Select Page
Five myths about online dispersive NIR spectroscopy, FT-NIR, and FT-IR – Part 1

Five myths about online dispersive NIR spectroscopy, FT-NIR, and FT-IR – Part 1

Spectroscopy is not just spectroscopy—or is it?

When talking with our project partners and customers, the topic of near-infrared (NIR) spectroscopy is often automatically associated with FT-NIR spectroscopy. So, why isn’t it just called NIR? What is the difference between IR and NIR? Some of you might even wonder: “Can I replace an old IR analyzer with NIR hardware?” And additionally: “Why should I replace the IR with a NIR process analyzer?”

This two-part series aims to explain the differences between these techniques and dispel some myths.

Click below to jump directly to a section:

A brief historical overview

Wavelengths

The NIR wavelength range has a long history. As early as the 1880s, organic components were investigated in the NIR range and the strong –OH band relating to the presence of water was discovered as a very important piece of information. Shortly after, measurement of oils from the agricultural industry and investigations into various polymers followed. Some of the first industrial applications of dispersive NIR spectrometers were in the food and agricultural industries. In such applications, parameters including moisture, protein content, and fat content were analyzed quantitatively.

On the other hand, some strong advantages came from using the infrared (IR) wavelength range—high structural sensitivity and specificity—making it possible to obtain precise fingerprints for structural identification.

Figure 1. Historical punch card for assigning various spectral features to acetyl chloride in the infrared wavelength region [1]. (Click to enlarge image)
For more information about the differences between IR and NIR spectroscopy, read our previous blog posts.
Hardware

The hardware for NIR and IR analysis was fundamentally different. At that time, even though the evaluation of NIR spectra seemed to be too difficult and ambiguous due to the broad overlapping peaks, there was one major advantage: robust and cheap materials could be used for NIRS (e.g., PbS detectors, tungsten lamps, and simple glass materials for the optics). Since the NIR-bands were broad and overlapped, users were limited to only the essential information and therefore did not need higher resolution, so simple dispersive gratings (monochromator gratings) were sufficient.

For IR, Fourier transform infrared spectrometers (FT-IR) were used which operated based on Michelson interferometers. This was necessary to obtain the spectral resolution needed for structural interpretation (e.g., distinguishing the isomers 1-propanol and 2-propanol at about 2700 nm for the first time). These spectrometers were introduced to the market in the 1960s. Due to the high costs for interferometers, special optics, and lasers, they were mainly used for research purposes.

Software

Significant progress has been made in the field of spectroscopy due to the development of more powerful computers in the 1980s and 1990s in combination with chemometrics. While IR spectroscopy, due to its high data point density, was still far behind in the application of computer-based chemometric methods, NIR spectrometers were already able to benefit from fast evaluation methods.

Chemometric tools combined with the hardware benefits of NIR technology led many manufacturers to transfer their existing FT-IR measurement technology to the NIR range. And other companies? They just used and improved their already existing measurement technology to achieve perfect synergy between spectrometer and chemometrics.

Now that some of the background has been laid out, it’s time to answer some myths about NIR, FT-NIR, and FT-IR spectroscopy.

Myth 1: NIR spectroscopy always means FT-NIR

This is a persistent myth that you could easily miss unless you look closely. What exactly does the «FT» mean and why doesn’t everyone use it to describe NIR spectroscopy?

When using a FT-NIR spectrometer, first an interferogram is generated—not a spectrum in that sense. The conversion of the interferogram into a spectrum is done by applying a mathematical operation, the Fourier transform (FT). This transforms the path-dependent information (e.g., relative mirror position of two mirrors in the spectrometer) into a frequency-dependent function. This means FT-NIR is nothing more than the methodology of generating the spectrum in the NIR wavelength range.

As before, it is NIR spectroscopy that provides the same information as dispersive NIR spectroscopy or diode array spectroscopy. FT-NIR uses the interferences produced by an interferometer to extract single wavelengths from white light (halogen lamp), while dispersive spectrometers use gratings. Gratings are produced by very modern lithographic techniques and offer the highest precision (of wavelength accuracy).

Table 1. Comparison of FT-NIR and dispersive NIR spectroscopy

Parameter FT-NIR NIR
Wavelength splitting Mathematical calculation (Fourier transformation) from the phase shift of two incident light beams (interferogram) Diffraction or dispersion, movement by a digital encoder
Resolution depends on… Setting the maximum offset of the moving mirror Number of lines of the monochromator grid, slit width, encoder quality
Moving elements Yes (motor of the interference mirror) Yes (motor of the grid)
Wavelength range 12500 cm-1–4000 cm-1

(800–2500 nm)

800–2500 nm

(expandable to 400 nm)

Noise Depending on the resolution, higher than dispersive NIR with comparable setup Depending on the resolution, lower than FT-NIR with comparable setup
Method transferability (i.e., to other spectrometers) Yes Yes (due to the Metrohm calibration concept)

 

Consumables Laser source, halogen lamp, and desiccant Halogen lamp
Compared to a dispersive analyzer, a FT-NIR spectrometer uses a laser to control the position of the interferometer mirror. This laser must be changed periodically, however this task is generally not done by the end-user themselves compared to halogen lamp, which is easily replaceable.

Looking a little bit deeper into the details of Table 1, it is clear that dispersive spectroscopic instruments are more suitable for industrial process applications. Why? A low acquisition time is critical for real-time measurements with the least time loss. Compared to a FT-NIR instrument, the acquisition time is lower for a dispersive analyzer (leading to faster results) at the same resolution.

If you have ever wondered why you might need to calculate a Fourier transform, you will know after the next myth is answered.

Myth 2: Method transfer is only possible with FT-NIR spectrometers and not with dispersive spectrometers

Where does this myth originate?

Visualize the internal structure of an interferometer. A He-Ne laser is used as the reference measurement for the precise determination of the mirror position and thus also obtains an exact spectrum with high wavelength reproducibility at the same spatial coordinate by the Fourier transformation.

What is different about the dispersive spectrum?

In this case, the spectrum is not calculated in a mathematically complex way but is recorded directly via the dispersing element (the monochromator) on the detector. Here, a high-resolution state of the art grating and an accurate digital encoder that is precisely matched with the detector play an important role. NIRS XDS Process Analyzers from Metrohm Process Analytics (Figure 2) use wavelength standards to achieve both high wavelength precision and reproducibility and to ensure the transferability of the developed method.

Figure 2. The NIRS XDS Process Analyzer from Metrohm Process Analytics. 
Wavelength Precision <0.015 nm Valid
975.880 nm 0.0012 nm Yes
1221.342 nm 0.0005 nm Yes
1678.040 nm 0.0012 nm Yes
Figure 3. Results of the wavelength reproducibility test of a NIRS XDS Process Analyzer during a performance test. The precision meets the very narrowly defined testing specifications.
By using a wavelength and reference standard built into the spectrometer, additional diagnostics can be carried out at routine intervals (either as part of maintenance or automated within regular process operation) to check the wavelength accuracy and precision.

Due to the standardization concept with reference standards and wavelength standards, methods can be transferred without much effort even when changing or adjusting accessories (e.g., longer optical fibers, partially changed probes).

To summarize: a good standardization concept with NIST certified reference and wavelength standards as well as internally installed standards allow robust method transfers to other spectrometers and excellent long-term stability in the production process.

Myth 3: Many applications cannot be measured with dispersive NIRS, but require well-resolved FT-NIR spectroscopy

The Michelson interferometer and the monochromator grating were both developed in the 1800s. Both of these technologies have been used industrially since the advancement of computer technology and utilize the same light sources, detectors, optical fibers, and probes.

Monochromator gratings now consist of, e.g., a holographic concave diffraction grating with an optimized image plane to avoid aberrations and stray light. Holographic gratings are created by etching interference lines via laser into a photoresist layer. An advantage of this is very high spectral resolution, which together with a detailed adjustable encoder (and other components of the monochromator), provides very good resolution with the NIR spectrometer. For example, the NIRS XDS Process Analyzer (Figure 2) has a real resolution of 8.75 nm.

In comparison, higher resolutions can be achieved with interferometers, but this can also decrease the signal-to-noise (S/N) ratio. Usually, resolutions of approximately 8 cm-1 or 16 cm-1 are used, which corresponds to 10–25 nm at 2500 nm.

Parameter FT-NIR Dispersive NIR (Metrohm)
Wavelength range (nm) 800–2200

(12,500–4545 cm-1)

800–2200

400–2200 (optional)

Wavelength precision (nm) ~0.01 ~0.005
Wavelength accuracy (nm) ~0.05–0.2 ~0.05
Figure 4. Noise spectra recorded with a Metrohm dispersive NIRS analyzer and a typical FT-NIR spectrometer.
Higher resolutions are usually not required for the majority of applications since harmonics/overtones and combination bands of pure substances in the NIR wavelength range have a broad bandwidth. The absorption peak with the smallest bandwidth currently known in the NIR region is talc at slightly more than 10 nm.

Very similar overlapping information (e.g., –OH bands or –COOH bands) are separated by using chemometric methods and are evaluated individually and specifically.

Another example that shows how powerful dispersive NIR spectroscopy is compared to FT techniques and IR spectroscopy can be seen in the separation of xylene isomers in a mixture of several aromatics/hydrocarbons (Figure 5).

Figure 5. Xylene isomers present in a mixture of aromatics and other hydrocarbons. (L) Raw spectra of all components from 800–2200 nm. (R) Raw spectra of xylene isomers show significant molecular vibration variations in the –CH region from 1700–1850 nm.
Figure 5 shows that the three xylene isomers can be clearly distinguished spectroscopically. Applying chemometrics elaborates the information even more and ultimately all six components can be determined individually and quantitatively. In a production process, the real-time reaction monitoring can be performed for all six components (Figure 6).
Figure 6. Graph showing real-time monitoring during a feed separation process of a mixture including three xylene isomers.
The application shown in Figures 5 and 6 has often been implemented with IR photometers in the past. We have now shown that the application can not only be transferred to the NIR wavelength range, but that even minimal structural differences between the functional groups of molecules can be detected by dispersive NIR spectroscopy.

To summarize: dispersive spectrometers have very good spectral resolution—in some cases better than FT-NIR spectrometers—and can even distinguish between different isomers in complex mixtures, or between very similar components like –OH and –COOH functional groups.

Summary

In the first part of this series, we went more into detail about the practical differences between FT-NIR and dispersive NIR spectroscopy. Three myths were discussed: that NIR spectroscopy always means FT-NIR—False, method transfer is only possible with FT-NIR spectrometers and not with dispersive spectrometers—False, and many applications cannot be measured with dispersive NIRS, but require well-resolved FT-NIR spectroscopy—False.

Some myths should no longer be kept alive because they are not facts!

We have also compared FT-NIR spectrometers to dispersive spectrometers when used in a process environment. Some critical points to remember: the dispersive analyzer is less sensitive to vibrations; less maintenance is necessary, and the grating is post-dispersive and therefore less prone to pollution due to lower ambient light.

To prove those arguments, Part 2 will show that, contrary to some expectations, it is possible to replace IR measurement techniques in industrial processes with easy-to-implement NIR measurement techniques. We will dispel some more myths and go into detail of an extremely low water content measurement in a process with the support of our primary analysis methods.

Reference

[1] Baker, A. W.; Wright, N.; Opler, A. Automatic Infrared Punched Card Identification of Mixtures. Anal. Chem. 1953, 25 (10), 1457–1460. doi:10.1021/ac60082a011

Find your process application

Our Applications Book contains hundreds of sold process applications from our more than 10,000 installed analyzers over several industries!

Post written by Sabrina Hakelberg, Product Manager NIRS Process Analyzers, Deutsche Metrohm Prozessanalytik (Germany).

Guide to online and inline surface finishing analysis

Guide to online and inline surface finishing analysis

What is surface finishing?

Surface finishing is a series of industrial processes with the main goal to alter the surface of a certain workpiece in order to obtain specific properties. This can be performed chemically, mechanically, or even electronically with the aim of removing, altering, adding or reshaping the material that is being treated.

Industries that use surface finishing techniques

Surface finishing techniques are used by most industries that manufacture industrial parts (e.g., metals, wafers, tools, and more). The use of surface finishing processes has been on the rise globally and is expected to grow further. An article published by Grand View Research (2019) predicted that the market size for metal finishing chemicals is expected to grow to $13.52 billion USD by 2025.

People mostly think about polishing and sanding when surface finishing is brought up, but it is much more than that. Several industries use different processes to treat surfaces with the main objective of obtaining the highest product quality. According to Grand View Research, the top three industries with the biggest market share for metal surface chemicals are automotive and aerospace, semiconductors, and the metal industry (e.g., industrial machinery, construction).

Figure 1 shows that surface finishing is mainly used in the automotive industry. Here, electroplating and electroless plating are the main processes used to protect against corrosion. The electroplating process consists of using electricity to coat a material (e.g. copper) with a thin layer of another material (e.g. nickel). Electroless plating is accomplished with chemical processes that reduce metal cations in a bath and deposit them as an even layer, even on non-conductive surfaces.

Next is the semiconductor industry, which includes the manufacturing and cleaning surface process of electrical and electronic parts as well as silicon wafers. This industry involves plating processes (e.g., electroless plating) as well as chemical cleaning baths. Chemical cleaning baths are used here to remove any contaminants from the wafer surfaces.

Figure 1. Diagram with top five industrial applications that incorporate surface finishing techniques (graphic repurposed from Metal Finishing Chemicals Market Global Forecast to 2021). (Click image to enlarge.)
Finally comes the metal industry, responsible for creating the infrastructure that our modern world depends on. Here, the process of galvanization is used to make metal corrosion- and heat-resistant. Galvanization is an anti-corrosive measure taken with iron and steel (as well as other metals) by applying a protective zinc coating which does not allow oxidation to occur. The zinc also acts as a sacrificial anode which still protects the underlying metal in the event of a scratch in the galvanized surface. Pickling baths are another common surface finishing process for this industry. These acidic baths are used to remove the oxide layer which formed on the surface during the hot strip mill. If the base steel is over-pickled, it can result in pitting of the metal surface, leading to an undesirable rough, blistered coating in the subsequent galvanizing steps and also excessively consumes the pickling acid (e.g. HCl).

Much more than just decorative coatings

Do appearances matter? When talking about products, absolutely! One of the reasons product surfaces are treated is so they have a more pleasant appearance for consumers, but also for more technical reasons that go beyond looks. Since surface finishing processes are used in a broad range of industries, they serve different purposes depending on the uses of the final products.

In the semiconductor industry, any defect on the components (e.g., silicon wafers, microelectronics, printed circuit boards (PCB), etc.) can impact the performance of the final product. Therefore, maintaining the proper concentrations of all components in the chemical cleaning bath ensures a repeatable etching process, which for this purpose means the elimination of surface defects.

Another example includes phosphating baths, which are used to improve corrosion resistance of the product parts used in the automotive and aerospace industry. This process is performed prior to any painting to protect the body structure from environmental factors. Phosphating baths also need to be kept consistent to guarantee the correct (and identical) thickness of the protective layer in each of the products subjected to this process.

Check out our free webinar about how Process Analytical Technology (PAT) brings analytical measurements directly to the process for real-time decision-making, ensuring a high level of control for coating and finishing baths and eliminating unnecessary risk to plant personnel. Learn about real-world case studies and field-tested applications that demonstrate the advantages of optimized bath chemistry and PAT in the surface treatment industry. 

Challenges in surface finishing processes: daily bath maintenance

Like any process, surface finishing has day to day challenges which can be improved upon. Improvement can only come from knowing the bath composition and how it affects the final product. Generally, monitoring the concentration of chemical baths is done via manual sampling and titration in a laboratory on site (in some cases, by a contract lab offsite). While this method works, it can lead to long waiting times from the moment the sample is taken until the final result—therefore the results are no longer representative of the current process conditions. Because of this delay,  bath replenishment can be impaired by over- or under- dosing components, leading to suboptimal bath composition and resulting product quality (Figure 2).

Figure 2. A jagged graph such as this denotes bath quality that suffers from suboptimal conditions. A relatively flat line would suggest a stable bath composition over time, resulting in reproducible high quality surface finishing.
Manual bath analysis and chemical dosage based on old data directly influences the company’s bottom line since the manufacturer loses money either by overusing bath chemicals or producing subpar products. The larger the plating bath volume, the greater the cost of chemicals utilized. Surface finishing baths can be as large as 3500 L (1,000 gallons) or more. Thus, it is extremely important to optimize chemical dosing to reduce unnecessary costs and waste while still providing maximum quality.

If the baths are overdosed, more chemicals are used than necessary which increases overall operational costs. However, if the baths are underdosed based on old data, then the final products may be defective, which results in increased operational costs as well.

Additionally, surface finishing processes involve many hazardous substances. When carrying out any risk assessment, the first resort is the use of personal protective equipment (PPE), and any potential exposure risks should ideally be engineered out of any process.

Automated analysis of the bath components with an online or inline process analyzer completely eliminates the risk of exposure by plant personnel to the hazards associated with the chemicals used, as well as taking care of the sample preconditioning and sampling itself. With a closed loop control, quick measurements are obtained which lead to fast results and response times for optimized process adjustments.

The solution: operate more safely and efficiently with automated process analysis

Process analysis by manual titration typically takes several steps: sample collection, sample preconditioning, volumetric manipulations, calculation, logging and checking results, and finally sending feedback to the process. All of these can be totally eliminated by using online and inline analysis.

The benefits of this are very clear. By limiting the manual handling steps, any risk of exposure to hazardous chemicals is removed. Sampling error, volumetric errors, and end point ambiguity from analyst to analyst are no longer an issue. Furthermore, sampling can be carried out on a timed basis and can be programmed to occur more frequently than possible with manual methods, giving much greater process control.

The analyzer can be used to fully control a process with direct feedback of results for the correct dosage of chemicals to aging baths. Data is automatically recorded and calculated. On-screen plots and signals can warn about deviating process conditions along with alarm outputs to notify operators of bath issues. The user interface is programmed by simple intuitive operation, and can be performed even by non-chemists.

Benefits of online and inline analysis in surface finishing processes:
  • Decrease manual labor – save time and money
  • Safer working environment – avoid contact with hazardous chemicals
  • Faster response time to process changes – better product quality
  • Optimized chemical consumption – less waste, reduced costs
Learn about the differences between inline, online, atline, and offline measurements in our previous blog post.

Metrohm Process Analytics has more than 45 years of experience in process analysis and optimization. The following examples show our expertise with configuring inline and online process analyzers for different surface finishing processes.

Automated monitoring of clean and etch baths

Metal surfaces can have scratches, impurities, and other imperfections which may interfere with further manufacturing processes (e.g., plating or painting). Therefore, clean and etch baths are a key step to obtain clean, polished, and undamaged surfaces.
Figure 3. Trend chart of NH3 and H2O2 concentrations in an SC1 bath. Note the spiking of the baths to maintain their concentrations.
Traditionally, these bath chemicals are measured offline in the lab after taking a sample from the process. However, as mentioned earlier, manual laboratory methods result in long response times in case of process changes (e.g., reaction mixture, moisture levels, …), and the sample preparation can also introduce errors, altering the precision of the analysis. Additionally, it can be quite cumbersome since different operating procedures need to be implemented to analyze multiple parameters including alkalinity, ammonium hydroxide, hydrogen peroxide, and more.
Figure 4. The Metrohm Process Analytics NIRS XDS Process Analyzer is shown here with a diagram of the inline near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) system configuration for cleaning bath analysis.
Another example of cleaning baths are mixed acid baths, generally comprised of sulfuric acid, hydrofluoric acid, and nitric acid. Titration only provides the acid value of the sample analyzed; therefore, it is not possible to know how much of a specific acid is present in the baths. However, near infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) is the perfect analytical technique to monitor each acid individually.
Reagent-free NIRS XDS Process Analyzers enable comparison of real-time spectral data from the process to a primary method (e.g. titration) to create a simple, yet indispensable model for process optimization. NIRS is economical and fast, enabling qualitative and quantitative analyses that are noninvasive and nondestructive. Integration of inline spectroscopic techniques allows operators to gain more control over the production process and increase overall safety.

In addition to NIRS process analyzers, Metrohm Process Analytics can design and customize flow-through cells (Figure 5). These clamp on to tubing already present onsite for easy installation with no need to modify the existing setup.

Figure 5. PTFE single fiber clamp-on flow cell from Metrohm Process Analytics.

Automated monitoring of phosphatizing baths

The phosphatizing process produces a hard, electrically non-conducting surface coating that adheres tightly to the underlying metal. This layer protects against corrosion and improves the adhesion of paints and organic finishes to be subsequently applied.

Phosphatization consists of two parts: an etching reaction with phosphoric acid which increases the surface roughness, and a second reaction at the surface between the alkali phosphates and the previously generated metal ions. This coating is quite thin and offers only basic corrosion protection. The addition of metal cations (such as zinc, manganese, and calcium) to the phosphatizing bath results in the formation of very resistant zinc phosphates with a coating thickness between 7–15 times thicker, perfectly suited for outdoor use.

Figure 6. Schematic diagram of the various process stages and baths used in the phosphatizing process. (Click image to enlarge.)
In the cleaning, degreasing, and rinsing baths, and also in the phosphatizing bath itself (Figure 6), the various parameters involved in the process must be kept stable. Conductivity, pH value, free alkalinity, and total alkalinity are among the main parameters that must be determined in the degreasing and rinsing baths. Free and total acids, accelerator, zinc, and fluoride are monitored in phosphatizing baths. The 2060 Process Analyzer from Metrohm Process Analytics (Figure 7) monitors, records, and documents all of these critical parameters at the same time. The combination of different analytical methods within one system as well as the intuitive handling via the well-arranged user interface ensure easy and reliable monitoring of the entire process.

Check out our free related Process Application Note to learn more.

Figure 7. The 2060 Process Analyzer from Metrohm Process Analytics is an ideal solution for online phosphating bath applications.
To sum up, online and inline process analyzers from Metrohm Process Analytics are the ideal solution to automate the analysis of surface finishing processes because of the comprehensive benefits they provide:
  • No manual sampling needed, thus less exposure of personnel to dangerous chemicals
  • Extended bath life by tightening process windows (less chemicals required)
  • Minimize risk of downtime with faster and more precise data
  • Easier compliance with final product requirements by process automation

If you want to learn more about all the applications that we have to offer, download our free application e-book based on 45 years of global installations.

Read what our customers have to say!

We have supported customers even in the most unlikely of places⁠—from the production floor to the desert and even on active ships!
Post written by Andrea Ferreira, Technical Writer at Metrohm Applikon, Schiedam, The Netherlands.
NIR spectroscopy in the petrochemical and refinery industry: The ASTM compliant tool for QC and product screening – Part 2

NIR spectroscopy in the petrochemical and refinery industry: The ASTM compliant tool for QC and product screening – Part 2

Differences between gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel

Gasoline is a fuel made from crude oil and other petroleum-based liquids, containing carbon numbers generally between 4 and 12, and exhibiting boiling points of up to 120 °C. Gasoline is primarily used as a fuel for vehicles. Petroleum refineries and blending facilities produce motor gasoline for sale at gas (or petrol) stations. Most of the gasoline that petroleum refineries produce is unfinished gasoline. This unfinished product requires blending with other liquids to control parameters such as octane rating and volatility to make gasoline meet the basic requirements for fuel that is suitable for use in spark ignition engines.

Diesel fuel is refined from crude oil at petroleum refineries. «Diesel» is the common term for the petroleum distillate fuel oil sold for use in motor vehicles that use the compression ignition engine, invented by the German engineer Rudolf Diesel (1858–1913). He patented his original design in 1892. One of the fuels that Rudolf Diesel originally considered for his engine was vegetable seed oil, an idea that eventually contributed to the biodiesel production process of today. Prior to 2006, most diesel fuel contained high quantities of sulfur. Sulfur emissions from combusting diesel fuel leads to air pollution that is quite harmful to human health. Therefore, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued requirements to reduce the sulfur content of diesel fuel to be as low as 15 mg/L. Diesel fuel contains components with a carbon number range from 8 to 21 (though mainly between 16–20) and is the fraction that boils between 200 °C and 350 °C.
Jet fuels (or aviation fuels) are one of the basic products used by aircraft. Jet fuel is comprised of refined petroleum products with carbon numbers between 10 to 16 (although they can range from 6 to 16), and it boils between 150 °C and 275 °C. This type of fuel is heavily regulated by national and international bodies. There are two main types of jet fuel: Jet A and Jet B. The main difference between the two is the freezing point. Jet B is usually used for military operations and locations with inclement weather. Jet A is mainly used to fuel commercial airplanes.

Near-infrared spectroscopy—an ASTM compliant tool to assess the quality of gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel

Near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) has been an established method for both fast and reliable quality control within the petrochemical industry for more than 30 years. However, many companies still do not consistently consider the implementation of NIRS in their QA/QC labs. The reasons could be either limited experience regarding application possibilities or a general hesitation about implementing new methods.

There are several advantages of using NIRS over other conventional analytical technologies. For one, NIRS is able to measure multiple parameters in just 30 seconds without any sample preparation! The non-invasive light-matter interaction used by NIRS, influenced by physical as well as chemical sample properties, makes it an excellent method for the determination of both property types.

In the remainder of this post, available turnkey solutions for gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel are outlined which have been developed according to the NIRS implementation guidelines of ASTM E1655 (method development), ASTM D6122 (method validation), and ASTM D8340 (results validation). Afterward is a discussion about the return on investment (ROI) of using NIRS as an alternative to the CFR Engine.

Did you miss Part 1 in this series about NIRS as a QC tool for the petrochemical industry? Check it out below!
Read our previous blog posts to learn more about NIRS as a secondary technique.

NIRS expedites and simplifies fuel quality control

 Without high quality fuels (e.g., gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel), our daily lives would look much different. At the end of the production process as well as at various steps in the distribution chain, the quality of the product needs to be determined. Typically, key quality parameters such as RON/MON (research and motor octane numbers), cetane index, and flash point are determined in the laboratory by chemical and physical methods. These methods not only incur high running costs but they are also quite time consuming.

NIRS on the other hand requires neither chemicals nor sample preparation. This technique can even be used by non-technical people (no chemistry degree necessary) and it provides results in less than a minute. Furthermore, multiple chemical and physical parameters can be determined simultaneously. The combined benefits of this technology make NIRS the ideal solution for many daily QA/QC measurements or ad-hoc at-line analysis.

Metrohm offers the NIRS DS2500 Petro Analyzer for quality control and routine analysis of fuels and is compliant with ASTM D6122. Resistant to dust, moisture, and vibrations, this instrument is not only suitable for laboratory use, but also use in direct production environments. Learn more on our website

Turnkey solutions: available pre-calibrations for gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel

Table 1 lists all constituents covered by the pre-calibrations for these different fuels. Click on the fuel type in the table to learn more about its pre-calibrations offered by Metrohm.

Table 1. Pre-calibrations available for a variety of key quality parameters in gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel.
Fuel type Parameters Range SECV
Gasoline RON 81–100 0.68 0.958
MON 81–88 0.53 0.889
Anti-Knock Index 85–94 0.45 0.948
Aromatics 20–45% 0.011 0.959
Benzene 0.15–0.70 % 0.0004 0.902
Density 0.74–0.76 g/cm3 0.0024 g/cm3 0.797
Olefins 0–25 % 0.013 0.909
Oxygen 0.2–2.0 % 0.00045 0.994
Diesel Cetane index 46–77 0.62 0.987
Cetane number 45–60 0.942 0.942
Density 0.82–0.89 g/cm3 0.0021 g/cm3 0.968
CFPP -22–(+19) °C 2.8 °C 0.963
T95 325–410 °C 7.04 °C 0.799
Flash Point 56–120 °C 2.7 °C 0.97
Viscosity 2–5.5 cSt 0.15 0.91
Kerosene / Jet Fuel Cetane index 36–50 1.1 0.871
API gravity 38–48 ° 0.56 ° 0.931
Aromatics 10–25 % 0.01 0.851
T10 158–200 °C 4.1 °C 0.801
T20 165–205 °C 3.1 °C 0.88
T50 180–220 °C 4.1 °C 0.789
Density 0.78–0.83 g/cm3 0.003 g/cm3 0.936
Flash Point 38–65 °C 4.3 °C 0.62
Freeze Point -65–(-40) °C 3. 5°C 0.576
Hydrogen 13.2–14.2 % 0.0005 0.934
Saturates 75–90 % 0.009 0.888
Viscosity at 20 °C 3–7 cSt 0.33 cSt 0.804
Learn more about the possibilities of petrochemical analysis with Metrohm NIRS DS2500 Analyzers in our free brochure.

Application example: quality control of diesel with the NIRS DS2500 Petro Analyzer

The cetane index (ASTM D613), flash point (ASTM D56), cold filter plugging point (CFPP) (ASTM D6371), D95 (ISO 3405), and viscosity at 40 °C (ISO 3104) are among some of the key parameters to determine the quality of diesel. The primary test methods for these parameters are labor intensive and challenging due to the need for multiple analytical methods.

In this turnkey solution, diesel samples were measured in transmission mode with a NIRS DS2500 Petro Analyzer over the full wavelength range (400–2500 nm). The built-in temperature-controlled sample chamber was set to 40 °C to provide a stable sample environment. For convenience reasons, disposable vials with a pathlength of 8 mm were used (Figure 1), which made a cleaning procedure unnecessary.

Figure 1. Quality control of diesel fuel as performed by the Metrohm NIRS DS2500 Petro Analyzer.
The obtained Vis-NIR spectra (Figure 1) were used to create prediction models for the determination of key diesel parameters. The quality of the prediction models was evaluated using correlation diagrams which display the correlation between Vis-NIR prediction and primary method values. The respective figures of merit (FOM) display the expected precision of a prediction during routine analysis (Figure 2).
Figure 2. Correlation plots and figures of merit (FOM) for the different constituents tested in diesel.
This solution demonstrates that NIRS is excellently suited for the analysis of multiple parameters in diesel fuel, providing results in less than one minute without the need for sample preparation or any chemical reagents.

Want to learn more? Download our free Application Note.

Return on investment: CFR Engine vs. NIRS

Gasoline requires intensive checks on several quality parameters which must be within certain specifications before commercialization. These parameters which can also be controlled by NIRS analysis include the research octane number (ASTM D2699) and motor octane number (ASTM D2700), also known as RON/MON.

The importance of measuring these values precisely is not only to comply with regulations, but also because of the further potential to save costs for manufacturers. As an example, RON values exceeding the stated requirements will still be accepted by the market, but these products will then include a higher amount of lucrative long-chain organic molecules. This so-called «RON giveaway» is estimated at approximately 0.5 RON per barrel, resulting in $2.25 million USD/month in lost revenue for a production process of 100,000 barrels per day.

Figure 3. CFR® F1/F2 Octane Rating Unit Combination Research & Motor Method. (Source: CFR Engines Inc.)
The Combination Cooperative Fuel Research (CFR) octane rating engine (model F1/F2) is used to determine the octane quality of gasoline and fuel blending components. This unit is recognized and approved by ASTM D2699 and D2700. The engine is equipped with a heavy-duty crankcase, variable compression cylinder, carburetor with adjustable fuel to air ratio, and knock measurement equipment (Figure 3).

Ready-to-use NIRS systems are also available for monitoring several gasoline quality parameters which cover varied ranges and their respective precisions (Table 1). Additionally, the manufacturers of NIRS analyzers usually offer application support to extend these ranges or improve upon the precision.

An overview of estimated costs for the analysis of RON and MON with a CFR Engine compared to the Metrohm NIRS DS2500 Petro Analyzer is shown in Table 2. The full payback is achieved within two years if considering only 50% of the primary analysis method (CFR Engine) is replaced by NIRS. This calculation is based on 2000 analyses per year (1000 RON + 1000 MON), with total running costs of approximately $32.50 per analysis (chemicals, maintenance, and labor).

Table 2. Cost of ownership CFR engine vs. DS2500 Petro Analyzer.
Total analyses RON + MON per year 2000 2000
Cost of operator per hour $25.00 $25.00
Cost of Analyzer CFR Engine NIRS DS2500 Petro Analyzer
Analyzer $500,000.00 $55,000.00
Total initial costs $0.001 $55,000.00
Running costs consumables / chemicals / maintenance
Chemicals per year (ASTM D2699/D2700) $20,000.00 $0.00
Maintenance cost per year $20,000.00 $1,500.00
Chemicals plus maintenance cost per analysis $20.00 $0.75
Total running costs per year $40,000.00 $1,500.00
Time spent per analysis  30 minutes < 1 minute
Labor cost of 1000 analyses of RON (ASTM D2699) $12,500.00 $416.50
Labor cost of 1000 analyses of MON (ASTM D2700) $12,500.00 $416.50
Labor cost per analysis $12.50 $0.42
Total labor costs per year $25,000.00 $833.00
Total running costs per year $65,000.00 $2,333.00
1Assumption that the instrument had previously been purchased, and therefore this cost is not included in the ROI calculation.
More information about the analysis of RON/MON and other parameters in gasoline can be found in our free Application Notes below.
In this example, RON/MON analysis was used to show cost savings and ROI when using NIRS to supplement a primary method. However, when expanding this to consider other key quality parameters such as the ones indicated in Table 1, the financial incentives for such an investment are even more compelling.

Summary

Near-infrared spectroscopy is very well suited for the analysis of key quality parameters in gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel. Available pre-calibrations are developed and validated in accordance with the ASTM guidelines. Positive aspects of using NIRS as an alternative technology are the short time to result (less than one minute), no chemicals or other expensive equipment needed, and ease of handling so that even shift workers and non-chemists can perform these analyses in a safe manner.

Future installments in this series

This blog article was dedicated to the topic of gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel and how NIR spectroscopy can be used as the ideal QC tool for the petrochemical / refinery industry. Future installments will be dedicated to other important applications in this industry. These topics will include:

 

For more information

About spectroscopy solutions provided by Metrohm, visit our website!

We offer NIRS for lab, NIRS for process, as well as Raman solutions

Post written by Wim Guns, International Sales Support Spectroscopy at Metrohm International Headquarters, Herisau, Switzerland.
NIR spectroscopy in the petrochemical and refinery industry: The ASTM compliant tool for QC and product screening – Part 1

NIR spectroscopy in the petrochemical and refinery industry: The ASTM compliant tool for QC and product screening – Part 1

Introduction to the petrochemical and refining industry

Oil and gas for fuel are produced in nearly every corner of the globe, from small private wells generating around 100 barrels a day, to the large bore wells producing upwards of 40 times that volume. Despite this great variation in size, many parts of the refining process are quite similar.

Chemicals derived from petroleum or natural gas, so-called «petrochemicals», are an essential part of the contemporary chemical industry. The field of petrochemistry became increasingly popular around the early 1940’s during the second world war. At that time there was a growing demand for synthetic products which was a great driving force for the development of petrochemical products.

Oil refining aims to provide a defined range of products according to agreed specifications. Simple refineries use a distillation column (Figure 1) to separate crude oil into different fractions based on their chemical properties, and the relative quantities are directly dependent on the crude oil used. Therefore, it is necessary to obtain a range of crudes that can be blended into a suitable feedstock to produce the required quantity and quality of end products.

The basic products from fractional distillation are shown in Figure 1.
Wallace Carothers, inventor of polyamide.
Figure 1. Illustration of a fractionating distillation column used for the purposes of refining crude oil into several desirable end products.
Near-infrared (NIR) spectroscopy is a technique that is particularly suited for making quality control of these end products more efficient and cost-effective for manufacturers. Furthermore, NIRS is recognized and accepted by ASTM as an alternative method to other techniques. Dedicated ASTM methods for method development, method validation, and results validation are presented later in this article.

Read on for a short overview on NIR spectroscopy followed by application examples for the petrochemical and refinery industry to learn how petrochemical producers and refineries alike can benefit from NIRS.

NIR technology: a brief overview

The interaction between light and matter is a well-known process. Light used in spectroscopic methods is typically not described by the applied energy, but in many cases by the wavelength or in wavenumbers.

A NIR spectrometer such as the Metrohm NIRS DS2500 Petro Analyzer measures this light-matter interaction to generate spectra such as those displayed in Figure 2. NIRS is especially sensitive to the presence of certain functional groups like -CH, -NH, -OH, and -SH. Therefore, NIR spectroscopy is an ideal method to quantify different QC parameters like water content (moisture), cetane index, RON/MON (research and motor octane numbers), flash point, and cold filter plugging point (CFPP), just to name a few. Furthermore, the interaction is also dependent upon the matrix of the sample itself, which also allows the detection of physical and rheological parameters like density and viscosity.

Figure 2. Diesel spectra resulting from the interaction of NIR light with the respective samples.
All of this information is contained in a single spectrum, making this method suitable for quick multiparameter analysis. Liquid samples such as oils are secured within an appropriate container or vial (Figure 3), then placed as-is on the smart vial holder.
Figure 3. Liquid sample placement for NIR spectra measurement on the smart vial holder from Metrohm.
The measuring mode is referred to as «transmission», generally an appropriate procedure for analyzing liquids. For transmission measurement (Figure 4), the NIR light will travel through the sample while being absorbed. Unabsorbed NIR light passes to the detector. In less than 60 seconds the measurement is completed and the results are displayed.
Figure 4. A. Measurements of liquids are typically done with disposable vials. B. The NIRS measurement mode is known as transmission, where light travels through the sample while being absorbed (from left to right in the illustration).
The procedure to obtain NIR spectra already highlights two major advantages of NIR spectroscopy compared to other analytical techniques: simplicity regarding sample measurement, and speed:

  • Fast technique with results in less than a minute.
  • No sample preparation required – measure samples as-is.
  • Low cost per sample – no chemicals or solvents needed.
  • Environmentally friendly technique – no waste generated.
  • Non-destructive – precious samples can be reused after analysis.
  • Easy to operate – inexperienced users are immediately successful.

Read our previous blog posts to learn more about NIRS as a secondary technique.

Where can NIRS be used in the refining process?

The refining process can be divided into three different segments:

  • Upstream
  • Midstream
  • Downstream

Upstream describes the process of converting crude oil into intermediate products. Refineries are usually very large complexes with several hazardous explosive areas. Therefore, operators are reluctant to transport samples from the different processes to the laboratory. Even the process of obtaining samples for analysis at external QC laboratories is laborious and can require significant paperwork and certified transport services. For obvious reasons, in most cases inline measurements are preferred. These types of measurements are typically done by process NIRS analyzers.

Read more about the difference between atline, online, and inline analyses in our blog post.
Curious about NIRS analyzers for inline process measurements, even in explosive areas? Visit our website to learn more.
Midstream, shown here in Figure 5, offers many more opportunities for the Metrohm DS2500 Petro Analyzer to assist in quality control.
Figure 5. Flowchart of how crude oil becomes gasoline at the local gas station, and where NIRS can perform quality checks during the process.
Fuel is constantly checked for quality when it is received as well as supplied, and in addition to this many terminals also test fuel quality prior to offloading the trucks. The total time for receiving and offloading fuel into a storage tank is approximately 30 minutes, so a fast analysis technique like NIRS is very advantageous.

Downstream at fuel depots and gas stations, the regulatory agencies require measurement of many of the same quality parameters as in the production of gasoline and diesel, and this can also be accomplished with NIRS. There is a significant advantage if the analysis can be done on-site using fresh samples and without the hassle of needing to transport them to testing laboratories.

Mobile NIRS fuel testing using the Metrohm NIRS XDS RapidLiquid Analyzer (XDS-RLA) has been successfully implemented in a number of countries where they enjoy the benefits of having instantaneous on-site results for gasoline and diesel testing. The calibrations developed on the XDS-RLA are easily transferrable to the DS2500 Petro Analyzer. The DS2500 Petro Analyzer does not require trained analysts, and the calibrations do not require constant maintenance, making this an ideal way to monitor different fuels at service stations and more.
Figure 6. Examples of mobile fuel testing with the Metrohm DS2500 Petro Analyzer.
Learn more about the possibilities of petrochemical analysis with Metrohm DS2500 Analyzers in our free brochure.

NIRS as an ASTM compliant tool for QC

Method development

ASTM E1655: Standard Practices for Infrared Multivariate Quantitative Analysis

«These practices cover a guide for the multivariate calibration of infrared spectrometers used in determining the physical or chemical characteristics of materials. These practices are applicable to analyses conducted in the near infrared (NIR) spectral region (roughly 780 to 2500 nm) through the mid infrared (MIR) spectral region (roughly 4000 to 400 cm-1).»

Multivariate analysis of petroleum products

ASTM D8321: Standard Practice for Development and Validation of Multivariate Analyses for Use in Predicting Properties of Petroleum Products, Liquid Fuels, and Lubricants based on Spectroscopic Measurements

«This practice covers a guide for the multivariate calibration of infrared (IR) spectrophotometers and Raman spectrometers used in determining the physical, chemical, and performance properties of petroleum products, liquid fuels including biofuels, and lubricants. This practice is applicable to analyses conducted in the near infrared (NIR) spectral region (roughly 780 nm to 2500 nm) through the mid infrared (MIR) spectral region (roughly 4000 cm-1 to 40  cm-1).»

Method validation

ASTM D6122: Standard Practice for Validation of the Performance of Multivariate Online, At-Line, Field and Laboratory Infrared Spectrophotometer, and Raman Spectrometer Based Analyzer Systems

«This practice covers requirements for the validation of measurements made by laboratory, field, or process (online or at-line) infrared (near- or mid-infrared analyzers, or both), and Raman analyzers, used in the calculation of physical, chemical, or quality parameters (that is, properties) of liquid petroleum products and fuels.»

Results validation

ASTM D8340: Standard Practice for Performance-Based Qualification of Spectroscopic Analyzer Systems

«This practice covers requirements for establishing performance-based qualification of vibrational spectroscopic analyzer systems intended to be used to predict the test result of a material that would be produced by a Primary Test Method (PTM) if the same material is tested by the PTM.»

Typical NIRS applications and parameters for the petrochemical and refinery industry

Petrochemicals are subject to standardized test methods to determine their chemical, physical, and tribological properties. Laboratory testing is an indispensable part of both research and development and quality control in the production of petrochemicals. The following test parameters are typically important to measure in the petrochemical and refinery industry (Table 1).

Table 1. Examples for use of NIRS for selected petrochemical QC parameters.
Specific Gravity (API) Gravity meter ASTM D298

AN-NIR-022

AN-NIR-024

AN-NIR-025

AN-NIR-041

AN-NIR-053

AN-NIR-071

AN-NIR-075

AN-NIR-080

AN-NIR-086

AN-PAN-1052

Boiling Point Distillation ASTM D2887
Cold Filter Plugging Point (CFPP) Standardized filter device ASTM D6371
Pour Point Pour Point analyzer ASTM D97
Cloud Point Cloud Point analyzer ASTM D2500
Flash Point Flash Point tester ASTM D93
Viscosity Viscometer ASTM D445
Color Colorimeter ASTM D1500
Density Densimeter ASTM D792
Fatty Acid Methyl Ester (FAME) FTIR ASTM D7806
Reid Vapor Pressure RVP analyzer ASTM D323
PIANO (Paraffins, Isoparaffins, Aromatics, Naphthenes, Olefins) Gas chromatograph ASTM D6729
Octane Number (RON/MON) CFR Engine ASTM D2699

ASTM D2700

Cetane Number CFR Engine ASTM D613
Diene value / MAV index Titration UOP 327-17
Parameter Conventional method ASTM method Relevant NIRS Application Notes

Future installments in this series

This article is a general overview of the use of NIR spectroscopy as the ideal QC tool for the petrochemical / refinery industry. Future installments will be dedicated to the most important applications and will include much more detailed information. Don’t miss our next blogs on the topics of:

 

For more information

About spectroscopy solutions provided by Metrohm, visit our website!

We offer NIRS for lab, NIRS for process, as well as Raman solutions

Post written by Wim Guns, International Sales Support Spectroscopy at Metrohm International Headquarters, Herisau, Switzerland.
From corn to ethanol: improving the fermentation process with NIRS

From corn to ethanol: improving the fermentation process with NIRS

The production of biofuels from renewable feedstock has grown immensely in the past several years. Bioethanol is one of the most interesting alternatives for fossil fuels, since it can be produced from (renewable) raw materials rich in sugars and starch.

Fermenting corn starch to produce ethanol for fuel is a complex biochemical process that requires monitoring of several parameters to ensure optimal production. Measuring these parameters via traditional laboratory techniques takes about an hour to complete and is a limiting step for increasing plant capacity and efficiency. Near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) can replace routine laboratory analysis, decreasing operating costs and increasing plant efficiency and capacity.

Learn more about this fast, non-destructive analysis technique in our different series of blog posts, including the benefits of using NIRS and some frequently asked questions.

Producing high quality ethanol as a fuel additive

Ethanol is an increasingly important component in the global fuel market, with countries looking to secure domestic fuel supplies and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions relative to fossil fuels. The United States and Brazil lead world bioethanol production, accounting for 83% of the supply.

According to the Renewable Fuels Association, approximately 26 billion gallons (nearly 100 billion liters) of ethanol were produced globally in 2020 [1], slightly reduced from a 2019 peak due to the global pandemic crushing demand for gasoline and ethanol as well. Demand for corn to transform into ethanol is still likely to rise as the United States increases adoption of E15 blends (15% ethanol in gasoline) [2]. Ethanol for export is also likely to increase in demand, with countries such as China implementing a E10 fuel standard for motor vehicles.

One of the primary ways to meet increasing product demand while maintaining price competitiveness is to increase plant capacity. However, the standard laboratory analytical workflow for monitoring the different parts of the fermentation process can be a limiting factor for growing a production site or improving its efficiency. Another consideration is the seasonal, and even regional variation of feedstock quality, requiring ethanol producers to closely monitor the fermentation process to ensure the same quality product is achieved.

A report from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimated that nearly 40% of the production cost of fuel ethanol from corn comes from labor, supplies, overhead, and variable operating costs [3]. Optimization of these costs, which include routine quality checks of the fermentation broth, regular maintenance of the fermenters and distillation towers, and triaging process upsets in a timely manner, leads to higher profitability of the ethanol production facility.

To maximize bioethanol production and profitability, laboratory limitations must be overcome. Near-infrared (NIR) spectroscopy is a proven economical, rapid, and operator friendly way to overcome common laboratory limitations. First, a bit of background information about the production of bioethanol is needed before jumping into how to optimize the process.

Ethanol process: wet vs. dry milling

There are two main production processes when it comes to creating ethanol from sugars and starches from starting materials such as corn: the wet milling process and the dry milling process (shown in Figure 1). Nearly all ethanol produced for fuel in the U.S. (the largest bioethanol manufacturer in the world) is made using the dry mill process [2].

Figure 1. Schematic representation of the dry mill ethanol process.

Grains are first ground into smaller, more homogenous particles in the dry milling process, which allows the husk or shell to be more easily penetrated. Water and enzymes are then added to create a slurry called a «mash». To facilitate the conversion of starches to sugars, the mash is heated to specific temperatures, then cooled before yeast is added. The yeast performs the work of creating ethanol from the converted sugars via the process of fermentation. However, the percentage of ethanol is still quite low, and therefore the solution must be distilled and dehydrated to obtain the concentration and purity necessary for fuel additives.

Wet milling differs from this process by first soaking the grains before grinding and separating out the various components. The starches are then converted to sugars which are used for the fermentation process, just as with dry milling.

If you want to know more about the fermentation process, read our blog post about optimization of beer brewing.

Lab analysis shortfalls

The lab serves many functions, but one of the key ones is to monitor the progress of the fermentation in each fermentation tank. This typically requires many different technologies, because several parameters must be checked to ensure that a fermentation is on track. Tight monitoring and control over the various sugars present (e.g., glucose, maltose, DP3, etc.) throughout the fermentation process is necessary to understand the breakdown pathway of the starch (glucose generation) present in the mash and optimize ethanol production. Understanding this pathway enables the proper dosage of enzymes and yeast to the mash in the slurry tanks (Figure 1) to accelerate breakdown. Therefore, optimizing the enzyme and yeast blend is crucial for this process. These are the highest consumable costs for ethanol production and significantly affect the rate of production and final yield of ethanol.

Some of the most common analytical instruments and their use cases are listed in Table 1.

Table 1. Typical instruments and parameters that are measured during fermentation of corn to ethanol.
Parameter Measurement technique Analysis time (min) incl. sample prep.
Dissolved solids (°Bx) Refractometer 3–5
pH pH meter 3–5
Solids (non-volatiles) Infrared balance 15–20
Ethanol HPLC 30–45

Sugar profile 
(DP2, DP3, DP4+, glucose, total sugar)

HPLC 30–45
Glycerol HPLC 30–45
Lactic acid Ion chromatography 30–45
Acetic acid Ion chromatography 30–45
Water content Karl Fischer titration 5–10

If all the properties in Table 1 are to be measured, it can easily take an hour using six different pieces of equipment. Factor in conditioning steps and reference scans to ensure proper calibration, and the time for a routine fermentation analysis increases. For a single corn fermentation, this can take upwards of 55 hours—one hour to perform the analysis and six hours between each measurement. However, increasing the number of concurrent fermentations to four or six means that measurements from the different tanks will begin to overlap.

Overlapping instrument demand combined with long analysis times results in a number of different challenges for bioethanol producers. First, if scheduled sampling times overlap, then sampling must either be delayed or samples must age while waiting for analysis. Second, the long analysis time means that data is no longer current, but minimally one hour or older by the time it has been communicated to the plant control center, which decreases the ability to deal with deviations. Neither of these situations is ideal for manufacturers—time is money, after all.

Long laboratory analysis times and infrequent measurements reduce the ability to perform interventions or to adjust other critical parameters (e.g., enzyme addition rate or process temperature). Additionally, such long wait times can impede the decision to end a fermentation early and begin anew if the batch is judged to be beyond recovery.

Faster measurements equal higher profits

The most obvious way to overcome measurement time challenges is to increase the number of tools in the lab and/or to add automation. However, this approach has costs in time; twice the sample preparation increases operating expenses and still fails to give high-speed feedback to the plant operations team.

A better way to overcome measurement time delays is to deploy near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS), which can make all of the traditional laboratory measurements with one piece of equipment, at the same time, in less than five minutes.

Figure 2 displays the average ethanol concentration from HPLC measurements during several fermentations from one plant. The data shows apparent discontinuities in the first 12 hours, with spikes in glucose and dissolved solids. It is also apparent that the total solids measurement at 48 hours is erroneous. However, because the lab data requires so much time to collect, this spike is ignored instead of retested.

Figure 2. Key parameters measured for corn fermentation to ethanol as reported by the primary analysis methods listed in Table 1.

The NIRS alternative to traditional measurements shown in Figure 3 is of a single fermentation monitored in near real time. This high-speed analysis is possible because sample preparation is trivial for NIRS. Compared to the combination of HPLC and other analytical methods that consume about 60 minutes of operator time per sample, NIRS measures the same parameters and produces a quality result in about a minute. The ability to collect many NIR spectra in the early stages of the fermentation process provides a higher fidelity picture, enabling more timely interventions to maximize ethanol production.

Figure 3. Corn fermentation to ethanol as measured by near-infrared spectroscopy.

The higher speed NIRS analysis can be used to increase total plant throughput by growing the number of batches and revenue, as shown in Table 2. With the traditional analysis, the fermentation is allowed to run 62–65 hours, depending on the final laboratory results (Figure 2).

With NIRS analysis, this fermentation is shown to be complete in around 56 hours (Figure 3). Reducing fermentation time by six hours expands the potential number of batches by 13 over the course of a year, representing a potential plant capacity increase of 10%.

Table 2. Comparison of the apparent fermentation time based on primary lab analyses vs NIRS analysis.
Traditional Lab Analysis NIRS Analysis

Total measurement time

12 hours

5 hours

Number of measurements

12

62

Fermentation end point

~62 hours

56 hours

Batch capacity

37,850 L

37,850 L

Batches per year

129

142

Download our free White Paper to learn more.

Near-infrared spectroscopic solutions for ethanol producers

Metrohm offers several NIRS solutions for ethanol producers to make analysis easier and optimize production. The DS2500 Solid Analyzer (Figure 4) is ideal for rapid laboratory analysis of several critical quality parameters in the fermentation process.

Download our free Application Note below to learn more about how Metrohm NIRS laboratory instruments perform quality control measurements for the fermentation process.

Figure 4. The Metrohm DS2500 Solid Analyzer.

Additionally, Metrohm also manufactures NIRS instruments for measurements directly in the process, eliminating the need for removing samples and transporting them to the laboratory. Measurements taken in this way are the most representative of actual process conditions and therefore provide the highest quality data to operators. Learn more here about our different ranges of NIRS process analyzers and accessories.

Data communication between the process analyzer and the control room allows a direct overview of current conditions without delays and offers the possibility of integrating warnings when readings are out of specification or informing operators when the fermentation process is deemed to be complete.

For more information about the usage of NIRS for process analysis in bioethanol production, download our free Application Note.

Summary

Near-infrared analysis decreases measurement time for in-process fermentation samples by approximately 90%, from one hour to five minutes. Faster measurements allow the fermentation process to be followed much more closely, saving operator time to reduce costs and to optimize process conditions and plant operations. Capacity improvements of 10% are possible by being able to stop the fermentations based on rapid determination of the different parameters in the fermenter with NIRS rather than by slower traditional laboratory methods.

NIR methodology can provide benefits across the ethanol plant beyond fermentation monitoring to measure the performance of other plant components such as a centrifuge or dryer, making it a valuable tool to improve operations across the facility.

For more information about utilizing NIRS analysis in the bioethanol process as well as the available precalibrations for various quality parameters, download our free White Paper.

Free White Paper

Improving the corn to ethanol fermentation process with near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS)

References

[1]  Annual Fuel Ethanol Production U.S. and World Ethanol Production. Renewable Fuels Association: Washington, DC, 2021. https://ethanolrfa.org/statistics/annual-ethanol-production/

[2]  Essential Energy: 2021 Ethanol Industry Outlook. Renewable Fuels Association: Washington, DC, 2021.  https://ethanolrfa.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/RFA_Outlook_2021_fin_low.pdf

[3]  Determining the Cost of Producing Ethanol from Corn Starch and Lignocellulosic Feedstocks. National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL): Golden, Colorado, USA, 2000. https://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy01osti/28893.pdf

Post written by Dr. Adam J. Hopkins (PM Spectroscopy at Metrohm USA, Riverview, FL) and Dr. Alyson Lanciki (Scientific Editor at Metrohm International Headquarters, Herisau, Switzerland).