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Analysis of prebiotics with IC-PAD: Improving AOAC 2001.02

Analysis of prebiotics with IC-PAD: Improving AOAC 2001.02

Our diet is critical for our health. In the past several years, interest has increased in food additives and dietary supplements such as prebiotics like β-galactooligosaccharides (GOSs). The determination of total GOS contents in food and supplements is essential to fulfill strict food labeling and safety requirements. The most widely used method for total GOS determination is based on enzymatic hydrolysis to break down the complex molecules into simple carbohydrates prior to their chromatographic analysis. This article outlines the advantage of using an improvement to AOAC Method 2001.02 using ion chromatography with amperometric detection (IC-PAD) and full sample automation after enzymatic hydrolysis.

What are GOSs?

GOSs are chains of galactose units with an optional glucose end. They are often naturally present in small amounts in various foods and beverages.

Initially discovered as major constituents of human breast milk (present up to 12 g/L), GOSs are added as a prebiotic supplement to infant formulas. They show bifidogenic effects, meaning they support growth and well-being of non-pathogenic gut bacteria.

GOS supplements are available either raw, or as concentrated powders or syrups, and are subsequently used by food manufacturers to enrich consumer products or sold as supplements.

GOS labeling requirements

The ongoing growth of global prebiotic and GOS markets is a result of increasing consumer awareness regarding healthy eating. Similarly, increased demand regarding food quality has led to stricter, more comprehensive rules for food labeling and safety (e.g., EU 1169/2011 and  EU 2015/2283). The determination of total GOS contents in food, supplements, or raw products is thus essential to fulfill such requirements.

Studies about GOS health effects recommend maximum doses under 30 g per day, though this is much stricter for infant formulas. Otherwise, there are no other limits regarding GOS content in food or as nutritional supplements.

AOAC 2001.02

The most widely used method to measure total GOSs in food products is the standard method AOAC 2001.02. This method is based on the extraction of GOS from a sample followed by enzymatic hydrolysis of the oligosaccharides into monosaccharides and their subsequent analyses with high performance anion exchange chromatography with pulsed amperometric detection.

Figure 1. Schematic for determination of total GOS contents using ion chromatography with pulsed amperometric detection (IC-PAD) according to AOAC 2001.02, and an optimized method from Metrohm (in green). Chromatography for anions in AOAC is referred as HPAEC (high performance anion exchange chromatography) but is simplified here to the generic term of IC.

In AOAC, chromatography for anions is referred to as HPAEC (high performance anion exchange chromatography) but here we will simplify this to the generic term of IC.

The key to AOAC 2001.02 is the comparison of a control solution with one which has been treated and hydrolyzed with an enzyme (β-galactosidase). The enzyme catalyzes the splitting of glycosidic bonds and hydrolyzes GOSs and lactose into glucose and galactose. The concentration differences of free galactose and lactose determined in these two solutions is used to calculate the total GOSs (Figure 1).

Improvements to the AOAC Method

The sample preparation for AOAC 2001.02 is rather complex: one shortcoming is the incubation of the reference solution with the deactivated enzyme (which is rather expensive) to determine the initial carbohydrate concentrations (Figure 1) rather than using the pure extract. Another critical point is the sample dilution procedure, which is supposed to be done in acetonitrile, while standards are based on ultrapure water.

Here, the focus was to simplify the entire procedure to increase the ease of use and the overall efficiency of the method.

The improved method for total GOS content analysis uses the extract for measuring of the initial glucose, galactose, and lactose concentrations (Figure 1 Assay 1). However, the deactivated enzyme was not used, and instead comparisons were made to see if its presence had any effect on the results. This step was eliminated after proving results equivalent to AOAC 2001.02 Assay 1 (with the deactivated enzyme), but chemical expenses and additional manual work are reduced. The total GOS content is therefore calculated from the analyte concentrations in Assay 1 (without any enzyme) and Assay 2 (extract with the active enzyme) (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Overlaid chromatograms of Bimuno (prebiotic supplement), untreated (black) and treated with enzyme (orange).

Want to know more details about the application? Download our free Application Note AN-P-087 about total GOS analysis in foods with ion chromatography!

Aside from the enzyme usage, the official AOAC method for analysis of total GOSs suggests that standards be prepared in ultrapure water (UPW) while samples are to be diluted with 20% acetonitrile. A control experiment was performed to compare results between:

  • Dilutions in UPW evaluated with UPW calibration (“UPW option”)
  • Dilutions in acetonitrile evaluated with UPW calibration (AOAC 2001.02)
  • Dilutions in acetonitrile evaluated with acetonitrile calibration (“ACN option”)

Reproducibility of total GOS contents was compared among the three options, with the UPW and AOAC preparation options exhibiting similar results. The ACN option resulted in lower total GOS contents than the others. Additionally, the acetonitrile did not seem to lend a stabilizing effect to the samples. This supports the improvement of the AOAC method by performing sample dilutions with UPW instead of acetonitrile, saving unnecessary reagents and limiting the chemical imprint of the analysis.


Overall, the satisfying variability, target and spike recoveries (Application Note AN-P-087), together with the interference tests proved the modified method as valuable and robust. With limits of detection (LODs) of 0.1 mg/L (galactose) and 0.2 mg/L (glucose, lactose) in solution, even low total GOS contents can be determined with high precision.


As a multicomponent method, ion chromatography with amperometric detection is a very selective, sensitive, and robust analysis method for carbohydrates without any additional derivatization steps. In combination with enzymatic treatment, even more complex carbohydrates can be quantified.

This research presents an update to the standard AOAC method for total GOS determination in foodstuffs. With the same principle (enzymatic hydrolysis of complex GOS molecules followed by chromatographic analysis of simple carbohydrates), analytical method efficiency was improved in favor of laboratory time and running costs. Additional automation steps (e.g., Metrohm Inline Dilution and automatic calibrations) can further improve the method efficiency.

Want more information about the simplified method for total GOSs via IC-PAD? More details about the improvement of AOAC method 2001.02 by reducing manual laboratory work and eliminating expensive reagents can be found in our article published in The Column from LC/GC (2021): Improving on AOAC 2001.02: GOS Determination in Foods Using HPAEC–PAD.

Read our article in LC/GC The Column (2021)

Improving on AOAC 2001.02: GOS Determination in Foods Using HPAEC–PAD

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

«Analyze This»: 2020 in review

«Analyze This»: 2020 in review

I wanted to end 2020 by thanking all of you for making «Analyze This» – the Metrohm blog for chemists such a success! For our 60th blog post, I’d like to look back and focus on the wealth of interesting topics we have published this year. There is truly something for everyone: it doesn’t matter whether your lab focuses on titration or spectroscopic techniques, or analyzes water samples or illicit substances – we’ve got you covered! If you’re looking to answer your most burning chemical analysis questions, we have FAQs and other series full of advice from the experts. Or if you’re just in the mood to learn something new in a few minutes, there are several posts about the chemical world to discover.

We love to hear back from you as well. Leaving comments on your favorite blog posts or contacting us through social media are great ways to voice your opinion—we at Metrohm are here for you!

Finally, I wish you and your families a safe, restful holiday season. «Analyze This» will return on January 11, 2021, so subscribe if you haven’t already done so, and bookmark this page for an overview of all of our articles grouped by topic!

Stay healthy, and stay curious.

Best wishes,

Dr. Alyson Lanciki, Scientific Editor, Metrohm AG

Quickly jump directly to any section by clicking a topic:

Customer Stories

We are curious by nature, and enjoy hearing about the variety of projects where our products are being used! For some examples of interesting situations where Metrohm analytical equipment is utilized, read on.

From underwater archaeological research to orbiting Earth on the International Space Station, Metrohm is there! We assist on all types of projects, like brewing top quality beers and even growing antibiotic-free shrimp – right here in Switzerland.

Interested in being featured? Contact your local Metrohm dealer for details!


Metrohm is the global market leader in analytical instruments for titration. Who else is better then to advise you in this area? Our experts are eager to share their knowledge with you, and show this with the abundance of topics they have contributed this year to our blog.

For more in-depth information about obtaining the most accurate pH measurements, take a look at our FAQ about pH calibration or read about avoiding the most common mistakes in pH measurement. You may pick up a few tips!

Choose the best electrode for your needs and keep it in top condition with our best practices, and then learn how to standardize titrant properly. Better understand what to consider during back-titration, check out thermometric titration and its advantages and applications, or read about the most common challenges and how to overcome them when carrying out complexometric titrations

If you are interested in improving your conductivity measurements, measuring dissolved oxygen, or the determination of oxidation in edible fats and oils, check out these blog posts and download our free Application Notes and White Papers!

Finally, this article about comprehensive water analysis with a combination of titration and ion chromatography explains the many benefits for laboratories with large sample loads. The history behind the TitrIC analysis system used for these studies can be found in a separate blog post.

Karl Fischer Titration

Metrohm and Karl Fischer titration: a long history of success. Looking back on more than half a century of experience in KFT, Metrohm has shaped what coulometric and volumetric water analysis are today.

Aside from the other titration blog posts, our experts have also written a 2-part series including 20 of the most frequently asked questions for KFT arranged into three categories: instrument preparation and handling, titration troubleshooting, and the oven technique. Our article about how to properly standardize Karl Fischer titrant will take you step by step through the process to obtain correct results.

For more specific questions, read about the oven method for sample preparation, or which is the best technique to choose when measuring moisture in certain situations: Karl Fischer titration, near-infrared spectroscopy, or both?

Ion Chromatography (IC)

Ion chromatography has been a part of the Metrohm portfolio since the late 1980s. From routine IC analysis to research and development, and from stand-alone analyzers to fully automated systems, Metrohm has provided IC solutions for all situations. If you’re curious about the backstory of R&D, check out the ongoing series about the history of IC at Metrohm.

Metrohm IC user sitting at a laboratory bench.

Common questions for users are answered in blog posts about IC column tips and tricks and Metrohm inline ultrafiltration. Clear calculations showing how to increase productivity and profitability in environmental analysis with IC perfectly complement our article about comprehensive water analysis using IC and titration together for faster sample throughput.

On the topic of foods and beverages, you can find out how to determine total sulfite faster and easier than ever, measure herbicides in drinking water, or even learn how Metrohm IC is used in Switzerland to grow shrimp!

Near-Infrared Spectroscopy (NIRS)

Metrohm NIRS analyzers for the lab and for process analysis enable you to perform routine analysis quickly and with confidence – without requiring sample preparation or additional reagents and yielding results in less than a minute. Combining visible (Vis) and near-infrared (NIR) spectroscopy, these analyzers are capable of performing qualitative analysis of various materials and quantitative analysis of a number of physical and chemical parameters in one run.

Our experts have written all about the benefits of NIR spectroscopy in a 4-part series, which includes an explanation of the advantages of NIRS over conventional wet chemical analysis methods, differences between NIR and IR spectroscopy, how to implement NIRS in your laboratory workflow, and examples of how pre-calibrations make implementation even quicker.

A comparison between NIRS and the Karl Fischer titration method for moisture analysis is made in a dedicated article.

A 2-part FAQ about NIRS has also been written in a collaboration between our laboratory and process analysis colleagues, covering all kinds of questions related to both worlds.

Raman Spectroscopy

This latest addition to the Metrohm family expands the Metrohm portfolio to include novel, portable instruments for materials identification and verification. We offer both Metrohm Raman as well as B&W Tek products to cover a variety of needs and requirements.

Here you can find out some of the history of Raman spectroscopy including the origin story behind Mira, the handheld Raman instrument from Metrohm Raman. For a real-world situation involving methamphetamine identification by law enforcement and first responders, read about Mira DS in action – detecting drugs safely in the field.

Mira - handheld Raman keeping you safe in hazardous situations.

Are you looking for an easier way to detect food fraud? Our article about Misa describes its detection capabilities and provides several free Application Notes for download.

Process Analytics

We cater to both: the laboratory and the production floor. The techniques and methods for laboratory analysis are also available for automated in-process analysis with the Metrohm Process Analytics brand of industrial process analyzers.

Learn about how Metrohm became pioneers in the process world—developing the world’s first online wet chemistry process analyzer, and find out how Metrohm’s modular IC expertise has been used to push the limits in the industrial process optimization.

Additionally, a 2-part FAQ has been written about near-infrared spectroscopy by both laboratory and process analysis experts, which is helpful when starting out or even if you’re an advanced user.

Finally, we offer a 3-part series about the advantages of process analytical technology (PAT) covering the topics of process automation advantages, digital networking of production plants, and error and risk minimization in process analysis.

Voltammetry (VA)

Voltammetry is an electrochemical method for the determination of trace and ultratrace concentrations of heavy metals and other electrochemically active substances. Both benchtop and portable options are available with a variety of electrodes to choose from, allowing analysis in any situation.

A 5-part series about solid-state electrodes covers a range of new sensors suitable for the determination of «heavy metals» using voltammetric methods. This series offers information and example applications for the Bi drop electrode, scTrace Gold electrode (as well as a modified version), screen-printed electrodes, and the glassy carbon rotating disc electrode.

Come underwater with Metrohm and Hublot in our blog post as they try to find the missing pieces of the ancient Antikythera Mechanism in Greece with voltammetry.

If you’d like to learn about the combination of voltammetry with ion chromatography and the expanded application capabilities, take a look at our article about combined analysis techniques.

Electrochemistry (EC)

Electrochemistry plays an important role in groundbreaking technologies such as battery research, fuel cells, and photovoltaics. Metrohm’s electrochemistry portfolio covers everything from potentiostats/galvanostats to accessories and software.

Our two subsidiaries specializing in electrochemistry, Metrohm Autolab (Utrecht, Netherlands) and Metrohm DropSens (Asturias, Spain) develop and produce a comprehensive portfolio of electrochemistry equipment.

This year, the COVID-19 pandemic has been at the top of the news, and with it came the discussion of testing – how reliable or accurate was the data? In our blog post about virus detection with screen-printed electrodes, we explain the differences between different testing methods and their drawbacks, the many benefits of electrochemical testing methods, and provide a free informative White Paper for interested laboratories involved in this research.

Our electrochemistry instruments have also gone to the International Space Station as part of a research project to more efficiently recycle water on board spacecraft for long-term missions.

The History of…

Stories inspire people, illuminating the origins of theories, concepts, and technologies that we may have become to take for granted. Metrohm aims to inspire chemists—young and old—to be the best and never stop learning. Here, you can find our blog posts that tell the stories behind the scenes, including the Metrohm founder Bertold Suhner.

Bertold Suhner, founder of Metrohm.

For more history behind the research and development behind Metrohm products, take a look at our series about the history of IC at Metrohm, or read about how Mira became mobile. If you are more interested in process analysis, then check out the story about the world’s first process analyzer, built by Metrohm Process Analytics.

Need something lighter? Then the 4-part history of chemistry series may be just what you’re looking for.

Specialty Topics

Some articles do not fit neatly into the same groups as the rest, but are nonetheless filled with informative content! Here you can find an overview of Metrohm’s free webinars, grouped by measurement technique.

If you work in a regulated industry such as pharmaceutical manufacturing or food and beverage production, don’t miss our introduction to Analytical Instrument Qualification and what it can mean for consumer safety!


Finally, if you are more interested in reading articles related to the industry you work in, here are some compilations of our blog posts in various areas including pharmaceutical, illicit substances, food and beverages, and of course water analysis. More applications and information can be found on our website.

Food and beverages
All of these products can be measured for total sulfite content.

Oxidation stability is an estimate of how quickly a fat or oil will become rancid. It is a standard parameter of quality control in the production of oils and fats in the food industry or for the incoming goods inspection in processing facilities. To learn more about how to determine if your edible oils are rancid, read our blog post.

Determining total sulfite in foods and beverages has never been faster or easier than with our IC method. Read on about how to perform this notoriously frustrating analysis and get more details in our free LC/GC The Column article available for download within.

Measuring the true sodium content in foodstuff directly and inexpensively is possible using thermometric titration, which is discussed in more detail here. To find out the best way to determine moisture content in foods, our experts have written a blog post about the differences between Karl Fischer titration and near-infrared spectroscopy methods.

To determine if foods, beverages, spices, and more are adulterated, you no longer have to wait for the lab. With Misa, it is possible to measure a variety of illicit substances in complex matrices within minutes, even on the go.

All of these products can be measured for total sulfite content.

Making high quality products is a subject we are passionate about. This article discusses improving beer brewing practices and focuses on the tailor-made system built for Feldschlösschen, Switzerland’s largest brewer.

Pharmaceutical / healthcare

Like the food sector, pharmaceutical manufacturing is a very tightly regulated industry. Consumer health is on the line if quality drops.

Ensuring that the analytical instruments used in the production processes are professionally qualified is a must, especially when auditors come knocking. Find out more about this step in our blog post about Analytical Instrument Qualification (AIQ).

Moisture content in the excipients, active ingredients, and in the final product is imperative to measure. This can be accomplished with different analytical methods, which we compare and contrast for you here.

The topic of virus detection has been on the minds of everyone this year. In this blog post, we discuss virus detection based on screen-printed electrodes, which are a more cost-effective and customizable option compared to other conventional techniques.

Water analysis

Water is our business. From trace analysis up to high concentration determinations, Metrohm has you covered with a variety of analytical measurement techniques and methods developed by the experts.

Learn how to increase productivity and profitability in environmental analysis laboratories with IC with a real life example and cost calculations, or read about how one of our customers in Switzerland uses automated Metrohm IC to monitor the water quality in shrimp breeding pools.

If heavy metal analysis is what you are interested in, then you may find our 5-part series about trace analysis with solid-state electrodes very handy.

Unwanted substances may find their way into our water supply through agricultural practices. Find out an easier way to determine herbicides in drinking water here!

Water is arguably one of the most important ingredients in the brewing process. Determination of major anions and cations along with other parameters such as alkalinity are described in our blog post celebrating International Beer Day.

All of these products can be measured for total sulfite content.
Illicit / harmful substances

When you are unsure if your expensive spices are real or just a colored powder, if your dairy products have been adulterated with melamine, or fruits and vegetables were sprayed with illegal pesticides, it’s time to test for food fraud. Read our blog post about simple, fast determination of illicit substances in foods and beverages for more information.

Detection of drugs, explosives, and other illegal substances can be performed safely by law enforcement officers and first responders without the need for a lab or chemicals with Mira DS. Here you can read about a real life training to identify a methamphetamine laboratory.

Drinking water regulations are put in place by authorities out of concern for our health. Herbicides are important to measure in our drinking water as they have been found to be carcinogenic in many instances.

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

Trace metal analysis with solid-state electrodes – Part 5

Trace metal analysis with solid-state electrodes – Part 5

In the last part of our series of articles about trace metal analysis using solid-state electrodes, we will have a look at the glassy carbon rotating disc electrode (GC RDE) and its application possibilities.

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

The Glassy Carbon Rotating Disc Electrode

A rotating disc electrode (RDE) consists of two parts: the electrode tip which is made available in different materials, and a driving axle. The electrode tip is simply screwed onto the axle (Figure 1) to assemble the complete working electrode.

Figure 1. The two parts which make up the RDE. Left: driving axle for RDE. Right: glassy carbon electrode tip, with shaft made of glass.

Glassy carbon (GC) has a long history as solid electrode material for trace metal analysis. In general, GC is carbon with an amorphous structure which is similar to glass or ceramics, but different from graphite or diamond which both have a crystalline structure.

Aside from properties including a high temperature stability and a hardness similar to quartz, glassy carbon is very chemically inert and has a low electrical resistance, making it a versatile electrode material.

In the Metrohm GC electrode tip (Figure 1), the glassy carbon rod is fused within a glass shaft—another inert material. This design creates an electrode tip that is inert against most chemicals and solvents and guarantees measurements with excellent reproducibility due to the seamless intersection between the electrode material and glass shaft.

Modification with a metal film

For trace metal applications, the GC electrode is modified with a metal film, usually mercury or bismuth. The film is plated ex-situ from an acid plating solution which contains about 20 mg/L Hg2+ or Bi3+. Such a solution can easily be prepared from commercially available metal standard solutions and can be used for the plating of several films.

Once the film is deposited on the glassy carbon electrode, multiple determinations can be carried out with the same film. When the performance deteriorates, the exhausted film is simply wiped off and a fresh film is plated. Since only the renewable film is affected by aging processes, the GC electrode itself can be used for a very long time.

Applications using glassy carbon electrodes exhibit excellent reproducibility and stability in combination with very low detection limits.

Figure 2. Glassy carbon rotating disc electrode in a 884 Professional VA instrument from Metrohm.


Cadmium and lead determinations

The risk of cadmium and lead poisoning from drinking water and the significance of the determination of these two elements has already been discussed in previous posts in this series. To monitor the guideline values of 3 µg/L for cadmium and 10 µg/L for lead, recommended by the WHO (World Health Organization), a detection limit of β(Cd) = 0.3 µg/L and β(Pb) = 1 µg/L would be sufficient.

With the glassy carbon electrode the determination is far more sensitive, featuring a ten-fold improvement on the limit of detection of β(Cd) = 0.02 µg/L and β(Pb) = 0.05 µg/L with a deposition time of 30 s. This limit can be lowered even more with an increased deposition time.

For this extremely sensitive determination, a mercury film is plated on the glassy carbon electrode. The determination of cadmium and lead is carried out by anodic stripping voltammetry (ASV).

To learn more about this application, please check our website.

Free Application Note download: AN-V-225 Cadmium and lead in drinking water – Simultaneous determination on a mercury film modified glassy carbon electrode.

The very low detection limit makes this application especially interesting when it is not only required to monitor limit values but to actually detect concentrations in the ppt (parts per trillion, ng/L) range, e.g. in environmental analysis such as for seawater research.

Nickel and cobalt measurements

Another application with very low detection limits using the GC electrode is the determination of nickel and cobalt. This electrode allows the detection of concentrations down to β(Ni) = 0.05 µg/L and β(Co) = 0.03 µg/L. For this application, the electrode is modified with a bismuth film. The determination of nickel and cobalt is carried out by adsorptive stripping voltammetry (AdSV) using the complexing agent DMG (dimethylglyoxime).

Figure 3. Determination of β(Ni) = 0.34 µg/L and β(Co) < LOD in tap water (30 s deposition time) using the GC RDE.

For decades, this method was successfully executed with the mercury drop electrode. The use of a bismuth film on a glassy carbon electrode offers a non-toxic alternative with a similar sensitivity as the established method. Besides the high sensitivity, this application also shows excellent repeatability.

20 consecutive determinations of β(Ni) = 0.5 µg/L and β(Co) = 0.5 µg/L, carried out on the same bismuth film, showed an average recovery of 105% for nickel, with a relative standard deviation (RSD) of 2.0%. The recovery for cobalt was 112% with a RSD of 3.3%. This makes this method a viable tool in environmental analysis when natural background concentrations, which are often in the ppt (ng/L) range, should be investigated.

For further details about this application, please refer to Application Note AN-V-224: Nickel and cobalt in drinking water – Simultaneous determination in low ng/L range on the GC RDE modified with a bismuth film.

Chromium(VI) monitoring

Legal limits for chromium are relatively high. For example, the guideline value of the World Health Organization (WHO) is 50 µg/L for drinking water. These values usually refer to the total chromium concentration, but there are significant differences in toxicity between Cr(III) and Cr(VI). Even miniscule doses of Cr(VI) are toxic as well as carcinogenic.

Since the beginning of this century, there have been ongoing discussions in the scientific community about whether an additional limit value only for Cr(VI) is required, and what this value should be.

Measuring techniques are needed which allow the determination of Cr(VI) in the ng/L range. Using the glassy carbon electrode modified with a mercury film it is possible to detect Cr(VI) concentrations down to 0.05 µg/L. Cr(VI) is determined by adsorptive stripping voltammetry (AdSV) with DTPA (diethylenetriaminepentaacetic acid) as complexing agent. The recovery of a concentration of β(Cr(VI)) = 0.1 µg/L is 111% with a relative standard deviation of 4.4% (triplicate determination).

If you are interested to learn more, download our free Application Note V-277: Chromium(VI) in drinking water – Ultra-sensitive determination on the mercury film modified glassy carbon electrode (DTPA method).

All the above-mentioned applications can be carried out manually with a 884 Professional VA system (Figure 4), but it is also possible to run small sample series with an automated setup.

Figure 4. 884 Professional VA with two 800 Dosinos for automatic addition of electrolyte and standard solution.


This was the last post in our five-part series on heavy metal analysis with solid state electrodes. If this or one of the previous posts sparked your interest in one of the applications, do not hesitate to contact your local Metrohm representative.

For a complete overview of the different applications that can be performed with the SSEs exhibited in this series, check out the table below. Click on each application note or bulletin for a free download! 

Overview: Applications with Metrohm SSEs
Element Electrode Application Document Lab Portable
Ag GC RDE Application Bulletin 207

As scTRACE Gold Application Note V-210
Application Note V-211

Bi scTRACE Gold Application Note V-218

Cd, Pb GC RDE (Hg film) Application Note V-225

Cd, Pb SPE (Hg film) Application Note V-231

Cd, Pb Bi drop Application Note V-221

Cr(VI) GC RDE (Hg film) Application Note V-227

Cr(VI) scTRACE Gold (Hg film) Application Note V-230

Cu scTRACE Gold Application Note V-213

Fe scTRACE Gold Application Note V-216

Fe Bi drop Application Note V-222

Hg scTRACE Gold Application Note V-212

Ni, Co scTRACE Gold (Bi film) Application Note V-217

Ni, Co GC RDE (Bi film) Application Note V-224

Ni, Co SPE (Bi film) Application Note V-232

Ni, Co Bi drop Application Note V-223

Pb scTRACE Gold (Ag film) Application Note V-214

Sb(III) scTRACE Gold Application Note V-229

Se(IV) scTRACE Gold Application Note V-233

Te(IV) scTRACE Gold Application Note V-234

Tl scTRACE Gold (Ag film) Application Note V-228

Zn scTRACE Gold Application Note V-215

Post written by Barbara ZumbrägelProduct Manager VA/CVS at Metrohm International Headquarters, Herisau, Switzerland.

Trace metal analysis with solid-state electrodes – Part 3

Trace metal analysis with solid-state electrodes – Part 3

In Part 2 of this series on trace metal analysis with solid-state electrodes, we introduced the scTRACE Gold electrode. The third part of this series explains even more applications which can be performed with this electrode, but this time after modifying the gold micro-wire with a thin layer of another metal.

Catch up on the series «Trace metal analysis with solid-state electrodes» here:

Why modify the electrode material?

As explained for the Bi drop electrode in Part 1 of this series, stripping voltammetry is a two-step measurement.

In the first step, the analyte is deposited on the working electrode. In the case of anodic stripping voltammetry (ASV), the analyte is reduced and forms an alloy with the electrode material (Fig. 1). In the case of adsorptive stripping voltammetry (AdSV), the analyte forms a complex which is adsorbed to the working electrode.

In the subsequent stripping step, the deposit is brought back into solution, giving the analytical signal which is proportional to the deposited amount of analyte. In the case of ASV, the electrochemical reaction is the re-oxidation of the analyte during an anodic scan (Fig. 2). In the case of AdSV, the adsorbed metal complex is reduced during a cathodic scan.

Figure 1. Anodic stripping voltammetry (ASV) with Ag film modified scTrace Gold electrode – deposition of lead (solution stirred).

Figure 2. Anodic stripping voltammetry (ASV) with Ag film modified scTrace Gold electrode – stripping of lead (solution not stirred).

Both steps, deposition as well as stripping, are subject to the principles of kinetics and thermodynamics. Without going into detail, the result is simply that some analytes cannot be determined with certain electrode materials. One way to solve this problem is to modify an existing working electrode with a different material that is more suitable.


Lead in drinking water

Most of the lead which is present in surface and ground water is of anthropogenic origin, resulting from the leaching of contaminated soils. Lead in tap water, however, often originates from the household plumbing system. Pipes from lead metal were popular in some countries until the 1970s. Although Pb is barely soluble in water, it slowly dissolves in the presence of oxygen. As a result, the allowed limit for lead in tap water can be easily exceeded by a significant amount. Now lead pipes for municipal water transport are forbidden, but there are still houses with old installations intact. The WHO (World Health Organization) recommends a limit value for lead in drinking water of 10 µg/L. In the European Union, the upcoming limit is as low as 5 µg/L.

For the determination of lead, the scTRACE Gold electrode is modified with a silver film. The film is plated ex situ from a separate plating solution. Once plated, it can be used for multiple determinations. When the film is depleted, it can be removed, and then a fresh film is plated again. A side effect of the silver film is that the scTRACE Gold electrode lasts longer, since aging processes mainly affect the renewable silver film. In a repeatability study, determining 10 µg/L Pb with 3 different electrodes on 4 different days (total number of determinations = 10) the average recovery of Pb was 96% with a relative standard deviation of 5%.

Using the 884 Professional VA it is possible to measure lead concentrations in water down to 0.4 µg/L, allowing a simple and reliable determination of even the future limit in the European Union.

With the 946 Portable VA Analyzer, the limit of detection is only slightly higher: 0.6 µg/L. However, the mobile use offers the possibility for close monitoring of individual installations without the need to preserve samples and send them in to a central lab. Furthermore, the concerned resident gets an immediate result on the spot.

Free Application Note download: AN-V-214 Lead in drinking water – Straightforward determination by voltammetry using a gold microwire electrode.

If you want to learn more about our voltammetry product lines, lab as well as mobile, check out our website!

Nickel and cobalt in drinking water

Similar to lead, nickel concentrations present in water sources can be increased by human influence as well. Plumbing fixtures and faucets are often plated with a thin layer of nickel for protection against corrosion, even if the finish is made of chromium. Furthermore, nickel is part of many alloys from stainless steel to nickel brasses and bronze. Nickel steel alloy cookware or nickel pigmented dishes can also cause increased nickel levels. The maximum allowed level in drinking water in the European Union is 20 µg/L whereas the WHO recommends a limit of 70 µg/L.

For the voltammetric determination of nickel and cobalt, an ex situ plated bismuth film on the scTRACE Gold electrode is used as working electrode. Nickel as well as cobalt are determined in the form of their DMG (dimethylglyoxime) complex. This method had already proven its reliability with the mercury electrode, and therefore this application can now be transferred to a mercury-free electrode. With a detection limit of 1 µg/L with the 946 Portable Analyzer, and even lower at 0.2 µg/L with the 884 Professional VA lab instrument, the method is surely sufficient to monitor the compliance with legal requirements. The recovery for 1 µg/L Ni in a standard solution is about 99% (mean of 10 determinations) with a relative standard deviation of 5%.

Free Application Note download: AN-V-217 Nickel, cobalt in drinking water – Straightforward determination by voltammetry using a gold microwire electrode.

Chromium(VI) in drinking water

The problem of chromium(VI) in drinking water was brought to the attention of the general public with the movie «Erin Brockovich» in 2000, starring Julia Roberts. The plot is based on a true story, which happened in the small community of Hinkley, California, where the local energy provider contaminated the groundwater with the carcinogenic hexavalent chromium. The company attempted to cover up the incident, but an increased number of tumors and other health problems among the residents could finally be traced back to the contaminated drinking water.

Contamination with Cr(VI) in the environment is usually the result of improper handling of various industrial processes, especially abandoned waste dumped from galvanic chromium plating. The WHO recommends a maximum limit of 50 µg/L total chromium for drinking water

After modifying the scTRACE Gold electrode with an ex situ plated mercury film, Chromium(VI) can be determined as a complex with DTPA (diethylenetriaminepentaacetic acid). The recovery of a standard containing 30 µg/L Cr(VI) is 115% (mean of 3 determinations) with a relative standard deviation of 2%. Using the 946 Portable VA Analyzer it possible to determine concentrations down to 2 µg/L Cr(VI), allowing the on-site determination, providing immediate results without delay.

Free Application Note download: AN-V-230 Chromium(VI) in drinking water – Sensitive determination on the mercury film modified scTRACE Gold (DTPA method).


Talking about all of the applications that are possible with the scTRACE Gold electrode would go beyond the scope of this blog. The table here gives an overview of several elements for which methods with the scTRACE Gold are currently available from Metrohm. Your local Metrohm representative can assist in case of questions regarding the determination of one of the elements, or analysis in a specific matrix.

Figure 3. The scTRACE Gold electrode from Metrohm is suitable for trace analysis of several elements in water.

Overview: Applications with the scTRACE Gold
Element Application document
As(total) Application Note V-210
As(III) Application Note V-211
Hg Application Note V-212
Cu Application Note V-213
Pb Application Note V-214
Zn Application Note V-215
Tl Application Note V-228
Fe Application Note V-216
Ni, Co Application Note V-217
Bi Application Note V-218
Sb(III) Application Note V-229
Cr(VI) Application Note V-230

What’s next?

In Part 4 of this series, I will discuss the use of screen-printed electrodes (SPEs) which had already been introduced in the blog post «Virus detection using screen-printed electrodes». However, this time the focus will be on the determination of heavy metals using these disposable electrodes.

Post written by Barbara ZumbrägelProduct Manager VA/CVS at Metrohm International Headquarters, Herisau, Switzerland.

Trace metal analysis with solid-state electrodes – Part 3

Trace metal analysis with solid-state electrodes – Part 2

In the second part of our series on «heavy metal» analysis with solid-state electrodes, the focus lies on the scTRACE Gold electrode. Gold electrodes have been used in electrochemistry for decades. However, the scTRACE Gold has a very special design. Originally developed to improve the voltammetric determination of arsenic, the electrode has also proven to be suitable for the determination of a number of other elements, such as copper, iron, lead, and even the toxic chromium(VI).

Did you miss Part 1 of the series? Find it here!

How does it work?

The working electrode is a gold micro-wire (Fig. 1), which is thinner than a human hair. This special form of electrode leads to a very short initial preparation time. Different from other gold electrodes, the scTRACE Gold is ready for use within a few minutes.

Another advantage of this electrode is that it comes with the reference and the auxiliary electrode printed on the rear side of the sensor (Fig. 2). That does not only save on costs for the two additional electrodes required in a voltammetric system, it also makes maintenance for the reference electrode obsolete.

Figure 1. Close-up view of the gold micro-wire working electrode on the scTRACE Gold.

Figure 2. Close-up view of the reference and auxiliary electrode on the rear side of the scTRACE Gold.


The high level of sensitivity and a straightforward setup makes voltammetry a valuable tool in drinking water analysis.

Availability of clean drinking water is one of the major concerns of the 21st century. Besides microbiological contaminations, such as bacteria and viruses, the presence of heavy metals in drinking water can be a health risk. The first step in providing clean water is to identify contaminants, since health-threatening concentrations of heavy metals are not visible. For many heavy metals, limit values in drinking water are specified by authorities like the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or the European Commission. Water quality laboratories often use ICP (inductively coupled plasma) to monitor metal concentrations in drinking water.

Voltammetry is one of the few analysis techniques which offers a comparable sensitivity. Needing only basic infrastructure and low running costs, voltammetry is a viable alternative to monitor some key elements. In the following sections, some selected application examples are shown which demonstrate the capabilities of the scTrace Gold electrode in water analysis.

Arsenic in drinking water

Arsenic gained some global notoriety when water wells were built in Bangladesh to avoid diseases caused by microbiological contaminations in the surface water. Rather than suffering from cholera or hepatitis, people were instead afflicted with chronic arsenic poisoning.

It would be somewhat careless to believe that arsenic is only a problem in less developed countries. Actually, arsenic can be found nearly everywhere in the earth’s crust. Though as Paracelsus already knew, «the concentration makes the poison».

Therefore, the crucial question is how much of this arsenic finds its way into the water table. The WHO (World Health Organization) recommends a concentration of 10 µg/L arsenic as the maximum level in water that is intended for human consumption. This figure is also the legal limit in many countries.

Want to know more about arsenic? Then download our free article: «Arsenic – The multipurpose poison».

The voltammetric determination of the limit value of 10 µg/L shows a recovery of about 92% (n = 10 determinations) with a relative standard deviation of 6.5%. With a detection limit of 1 µg/L, which is one tenth of the legal limit, voltammetry using the scTRACE Gold electrode offers a reliable and cost-effective way of monitoring the arsenic content of drinking water.

For more information, download our free application note AN-V-210: Total arsenic in mineral water – Straightforward determination by voltammetry on a gold microwire electrode.

The scTRACE Gold electrode can be used with the 884 Professional VA as well as with the 946 Portable VA Analyzer. The 884 Professional VA is designed for laboratory use. The system is extremely flexible and can be adapted to user requirements. The modular setup also allows a later extension of the instrument from manual to fully automated.

As the name says, the 946 Portable VA Analyzer is intended for mobile use. It allows for on-site determination, directly at the sample source.

Copper in surface water

Under normal circumstances, copper in drinking water is not a problem. The legal limits are comparably high, WHO recommends a maximum concentration of 2 mg/L. An example from the field illustrates where the determination of copper in water can nevertheless be advisable.

The production of distilled alcoholic beverages (e.g., gin, whiskey, brandy, schnapps) involves single or multiple distillation of the raw material, which is done in copper stills. Cleaning out the copper apparatus and draining the rinsing water to a river can contaminate the environment with copper.

Although regulatory limits in effluents are usually higher than in drinking water, the copper limits can still be exceeded if the water is not treated properly prior to discharge. Since pollution from this cleaning is not a continuous process but only occurs periodically, it is difficult to detect and even harder to confirm, especially in less accessible areas.

Here, mobile voltammetry using the scTRACE Gold with the 946 Portable VA Analyzer can make a valuable contribution to the protection of the environment due to the reliable determination of low concentrations of copper.

For a concentration of 5 µg/L, the mean recovery of 10 determinations is approximately 107%, with a relative standard deviation of 2%. Concentrations down to 0.5 µg/L copper in the water can be determined directly at the point of sampling. This allows immediate re-sampling in case of suspicious results, and can furthermore help to locate the source of the pollution. In this way, chances increase to identify the source and hold the responsible entity accountable.

For more information, download our free application note AN-V-213: Copper in drinking water – Straightforward determination by voltammetry using a gold microwire electrode.

Iron in water

According to WHO, iron does not pose a health concern in levels typically found in drinking water. In contrast, it is an essential element for human nutrition. Nevertheless, many countries specify a maximum contaminant level between 200 µg/L and 300 µg/L.

The reason is simply that higher concentrations have a negative effect on the taste of the water, and will stain laundry and sanitary appliances. 

With a detection limit of 10 µg/L, the voltammetric determination of iron offers a straightforward method for monitoring the iron concentration of the water supply. The recovery of a voltammetric determination of 20 µg/L Fe is in the range of 91% (n = 10 determinations) with a relative standard deviation of 1%.

For more information, download our free application note AN-V-216: Iron in drinking water – Straightforward determination by voltammetry using a gold microwire electrode (DHN method).

What’s next?

In part two of this series, I introduced the scTRACE Gold electrode which I will also continue to discuss in Part 3. In the next installment, I will focus on applications which are carried out after electrochemical modification of the gold micro-wire.

Post written by Barbara ZumbrägelProduct Manager VA/CVS at Metrohm International Headquarters, Herisau, Switzerland.