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Combat food fraud: Meet Misa

Combat food fraud: Meet Misa

What’s on your plate?

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

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

Misa to the rescue

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

The SERS Principle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Protecting Consumer Safety with Misa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Visit our website

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

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

Trace metal analysis with solid-state electrodes – Part 1

Trace metal analysis with solid-state electrodes – Part 1

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

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

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

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

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

The principle of stripping voltammetry

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

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

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

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

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

Need for new sensors

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

Bismuth as an alternative electrode material

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

Figure 3. Bismuth crystal.

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

New sensor in VA: the Bi drop electrode

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

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

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

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

Applications

Anodic stripping voltammetric determination of cadmium and lead

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

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

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

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

Direct determination of iron

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

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

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

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

Adsorptive stripping voltammetric determination of nickel and cobalt

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

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

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

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

Key features of the Bi drop electrode

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

What’s next?

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

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

Save money by using automated titration systems

Save money by using automated titration systems

Perhaps you read my last blog entry: «Why consider automation – even for simple titrations» and liked the idea of disengaging yourself from the tedious, repetitive, and exhausting manual routine lab work by automating analyses and increasing the accuracy and reproducibility of your results at the same time.

Titration is known to be a bargain analytical method, as a glass buret or even a simple stand-alone titrator are quite inexpensive in comparison with other techniques such as spectroscopy or chromatography. In combination with the short determination time and results based on a known stoichiometry, titration is well-accepted in laboratories worldwide as a primary method.

Nevertheless, the increasing sample throughput in the last decades shows more and more why it is worth it to automate lab analysis. On many occasions, I had discussions with lab managers or purchasing agents who had doubts about buying an automation system for the «cheap» titration technique. These concerns are understandable, especially when adding automation to the titrator can cost the same as the titration installation, or even more. However, consider not only the costs for such an upgrade but also the many benefits.

I will now explain how the usage of a fully automated titration system can result in various savings.

 

Save valuable time

Time savings is one of the biggest benefits when using walk-away automation in the lab.

After preparing the sample and entering the required sample data into the controlling device, the system can run unattended for several hours or even days. During this time, lab technicians can spend their valuable time on samples that cannot be automated, evaluating data, preparing new samples, and documentation or inventing new methods or substances.

Don’t waste money on repetitions

In comparison to only using a stand-alone titrator, the automated system can reduce costs for repetitions. Due to the fact that the procedures have been tested before they are run autonomously, handling errors can be reduced to a minimum during the determination. These are typical tasks such as ensuring the sensor and buret tips are sufficiently covered by the sample solution, using the optimum stirring speed for the sample, as well as applying standardized cleaning procedures in between the analyses.

At first glance, these steps might not seem so important, but these have an impact if each lab technician involved in the analysis performs it in a slightly different manner based on their preference and experience. In the worst case, samples have to be repeated more often to prove the validity of the result. With automation, you no longer have to worry about this issue.

Reduce running expenses

The improved handling procedures mentioned above will reduce the costs for consumables such as electrodes. Thanks to the previously defined cleaning, conditioning, and storage procedures, the sensor lasts much longer. The only thing you have to consider is filling the electrolyte reservoir on a regular basis, which can not yet be automated.

However, if you are only running routine pH measurements, a solution already exists for this: the Ecotrode Gel, which allows you to run continuous measurements without any refilling until the electrolyte is exhausted.

The transparency of the electrolyte gel will show when it is time to change the electrode. Cool, isn’t it? 

Besides the electrodes, reagents and eventual waste disposal are topics that have to be taken into account when discussing the costs per analysis of an analytical device. Unfortunately, there are still several norms and standards using absurd amounts of organic solvents. All of these chemicals need a special treatment for proper disposal, i.e. the more waste solution produced, the higher the costs for its disposal—not to mention the impact on the environment.

In automated systems, the amount of these reagents can be reduced to a minimum as analyses can be carried out in beakers with a smaller diameter and perfectly positioned electrodes. Depending on the application, you can even reduce the cleaning procedure between the analyses to a simple dip in solvent rather than showering the electrode with an excess of solvent.

Fewer accidents thanks to walk-away automation

As an automated titration system runs independently for several hours or even overnight, the direct contact with harmful substances and reagents is already minimized. Modern titration systems do not only take over the analysis, but also guarantee the sample beakers are already pre-cleaned before you remove them from the system to put them in the dishwasher or dispose of them.

Even minimizing exposure to chemicals during the exchange of the reagents is possible if your system is equipped with 3S technology, which makes titrant change simpler than ever. The safer the system, the smaller the risk of exposure to hazardous chemicals while handling during sample analysis or disposal. 

We all know that an accident is one thing, but the administration afterwards can also be a real nightmare. Therefore, it is better to avoid situations prone to causing accidents, as it keeps people healthy and the associated costs down.

Increase your profit

Increasing the sample throughput has a direct impact on your profit. Without automation, more analysts are needed to handle the increasing number of samples, but finding well-educated lab technicians becomes ever more challenging and costly. Furthermore, boring routine titration analysis is not the work that lab staff desires.

Automation – not as expensive as you may have thought

Perhaps you started reading this blog post thinking that automation is too expensive for your lab, especially compared to the investment for a simple stand-alone titrator. However, as shown in this article, several kinds of savings can be achieved using an automated titration system.

Consider your regular expenses for consumables, reagents, and time spent for repeated analyses. How often were the results not available either fast or good enough for the production to continue? Think about discussions on safety in the lab when a colleague was injured. Also, how often was the efficiency and profitability of your lab questioned due to the running costs? Considering this, you will see the return on investment is unbelievably good with automation. The more samples you perform fully automated, the faster the initial investment pays off and creates better financial statements for you.

At Metrohm, we don’t just sell titrators. We provide titration solutionsWe offer systems as sophisticated or as straightforward as you need them. Titrator, accessories, electrodes, sample changers, and software – all from a single source.

Looking for a titrator?

Check out our selection here!

Post written by Heike Risse, PM Titration (Automation) at Metrohm International Headquarters, Herisau, Switzerland.

Measuring herbicides in drinking water

Measuring herbicides in drinking water

It’s springtime in the northern hemisphere, and with rising temperatures comes increased use of herbicides on agricultural crops and in public spaces. In March 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) published a report which stated that one such herbicide, glyphosate, was «probably carcinogenic to humans». Ever since, the use of this chemical has been highly controversial. In some countries, including the USA, there are already limit values in effect for the weed killer.

Carcinogenic or not?

Glyphosate is a broad-spectrum herbicide used globally in agriculture. Alongside farming, the chemical is also used to kill weeds in domestic gardens and in public and private spaces kept free from «vegetal invasion», such as railway tracks.

Glyphosate has been used since the 1970s in pesticides and was previously thought to be harmless at typical levels of exposure. However, since the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) – the specialized cancer-research agency of the WHO – found that glyphosate was «probably carcinogenic to humans» (Group 2A) in a report published in March 2015, the chemical repeatedly made headlines [1].

Experts were then divided over whether glyphosate should be reapproved after the expiry of its EU market approval on June 30, 2016. This is because the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) only recently arrived at the opposed conclusion that it is unlikely that glyphosate is genotoxic or poses a carcinogenic threat [2]. The approval of glyphosate was initially extended by 18 months, but is now allowed to remain in use in the EU until at least the end of 2022 [3].

Determination of glyphosate in drinking water

Because chemicals used in farming can seep through the ground and enter the ground water, limit values are in effect in some countries concerning the concentration of glyphosate in drinking water.

Glyphosate and its metabolite AMPA (aminomethylphosphonic acid) are usually determined by HPLC with post-column derivatization and subsequent fluorescence detection (EPA Method 547), or alternatively by ion chromatography coupled with a mass-selective detector.

Methodology using IC

The following segments explain the initial results of the determination of glyphosate and AMPA in drinking water in the low µg/L range using ion chromatography (IC) with pulsed amperometric detection. The detection limits for glyphosate and AMPA previously attained with pulsed amperometric detection were around ≥ 50 µg/L [4].

Given this improvement in terms of sensitivity, the method outlined here represents a promising approach to the screening of water and food samples for glyphosate and AMPA.

Instrumentation

All determinations were performed with an IC system consisting of a 940 Professional IC Vario ONE with an IC Amperometric Detector and an 858 Professional Sample Processor for automatic sample injection (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Glyphosate and AMPA were determined with the ProfIC IC Vario 1 Amperometry system.

Glyphosate and AMPA were separated on the high-capacity anion separation column Metrosep Carb 2 – 150/4.0, and subsequently detected via flexIPAD (FLEXible Integrated Pulsed Amperometric Detection) using a gold working electrode as a measuring mode in the amperometric detector. The profile of the potential curve produced in one measuring cycle in flexIPAD mode is presented in Figure 2.

Figure 2. Pulse profile of the flexIPAD method: A measuring cycle lasts 0.9 s; measurement of the current is performed during the phase shown in red.

Experiment

The Metrosep Carb 2 column is used mainly for separating and determining carbohydrates, sugar alcohols, alcohols, etc. Its high column capacity, combined with the high pH value of the eluent (approximately pH 10), results in a large difference in retention time for AMPA and glyphosate. This is because, with a pH value of 10, all three acid groups are deprotonated in part of the glyphosate, meaning that it is partially present as a trivalent anion while the metabolite AMPA, which is missing the carboxyl group, is present as a divalent anion.

Results

Figure 3 shows the chromatogram of the determination of AMPA and glyphosate under the conditions used in this application. An aqueous standard solution was injected containing 10 µg/L each of both components.

Figure 3. Separation of AMPA and glyphosate: a standard solution containing 10 µg/L of each component in ultrapure water was analyzed.

The detection limits for both components were determined using the signal/noise (S/N) ratio, i.e., the ratio of the peak height to the baseline noise. At the detection limit, the S/N ratio is 3; with smaller values, secured detection is not possible. The detection limit found for AMPA was considerably lower than 1 µg/L, while the limit for glyphosate was approximately 1 µg/L.

Figure 4 shows a chromatogram of a drinking water sample mixed with 2 µg/L glyphosate and AMPA.

Figure 4. Determination of AMPA and glyphosate in drinking water which was mixed with 2 µg/L of each component.

Summary

For the first time, glyphosate and its primary metabolite AMPA were determined in drinking water in the low µg/L range using ion chromatography with pulsed amperometric detection (flexIPAD). This puts at our disposal a reliable and – compared with HPLC with a mass-selective detector – very inexpensive method for determining the glyphosate and AMPA content in water and foodstuffs. With a detection limit of approximately 1 µg/L, the adherence to limit values for glyphosate can be verified in the USA, Canada, and Australia, among others.

If you want to learn even more about how to measure glyphosate and AMPA via ion chromatography and amperometric detection, download our free white paper «Glyphosate and AMPA in drinking water».

Curious to learn even more?

Check out our webinar:

«Glyphosate and AMPA analysis»

References

[1] IARC Monographs Volume 112 (2015). Retrieved from http://monographs.iarc.fr/ENG/Monographs/vol112/mono112-09.pdf on June 27, 2016.

[2] EFSA press news, 151112 (2015). Retrieved from http://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/topics/factsheets/glyphosate151112 on June 27, 2016.

[3] European Commission: Status of glyphosate in the EU. Retrieved from https://ec.europa.eu/food/plant/pesticides/glyphosate_en on May 25, 2020.

[4] F. Sanchez-Bayo, R. V. Hyne, and K. L. Desseille (2010) Anal. Chim. Acta, 675 125–131.

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

Photometric complexometric titration

Photometric complexometric titration

…and how to choose the right wavelength for indication

Complexometric titration was discovered in 1945 when Gerold Schwarzenbach observed that aminocarboxylic acids form stable complexes with metal ions, which can change their color by addition of an indicator. From the 1950’s on, this technique gained popularity for the determination of water hardness. Soon it was clear that aside from magnesium and calcium, other metal ions could also be titrated in this way. The use of masking agents and new indicators gave further possibilities to determine not only the whole amount of metal ions present in solution, but also to separate and analyze them. A new titration type was born: complexometric titration.

Dear readers, have you ever performed a complexometric titration? According to my assumption, quite a lot of you will respond with “yes” as it is one of the most frequently used types of titration. However, I assume you probably struggled over the detection of the endpoint and over the titration itself. In contrast to other types of titrations, the boundary conditions such as pH and reaction time play an even bigger role in complexometry since the complex binding constant is very pH dependent and the reaction might be slow. This article presents the most common challenges and how to overcome them when carrying out complexometric titrations.

For a complexometric titration analysis, it is very important to know the qualitative composition of your sample. This determines the indicator, the complexing agent, and the masking agent you need to use.

Due to the length of the article, I have provided an easy legend of the topics so you can click and jump directly to the area that interests you the most.

Complexometric titration and complex-forming constant

Complexometric reactions always consist of a metal ion which reacts with a ligand to form a metal complex. Figure 1 shows an example of such a chemical reaction of a metal ion Mn+ with Ethylene diamine tetra acetic acid (EDTA). EDTA is the most commonly used titrant for complexometric titrations and reacts in a stoichiometric ratio of 1:1. As shown on the right side of Figure 1, EDTA can form six coordinational bonds, in different words: EDTA has a denticity of six. The more coordinational bonds a ligand can form, the more stable is the formed complex.

Figure 1. Example complexation reaction of a metal M with charge n+ with EDTA.

As with most chemical reactions, this type of reaction stays in an equilibrium. Depending on the metal ion used, this equilibrium can shift more to the left (reactants) or on the right (products) of the equation. For a titration, it is mandatory that the equilibrium is on the right side (complex-forming). The equilibrium constant is defined as shown in Equation 1.

Equation 1. Equilibrium constant, where c = concentration of the individual substances.

Equation 1 also illustrates why it is so important to keep the pH value constant. The concentration of hydronium ions influences the complex-forming constant by a factor of the square of its concentration (e.g., if one titrated with H2Na2EDTA). This means if the pH value of the reaction is changed, its complex-forming constant is also changed, which influences your titration.

Generally, the higher the concentration of the complex in comparison to the free metal / Ligand concentration, the higher the Kc and also the log(Kc) value. Some log(Kc) values are shown later on in Table 2 and can give you a hint regarding which titrant is most suitable for your titration.

Complexometric reactions are often conducted as a photometric titration. This means an indicator is added to the solution so that a color change at the endpoint can be observed. 

Color Indicator

As in acid–base titration, the color indicator is a molecule which indicates when the end of titration (the endpoint, or EP) is reached by a change in the solution color. For acid–base titration, the color change is induced by a change of pH, whereas in complexometric titration the color change is induced by the absence/presence of metal ions. Table 1 gives you an overview of different color indicators and the metals which can be determined with them.

Table 1. List of color indicators for different kinds of metal ions.

It is very important to choose the right indicator, especially when analyzing metal mixtures. By choosing an appropriate indicator, a separation of the metal ions can already take place.

As an example, consider a mixture of Zn2+ and Mg2+, which is titrated with EDTA. The log(Kc) value for the zinc ion is 16.5, and 8.8 for the magnesium ion. If we choose to titrate this sample with PAN-indicator then the indicator will selectively bind to the zinc, but not magnesium. As zinc has the higher complex-formation constant, the zinc ion will react first with EDTA, which will lead to a color change, and the endpoint can be detected. In such a case, the separation of the ions is possible. If this is not the case, the choice of a more suitable complexing agent might help you to obtain a separation of metal ions.

Complexing agent

At the beginning of your titration, the metal ions are freely accessible. By addition of the complexing agent (your titrant), the metal ions become bound. The prerequisite for that is a higher complex-formation constant of the metal with the complexing agent than with the indicator. In 95% of cases, this does not pose a problem. Some complexing agents are mentioned in Table 2. In general, ions with higher charges will have a higher complex-formation constant. 

However, what can you do if you are still not able to separate your metal ions sufficiently and determine them individually? The answer to that is: use a masking agent to make the second metal ion “invisible” to the titrant.

Table 2. Complex-formation constants log(Kc) of different complexing agents with various metal ions. The higher the number in the table the higher the binding strength between metal ion and ligand. As an example: aluminum binds stronger to DCTA than to EDTA.

Masking agents

In general, masking agents are substances which have a higher complex-formation constant with the metal ion than the complexing agent. Metal ions which react with the masking agent can no longer be titrated, and therefore the metal ion of interest (which does not react with the masking agent) can be determined separately in the mixture using the complexing agent. Table 3 shows a small selection of common masking agents. There are many more masking agents available which can be used for the separation of metal ions.

Table 3. A selection of different masking agents.

Complexometric titration is still often carried out manually, as the color change is easily visible. However, this leads to several problems. My previous post “Why your titration results aren’t reproducible: The main error sources in manual titration” explains the many challenges of manual titration.

Subjective color perception and different readings lead to systematic errors, which can be prevented by choosing a proper electrode or using an optical sensor, which accurately indicates the color change. This optical sensor changes its signal depending on the amount of light reaching the photodetector. It is usually the easiest choice when switching from manual titration to automated titration, because usually it does not require any changes to your SOP.

Which wavelength is optimal for indication?

Figure 2. The Optrode from Metrohm can detect changes in absorbance at 470, 502, 520, 574, 590, 610, 640, and 660 nm.

If you choose to automate your complexometric titration and indicate the color change with a proper sensor, you should use the Optrode. This sensor offers eight different wavelengths enabling its use with many different indicators.

Perhaps you’re asking yourself “why do I need eight different wavelengths”? The answer is simple. This sensor monitors the absorbance of a certain wavelength in the solution. Each wavelength change is best detected when the light is strongly absorbed by the color of the sample solution, either before or after the endpoint is reached. For example, during a color change from blue to yellow, it is recommended to select the wavelength 574 nm (yellow) for the detection of the color change, as it is the complementary color of blue. For even more accuracy, the optimal wavelength can be chosen by knowing the UV/VIS spectra of the indicator before and after complexation.

Figure 3. Left: spectra of complexed (purple) and uncomplexed (blue) Eriochrome Black T are shown. Right: the difference in absorption of the two spectra is shown.

On the left side of Figure 3 is a graph with the spectra of complexed and uncomplexed Eriochrome Black T. The uncomplexed solution has a blue tint, whereas the complexed one is more violet. On the right, another graph shows the difference of both spectra. According to this graph, the maximum difference in absorption is obtained at a wavelength of 660 nm. Therefore, it is recommended to use this wavelength for the detection of the color change.

For more examples of indicators and their spectra, check out our free monograph “Complexometric (Chelometric) Titrations”.

Challenges when performing complexometric titrations

As mentioned in the introduction, complexometric titrations are a bit more demanding compared to other types of titration.

First, the indicators themselves are normally pH indicators, and most complexation reactions are pH-dependent as well. For example, the titration of iron(III) is performed in acidic conditions, while the complexation of calcium can only take place under alkaline conditions. This leads to the fact that the pH has to be maintained constantly while performing complexometric titrations. Otherwise, the color change might not be visible, indicated incorrectly, or the complexation might not take place.

Second, complexation reactions do not occur immediately, as with e.g. precipitation reactions. The reaction might take some time. As an example, the complexation reaction of aluminum with EDTA can take up to ten minutes to be completed. Therefore it is also important to keep this factor in mind.

Perhaps a back-titration needs to be performed in such a case to increase accuracy and precision. Please have a look at our blog post “What to consider during back-titration” for more information about this topic.

Summary

Complexometric titrations are easy to perform as long as some important points are kept in mind:

  • If more than one type of metal is present in your sample, you might need to consider a masking agent or a more suitable pH range.
  • Reaction duration of your complexation reaction might be long. In this case, a back-titration or titration at elevated temperatures might be a better option.
  • Make sure that you maintain a stable pH during your titration. This can be achieved by addition of an adequate buffer solution.
  • Switching from manual to automated titration will increase accuracy and prevent common systematic errors. When using an optical sensor, make sure that you choose the right wavelength for the detection of the endpoint.

For a general overview of complexometric titration, have a look at Metrohm Application Bulletin AB-101 – Complexometric titrations with the Cu ISE.

For more detailed information

Download our free monograph:

Complexometric (Chelatometric) Titrations

Post written by Iris Kalkman, Product Specialist Titration at Metrohm International Headquarters, Herisau, Switzerland.