident photons are Raman scattered; and 2) fluorescence emission interference, which depends on the nature of the analyte molecule and the excitation wavelength used. Fluorescence is a competing phenomenon that is much more efficient than Raman scattering, and can thus completely overwhelm the Raman signal.

Though they depend on the scattering strength of the analyte molecule and the sample matrix in question, typical limits of detection for normal Raman scattering can range from ~1–10% in concentration. For certain applications such as disease detection or narcotics identification, this limit may be several orders of magnitude higher than what is required! In this case, an application scientist might recommend a SERS measurement. The hardware required would be the same as for a normal Raman measurement, but different sampling is required for SERS analysis. To understand the difference, let’s discuss a bit about the SERS effect.

In the 1970s, several research groups observed that the Raman signal from organic molecules like pyridine was greatly enhanced when adsorbed to a roughened metallic substrate (Fig. 1b) [1–3]. While several theories emerged to account for this observation, it is today generally accepted that the mechanism for enhancement is two-fold: the electromagnetic enhancement mechanism accounts for the dominant contribution, while a chemical mechanism accounts for a smaller portion of the enhancement.

Figure 2.

The electromagnetic enhancement mechanism is enabled by the use of a roughened nanometallic substrate made of a noble metal (usually silver or gold), and the presence of localized surface plasmons, which are quantized oscillations of the valence electrons of the chosen metal. When the laser excites the sample/nanosubtrate complex, it drives the localized surface plasmons into resonance, or excites the “LSPR” (Fig. 2). At this condition, both the laser excitation radiation and the scattered radiation from the sample are amplified. The arrows in Fig. 1b are bolded to show this increase in magnitude. This mechanism can theoretically account for signal enhancement by factors as large as 1011 [4]. The chemical mechanism involves charge-transfers in resonance with the laser excitation wavelength, and typically accounts for a theoretical enhancement factor of up to 104 [5]. Interfering fluorescence can also be quenched by these charge transfers. With the combined enhancement mechanisms we are able to overcome both the inherent insensitivity and fluorescence interference that limits normal Raman scattering. In fact, there are studies which have demonstrated that SERS is able to detect single molecules [6,7]!

Fabrication of these nanostructures has been an increasing area of academic research in the last two decades. SERS substrates can include colloidal suspensions, solid nanospheres, and metal coated on silicon chips. The enhancement tends to be at its height when the analyte molecule is placed at a junction of nanostructures (otherwise known as a SERS “hotspot”), so researchers can tailor the shapes and the plasmonic activity of these substrates to reach even greater levels of enhancement for their research purposes.

There are also commercial SERS substrates that are available for purchase to use for real-world applications. These substrates are designed to be easy-to-use, flexible, and low-cost, but may not be as sensitive as highly ordered substrates. We offer both a paper-based SERS substrate and a chip-based SERS substrate mounted to a glass slide.

After discussion with an application scientist, users may determine that a commercially available SERS substrate is suitable for their application. However, in others greater sensitivity may be required to meet the limits of detection for the application. In this case, local university labs who work on nanofabrication may be able to collaborate on measurements.

Figure 3.

We often get questions such as “Can we use our existing Raman reference library to analyze our SERS spectrum?” Figure 3 shows the difference between a normal Raman spectrum of fentanyl HCl (Fig. 3a), and a SERS spectrum of a saturated solution of fentanyl HCl on a commercial SERS substrate (Fig. 3b). The normal Raman spectrum for fentanyl contains significantly more peaks than the corresponding SERS spectrum. The SERS bands are also noticeably broader than the normal Raman bands. In the case of the SERS spectra, it is not solely the vibrational modes of the molecule that are being probed, but the sample as adsorbed to the substrate. Hence, we may also observe some peaks in a SERS spectrum that can be attributed purely to the substrate. Because of the differences between a SERS spectrum and a normal Raman spectrum, it may be difficult in some cases to use commercial Raman libraries for analysis of SERS spectra. We encourage users who require SERS identification to create their own SERS spectral databases using their substrates. We also include SERS-specific narcotics libraries on some of our TacticID handheld Raman products. For more complicated data analysis, there is also an expansive SERS literature base to draw on.

In low-concentration sensing applications, or instances where fluorescence overwhelms your Raman signal, SERS is an invaluable technique for both researchers and real-world problem solvers alike. For more information, visit our website.

Learn more about SERS

Download free applications, white papers, and more from our website.


[1] D.L. Jeanmaire and R.P. Van Duyne, J. Electroanal, Chem84, 1–20 (1977).
[2] M.FleischmannP.J.Hendra, and A.J. McQuillanChem. Phys. Lett. 26, 163-166 (1974).
[3] M.G. Albrecht and J.A. Creighton, J. Am. Chem. Soc. 99, 5215-5217 (1977).
[4] J.P  Camden J. A. DieringerY. WangD.J. MasielloL.D. MarksG.C. Schatz, and R.P. Van DuyneJ. Am. Chem. Soc. 130, 12616–12617 (2008).
[5] R. Pilot, R. Signorini, and L Fabris, “Surface-Enhanced Raman spectroscopy: Principles, Substrates, and Applications”. In: Deepak F.L., editor. Metal Nanoparticles and Clusters: Advances in Synthesis, Properties and Applications. Springer; Cham, Switzerland: 2018. pp. 89–164.
[6] J.A. Dieringer, R.B. Lettan, K.A. Scheidt, and R.P Van Duyne, J. Am. Chem. Soc.129, 16249–16256 (2007).
[7] K. Kneipp, Y. Wang, H. Kneipp, L.T. Perelman, I. Itzkan, R.R. Dasari, and M.S. Feld, Phys. Rev. Lett. 78, 1667-1670 (1997).

Post written by Kristen Frano, Applications Manager at B&W Tek, Newark, DE, USA.

Fast determination of acid and base number by thermometric titration

Fast determination of acid and base number by thermometric titration

Acid number (AN) and base number (BN) are critical parameters in the quality control of petroleum products as they are often stipulated by product specifications. Traditionally both parameters can be determined by potentiometric or photometric titration according to various standards such as ASTM D664 (Standard Test Method for Acid Number of Petroleum Products by Potentiometric Titration), ASTM D2896 (Standard Test Method for Base Number of Petroleum Products by Potentiometric Perchloric Acid Titration), or ASTM D974 (Standard Test Method for Acid and Base Number by Color-Indicator Titration). However, there is a rapid and reliable alternative titration method – thermometric titration.

Why determine the acid and base number?

The acid number is an indication for the amount of acids present in petroleum products. Weak acids present in crude oils (e.g. naphthenic acid) can be linked to corrosion of refinery equipment. For petroleum products, aging can lead to the buildup of acids, which increases the risk of corrosion to pipes and holding tanks.

To prevent such an acidic buildup, basic additives are added to refined petroleum products, such as lubricating oil. These basic additives neutralize the weak acids and can prevent corrosion. The amount of basic additives can be characterized using the base number.

What is thermometric titration?

Thermometric titration (TET) is based on the principle of enthalpy change. Each chemical reaction is associated with a change in enthalpy that in turn causes a temperature change. This temperature change during a titration can be measured with a highly sensitive thermistor (Figure 1) in order to determine the endpoint of the titration.

Figure 1. Metrohm’s maintenance-free Thermoprobe used for fast and reliable indication of thermometric titration endpoints.

If you would like to read more about the basic principles of thermometric titration, click below for our previous  blog post «Thermometric titration – the missing piece of the puzzle».

TET: the best choice for AN and BN determination

If you’ve performed a potentiometric titration of the acid and base number, you probably know that not all samples are soluble in the solvent mixture. Even if they are soluble, several cleaning steps (including conditioning of the electrode after each titration) are necessary in order to achieve good reproducibility.

While photometric titration provides an alternative indication method for samples which are not colored, the solubility issue remains. Thermometric titration of the AN according to ASTM D8045 provides the ideal solution to all of these issues.

  • The xylene/IPA (3/1) solution allows better solubility of many samples, especially crude oils
  • Endpoint indication is not affected by colored samples
  • The Thermoprobe requires no conditioning or additional cleaning steps – only a rinse with solvent
  • The Thermoprobe is maintenance-free – no electrolyte refilling necessary, just store it dry

There are even more benefits if compared to the potentiometric titration according to ASTM D664 or ASTM D2896.


  • Less solvent used: 30 mL instead of 60 mL or 120 mL saves additional costs and reduces waste
  • Faster titrations: half the time of potentiometric titrations, saving about 2 minutes per analysis
  • Robust sensor: the Thermoprobe is completely maintenance-free and needs no conditioning, further reducing analysis time.

For a comprehensive comparison between the AN determination according to ASTM D8045 (thermometric titration) and ASTM D664 (potentiometric titration), check out Table 1 below. While the titrant and solvent mixtures differ if you perform a base number determination, the values for solvent volume, titration time, electrode conditioning, and sensor maintenance reflect the comparison between thermometric base number determination and potentiometric determination according to ASTM D2896 very well. Discussions for an ASTM standard on thermometric BN determinations are currently ongoing within the respective committee.

Table 1. Comparison between ASTM D664 and ASTM D8045 concerning various parameters.

Since you are titrating faster, using less solvent, and do not have to perform complicated sensor maintenance, you can save quite a bit of money by switching to thermometric titration.

Not convinced yet? Then listen to one of our customers, Thomas Fischer from Oel Check GmbH, Germany, about his positive experiences with Metrohm thermometric titration.

«Thermometric titration has several advantages compared to potentiometric titration. It is much faster and more robust. A typical thermometric titration takes just about 2 minutes. Moreover, the electrode does not need to be regenerated between determinations.»

Thomas Fischer

Laboratory Manager, Oel Check GmBH

Additionally, I suggest downloading our related white paper on this topic: «Avoid corrosion: A new method for TAN determination in crude oil and petroleum products», which contains comparison data between ASTM D664 and ASTM D8045.

How to perform the analysis

During the AN or BN determination, very weak acids or bases (respectively) are titrated, resulting in small enthalpy changes. By using a catalytic endpoint indicator, these weak acids and bases can also be determined by TET.

What is catalyzed endpoint indication?

Endpoint indication becomes difficult for titrations with small enthalpy changes, such as with weak acids or bases. In these situations, a catalytic endpoint indicator is used. The catalytic endpoint indicator undergoes a strongly exothermic or endothermic reaction during the titration. As with an indicator which changes color when all analyte has been titrated, the catalytic endpoint indicator only starts its reaction with the titrant after all analyte has been consumed. In this way, the indication of the endpoint becomes possible.

Figure 2. Thermometric titration system consisting of a 859 Titrotherm fully equipped with a Thermoprobe, titration stand and buret, and the tiamo software for the TAN or TBN determination.

Acid number

An appropriate amount of the sample (depending on the expected AN) is weighed into the titration vessel, then 30 mL solvent mixture (isopropanol:xylene 1:3) and 0.5 g paraformaldehyde are added. After dissolution of the sample, the solution is then titrated with alcoholic KOH to a single exothermic endpoint.

Here, the paraformaldehyde acts as the catalytic endpoint indicator. As soon as there is an excess of KOH available it will de-polymerize in a strongly endothermic reaction, resulting in an exothermic endpoint.

Figure 3. Thermometric titration curve of an acid number determination, resulting in a single, well-defined exothermic endpoint.

 For more detailed information about this application, download our free Application Bulletin AB-427.

Base number

An appropriate amount of the sample (depending on the expected BN) is weighed directly into the titration vessel, then 1 mL isobutyl vinyl ether and 40 mL toluene are added. After dissolution of the sample, the solution is then titrated with HClO4 in glacial acetic acid to a single endothermic endpoint.

In this situation, the isobutyl vinyl ether serves as the catalytic endpoint indicator. When an excess of HClO4 is present, it will polymerize in a strongly exothermic reaction, resulting in an endothermic endpoint.

Figure 4. Thermometric titration curve of a base number determination, resulting in a single, well-defined endothermic endpoint.

For more detailed information about this application, download our free Application Bulletin AB-405.


Thermometric titration provides a rapid and robust solution for the determination of the acid and base number in comparison to potentiometric or photometric titration. The method solves the issue of sample solubility by using more suitable solvents. Furthermore, less solvent is needed, and the analysis time is reduced. All this results in considerably lower costs per analysis, making it a viable alternative for the acid and base number determination.

Save more money!

Calculate your cost savings with TET here:

Post written by Lucia Meier, Technical Editor at Metrohm International Headquarters, Herisau, Switzerland.

History of Metrohm IC – Part 5

History of Metrohm IC – Part 5

In the fifth part in our ongoing series about the history of ion chromatography development at Metrohm, we now focus on automated air quality monitoring with the 2060 MARGA instrument.

Did you miss the other parts in this series? Find them here!

The importance of clean air cannot be understated. Air pollution is one of the major environmental risks to human health; it can cause strokes, heart disease, lung cancer, and both chronic and acute respiratory diseases. Additionally, the contribution of such pollution to climate change is of significant scientific interest.

Monitoring air quality is of increasing concern, and thankfully more and more companies are taking responsibility for their input and looking for ways to measure and mitigate their environmental contribution.

What is MARGA?

MARGA (Monitor for AeRosols and Gases in ambient Air) was developed in the 1990s by Metrohm Process Analytics in cooperation with the Energy Research Centre of the Netherlands (ECN) (Figure 1).

Figure 1. The original MARGA 1S air monitoring system, developed in the 1990s by Metrohm Process Analytics.

This instrument application offered a new approach in which gases and aerosols sampled from the same air mass are separated from each other by selectively dissolving them in water. The resulting solutions (available every hour) are then analyzed using ion chromatography with conductivity detection. Separating the two fractions from each other allows for the detection of important precursor gases and ionic species found in the aerosols.

Collection of water-soluble ions and analysis by ion chromatography:
  • Gases: HCl, HNO3, HNO2, SO2, NH3
  • Aerosols: Cl, NO3, SO42-, NH4+, Na+, K+, Ca2+, Mg2+, *F

*also possible with the 2060 MARGA (Figure 2)

This new analyzer application was a huge success at that time. However, in the meantime Metrohm Process Analytics was busy implementing more modular flexibility to their process analyzers. That’s why in 2018, based on the all-new 2060 online analysis platform from Metrohm Process Analytics, the 2060 MARGA (Figure 2) was introduced.

To learn more about how MARGA is used in real life situations, download our free technical notes on the Metrohm website.

Figure 2. The Metrohm Process Analytics solution to unattended, automated air quality analysis: the 2060 MARGA M.

Featuring state of the art 2060 software to automate analysis 24/7, brand new hardware adaptable for modular flexibility, and the dependable and well-known MagIC Net software, the 2060 MARGA is the right solution to gain insight of the effects of particulate matter on health and the environment. This instrument is available in two versions:

2060 MARGA M (Monitoring)

The 2060 MARGA M (Figure 2) is ideal for unattended routine monitoring at a permanent site.

Everything is packed into a single instrument, with separate subcabinets for the sample collection wet part, ion analysis cabinet (with two IC channels and column oven for anion and cation determinations), plus reagent containers with level sensors.

2060 MARGA R (Research)

A flexible version, ideal for research applications, features the 2060 user interface and sample collection wet part.

Sample analysis is carried out on a stand-alone Metrohm 940 Professional IC Vario TWO/SeS/PP, including sequential suppression for the anion analysis channel. Installed on-site for a limited time campaign, the 2060 MARGA R works unattended in the same way as the 2060 MARGA M. When not required for field use, the 940 Ion Chromatograph can be put to work in the laboratory, using an external PC and MagIC Net, to run any of the multitude of applications available from Metrohm.

Figure 3. The 2060 MARGA offers hourly data and easy to read trend charts for a full overview of gas and aerosol analysis.

The 2060 MARGA is designed for monitoring in remote locations but it’s never far from home. By using a direct internet connection, the 2060 MARGA performance can be checked remotely, adjustments can be made, and results can be evaluated at any time.

Monitoring air quality around the world

MARGA systems from Metrohm have been used by many official agencies and research organizations globally to monitor air quality in a completely autonomous way.

Figure 4. World map showing the locations of installed MARGA instruments from Metrohm Process Analytics.

The MARGA participated in a program focusing on measurement and evaluation of the long-range, transboundary transmission of air-polluting substances in Europe (European Monitoring and Evaluation Programme, «EMEP»). 

This research was performed in Auchencorth Moss, approximately 20 kilometers south of Edinburgh in Scotland, with the objective of analyzing to what degree crops and natural ecosystems, as well as the rural population, are exposed to airborne pollutants.

Learn more about this application here.


Fireworks are full of water-soluble ions and trace metals. The different colors are produced through the combustion of these chemical compounds. After combustion, the air is full of toxic gases and particles which can linger for a significant time, depending on weather patterns.

The 2060 MARGA can determine detailed gas and aerosol concentrations on an hourly basis completely autonomously, offering valuable scientific information about the effect of fireworks on local air quality (Figure 5).

Figure 5. Air pollution due to New Year’s Eve fireworks celebrations in the Netherlands: aerosol concentrations of selected compounds.

For more information about this application, download our free technical note here.

If you would like to read more scientific literature featuring the MARGA, please download our free overview: Air monitoring with ion chromatography: An overview of the literature references.

Download our free monograph:

Practical Ion Chromatography – An Introduction

Post written by Andrea Ferreira (Technical Writer at Metrohm Applikon, Schiedam, The Netherlands) and Dr. Alyson Lanciki (Scientific Editor at Metrohm International Headquarters).