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NIR spectroscopy in the polymer industry: The ideal tool for QC and product screening – Part 1

NIR spectroscopy in the polymer industry: The ideal tool for QC and product screening – Part 1

Undoubtedly, there is a trend nowadays towards stricter quality assurance and quality control in production processes, such as in the polymer industry. At the same time, this trend is accompanied by a stronger focus on cost-saving and time-efficient methods so that performing more testing will not automatically result in higher costs. 

Major driving factors for companies to voluntarily implement more testing and quality practices include: 

  • Cost pressure. Testing can reveal out-of-specification products, allowing production to be stopped in plenty of time, eliminating excess manufacturing costs.
  • Increased competition. Quality practices provide a competitive edge and can be used as a marketing tool to raise brand value.
  • Scarcity of resources. Qualified staff are difficult to find; therefore, checks that can be carried out by non-specialists are invaluable.

Near-infrared (NIR) spectroscopy is an analytical method that addresses the above drivers and is particularly suited for making quality control more efficient and cost-effective as shown in this article. A short overview of NIRS is presented, followed by application examples for the quality control of polymers, concluding with indications and examples regarding how polymer producing and processing companies can benefit from the utilization of NIRS.

NIR technology overview

The interaction between light and matter is a well-known process—just recall the last time your skin was sunburned. Depending on the applied light intensity and energy, the interaction can be destructive (as with a sunburn) or harmless (like radio waves). Light used in spectroscopic methods is typically not described by the applied energy, but in many cases by the wavelength or wavenumbers.

A NIR spectrometer such as the Metrohm DS2500 Polymer Analyzer measures this interaction between light and matter to generate spectra as displayed in Figure 1. NIRS is especially sensitive to the presence of certain functional groups including -CH, -NH, -OH, and -SH. Therefore, NIR spectroscopy is an ideal method to quantify chemical parameters like water content (moisture), hydroxyl value, acid number, and amine content, just to name a few. Furthermore, the interaction is also dependent upon the matrix of the sample itself, which allows the detection of physical and rheological parameters like density, intrinsic viscosity, and melt flow rate.

Figure 1. Nylon and polyethylene spectra resulting from the interaction of NIR light with the respective samples.

All this information is contained in just one spectrum, making this method suitable for quick multiparameter analysis. Solid samples, such as powders, are secured within an appropriate container or vial (Figure 2a) then placed as-is on the analyzer. Heterogeneous samples, such as polymer pellets, can be analyzed using larger measurement cups (Figure 2b).

Figure 2. Solid sample placement for NIR spectra measurement. A) Direct measurement of powders in a vial. B) Large heterogeneous sample such as pellets can be analyzed using large sample cups.

Learn more about the DS2500 Polymer Analyzer on our website!

The measuring mode is referred to as «diffuse reflection», generally an appropriate procedure for analyzing granules, fibers, flakes, and both coarse and fine powders. For diffuse reflection (Figure 3), the NIR light comes from below the sample, penetrating and interacting with it, while being partially absorbed. Unabsorbed NIR light reflects to the detector. In less than 1 minute, the measurement is completed, and the results are displayed.

Figure 3. Schematic display of the light path interacting with a sample during diffuse reflection.

The procedure to obtain NIR spectra already highlights two major advantages of NIR spectroscopy: simplicity regarding sample measurement and speed.

  • Fast technique with results in less than a minute.
  • No sample preparation required – measure sample 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.

What kinds of polymer manufacturers in the production chain might benefit from using NIR spectroscopy?

Figure 4 illustrates the individual production steps from the plastic producer, via plastic compounder and plastic converter to the plastic parts producer. The first step in which near-infrared lab instruments can be used is when pure polymers are produced, and their purity requires confirmation. NIRS is also a very useful technique for the next step, when polymers are compounded into products to be used for further processing. 

Figure 4. Simplified illustration of the polymer production chain.

A plastic part producer, typically an injection molding or extrusion company, assesses the quality of the received polymer batches. In many cases, the certificate from the supplier is trusted without any further verification. However, a rapidly growing number of companies that create products for the medical industry or that produce parts of high value or in high quantities have started to assess the important rheological quality parameters of each polymer batch before using it for injection molding or extrusion. Feeding an out-of-specification polymer to the production process leads to costly standstill of the equipment and its time-consuming cleaning.

Here, a quick pre-check of the starting polymer material used in the process would be ideal to avoid such risks and potential downtime. For this purpose, NIRS is the ideal solution because it is fast, has low running costs, and can be operated by personnel without any extensive chemical education.

When the final part is created at the end of the production process, it can also be subjected to NIR spectroscopic investigations for quality control. This is useful for assessing the homogeneity or thickness of bottles or sheets of material, for example.

What kinds of polymer applications and parameters are possible with NIRS in general?

In principle, NIRS analysis is more suitable for measuring bulk materials and not for trace analysis. Furthermore, polymer samples should contain no more than 3% carbon black and a reference method should be available. When complying with these prerequisites, NIR spectroscopy can be used as a fast and cost-saving alternative measurement technology.

Metrohm Application Bulletin 414 describes several applications for the polymer industry that can be carried out with the aid of NIRS instruments. This document contains analyses of a wide range of parameters in a very large array of samples.

Examples for use of NIR spectroscopy for selected polymers are indicated in Table 1.

Table 1. Examples for use of NIRS for selected polymers.
Polymer type Parameter Conventional analysis method Advantage of using NIRS Related NIRS application note
Polyethylene (HDPE/LDPE) Density Densimeter Results within 30 seconds AN-NIR-003
AN-NIR-081
Melt Flow Index MFI apparatus

Time-saving

No cleaning of equipment

AN-NIR-083
Polypropylene (PP) Melt Flow Index MFI apparatus

Time-saving

No cleaning of equipment

AN-NIR-004
AN-NIR-082
AN-NIR-083
Polyamide (PA) Intrinsic Viscosity Ubbelohde viscosimeter

No time-consuming dissolution in hazardous chemicals

No waste

Cost savings

AN-NIR-005
AN-NIR-060
COOH, NH2, Moisture Titration

Time & cost savings

No chemicals needed

No chemically educated operator needed

AN-NIR-077
Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) Intrinsic Viscosity Ubbelohde viscosimeter

No time-consuming dissolution in hazardous chemicals

No waste

Cost savings

AN-NIR-023
Acid number Titration

Time & cost savings

No chemicals needed

No chemically educated operator needed

Isophtalic acid HPLC

No eluent solvents needed

Time & cost savings

No chemically educated operator needed

Polyurethane (PU) OH of polyols Titration

Time & cost savings

No chemicals needed

No chemically educated operator needed

AN-NIR-006
AN-NIR-007
Isocyanate content Titration AN-NIR-035
AN-NIR-065
AN-NIR-068
Polyvinyl Alcohol (PVA) Degree of alcoholysis Titration

Time & cost savings

No chemicals needed

No chemically educated operator needed

AN-NIR-076
Silicone Rubber Vinyl content Gas Chromatography

Time & cost savings

No chemicals needed

No chemically educated operator needed

AN-NIR-084
Polyvinylidene Chloride (PVDC) Sheet thickness Weighing

Time-saving

Reduced user error risk

AN-NIR-092

Save up to 90% on running costs with NIRS

Underestimation of quality control processes is one of the major factors leading to internal and external product failure, which have been reported to cause a loss of turnover between 10–30%. As a result, many different norms are put in place to support manufacturers with their QC process. However, time to result and the associated costs for chemicals can be quite excessive, leading many companies to implement near-infrared spectroscopy in their QC process.

Our free white paper illustrates the potential of NIRS and displays cost saving potentials up to 90%.

Future installments in this series

This article is only a general overview of the use of NIR spectroscopy as the ideal QC tool for the polymer industry. Future installments will be dedicated to the most commonly produced and commercially important polymers and will include much more detailed information. These polymers are:

 

  • Polyethylene and Polypropylene (PE & PP)
  • Polyethylene Phthalate (PET)
  • Polyamide (PA)
  • Polyols and Isocyanates to produce Polyurethane (PU)

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.

Easy moisture determination in fertilizers by near-infrared spectroscopy

Easy moisture determination in fertilizers by near-infrared spectroscopy

Blooms or bombs?

As the global population steadily increases, it is important that sufficient crops are produced each year to provide enough food, clothing, and other products. Crops such as corn, wheat, soy, and cotton receive nutrients from the soil they are grown in. Fertilizers play a crucial role in providing these crops with the nutrients they need to grow properly.

An important ingredient in the production of high quality, effective fertilizers is ammonium nitrate (NH4NO3), a good source of nitrogen and ammonium for plants.

Produced as small beads similar in appearance to kitchen salt, ammonium nitrate is cheap to buy and usually safe to handle – but storing it can be a problem. Over time, the compound absorbs moisture, which leads to clumping of the individual beads into a larger block. When such a large quantity of compacted ammonium nitrate is exposed to intense heat it can trigger an explosion.

Over the last century, ammonium nitrate has been involved in at least 30 disasters and terrorist attacks. One of the most recent occurrences was on the evening of August 4th, 2020 in Beirut, where an ammonium nitrate explosion killed at least 220 people and injured more than 5000. This blast is one of the largest industrial disasters ever linked to NH4NO3.

Moisture analysis methods for fertilizers

During the production process of ammonium nitrate it is important to control the moisture content. A low moisture content is preferable, but unnecessary excess drying leads to additional manufacturing costs.  Regulations for different fertilizers vary across the globe, but local legal limits ensure that the maximum amount of water present must not be exceeded.  Therefore,  rapid, reliable, and accurate methods for the determination of moisture is necessary. Out of those available, Karl Fischer titration is one of the most common; oven drying, for example, cannot be used with fertilizers containing ammonium nitrate.

Compared to these methods, near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) offers unique advantages. It is a secondary technique that generates reliable results within seconds without needing any sample preparation. NIRS is a non-destructive measurement technique and at the same time does not create any chemical waste.

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

NIRS analysis of solids

The most suitable NIR analyzer to measuring different parameters in fertilizer or ammonium nitrate pellets is the Metrohm DS2500 Solid Analyzer with Large Sample Cup.

Solid samples (e.g., granules and pellets) that are filled in the rotating DS2500 Large Sample Cup must be placed on the analyzer window. While scanning the sample, the Large Sample Cup will rotate in order to compensate for inhomogeneity.

As the DS2500 Solid Analyzer is a pre-dispersive system, the sample is illuminated with monochromatic light in order to keep the energy level as low as possible. Therefore, the instrument lid must be closed prior to starting the analysis so external light does not affect the results. The NIR radiation comes from below and is partially reflected by the sample to the detector, which is also located below the sample vessel plane. After 45 seconds, the measurement is completed, and a result is displayed. As this reflected light contains all the relevant sample information, this measurement technique is called diffuse reflection.

Advantages of using NIRS

The procedure for obtaining the NIR spectrum already highlights its simplicity regarding sample measurement and its speed. Several advantages of NIRS are listed below:

 

  • Fast technique with results in less than 1 minute.
  • No sample preparation required – solids and liquids can be used in pure form.
  • Low cost per sample – no chemicals or solvents needed.
  • Environmentally friendly technique – no waste generated.
  • Non-destructive – precious samples can be reused after analysis.
  • Multiple component analysis – prediction of different constituents in parallel.
  • Easy to operate – inexperienced users are immediately successful.

Overall, near-infrared spectroscopy is a robust alternative technique for the determination of both chemical and physical parameters in solids and liquids. It is a fast method which can also be successfully implemented for routine analysis by staff without any higher laboratory education.

Related Applications

Specialty chemicals have to fulfill multiple quality requirements. One of these quality parameters, which can be found in almost all certificates of analysis and specifications, is the moisture content. The standard method for the determination of moisture content is Karl Fischer titration.

This method requires reproducible sample preparation, chemicals, and waste disposal. Alternatively, near-infrared spectroscopy can be used for the determination of moisture content. With this technique, samples can be analyzed without any preparation and without using any chemicals.

More information about the application details can be found below!

Moisture content is one of the most commonly measured properties of fertilizers. Globally, regulations for different fertilizers vary, but local legal limits ensure that the maximum amount of water must not be exceeded. A number of analytical techniques are available for this purpose. Next to gravimetric methods, Karl Fischer titration is often used for accurate moisture determination.

Compared to these methods, near-infrared spectroscopy offers unique advantages: it generates reliable results within seconds, and at the same time does not create chemical waste. This Application Note explains how NIRS can offer fast, reagent-free analysis of moisture content in various fertilizer products.

Read on for more technical details…

To learn more about how Karl Fischer titration and NIRS complement each other for the analysis of moisture in different products, read our blog post!

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.

Real World Raman: Simplifying Incoming Raw Material Inspection

Real World Raman: Simplifying Incoming Raw Material Inspection

Raw material identification and verification (RMID) is a complicated process for a very important reason: it confirms the quality of the raw materials used in the manufacture of products that you put on and in your body. The complexity of RMID spans the spectrum from analytical techniques and instruments to the testing process, then to the governmental norms and standards that regulate all aspects of RMID including system suitability, extent of sampling, method validation, electronic records, and many others.

With Mira P and Mira Cal P, Metrohm Raman simplifies RMID.

Warehouse verification of incoming materials with mobile Raman in regulated industries involves performing RMID directly at the loading dock. Therefore, chemical analyses that historically would be performed in a laboratory by trained chemists can now be performed very quickly and with great success by nontechnical professionals.

Beginning with System Suitability…

Producers of handheld Raman instruments for RMID must provide suitable calibration and validation routines. Calibration of Mira P with the Calibrate/Verify Accessory (CVA) accomplishes instrument calibration as well as system and performance verification, then summarizes these tests in the System Suitability Test (SST) report for Mira P. CVA ensures that Mira P performs as intended and that users can trust in the generated data quality. Upon completion of the SST, users are assured that all measurements are in accordance with agreed standards.

For more information about instrument calibration, system verification, and performance validation for Metrohm Instant Raman Analyzers (Mira), download our free White Paper!

Moving on to Sampling Flexibility…

RMID methods must accommodate a number of factors to create the most accurate and robust solution for the task. Specific consideration must be given to:

  1. The sampling strategy: how to collect the best quality data, given specific conditions
  2. Sample presentation: including morphology, packaging, and chemical nature

Handheld Raman is recognized as a particularly well-suited technique for RMID, as it offers portable, onsite, no-contact analysis of solid and liquid samples.

RMID for Regulated Industries Part I: General Considerations outlines basic applications of handheld Raman, including sampling considerations and types of evaluation. Metrohm Raman simplifies sampling with Smart Tips for every sample type.

Followed by Method Development…

From Training and Validation Set building and specific recommendations for collecting best quality spectra to dedicated software routines that automatically determine optimal model parameters, Mira P streamlines development of methods for RMID with handheld Raman.

Successful development of a method relies on the inclusion of spectra in libraries and training sets used for RMID. Careful planning in the design phase of the model leads to an easy data collection phase. This data can then be used to determine the best model parameters for robust method development. With Mira Cal P and ModelExpert, even non-technical users can implement accurate, effective RMID methods.

Download our free Application Note AN-RS-031 for more information about Simplified RMID Model Building with Mira Cal P and Model Expert!

And Method Implementation…

Implementation of handheld Raman in RMID, where the majority of materials testing is performed in the receiving area, is a logical step for such a powerful technique. It has become widespread due to some very real advantages.

Massive time savings: acquisition times of less than a minute, coupled with instant, obvious results, permits very high-throughput

Faster turnaround: delivers materials to production sooner

Reduced resources: less demand for laboratory and warehouse personnel and lab consumables, costs, and workloads

Guided Workflows: predefined workflows on Mira P make sampling simple and efficient

With Full Compliance and Utter Confidence.

Just as Mira P has built-in routines to ensure instrument integrity, Mira Cal P is designed to protect customer data integrity and simplify compliance with worldwide norms and standards. All RMID customers require data to be complete, consistent, and accurate, and MiraCal P goes beyond this with full transparency and traceability.

MiraCal P analytical software from Metrohm Raman gives you peace of mind, as it ensures all data processing adheres to several standards. More information about data integrity can be found in our free flyer.

RMID is a complex process. Learn more about how handheld Raman can provide the simplest, most efficient and accurate RMID experience possible.

Learn more about

Handheld Raman spectrometers and SERS analyzers for the lab and the process

Post written by Dr. Melissa J. Gelwicks, Applications Chemist, Metrohm Raman, Laramie, Wyoming, USA.

Recipes with Raman

Recipes with Raman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~~ Starter ~~

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

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

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

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

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

~~Main Course~~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~~ Dessert ~~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Learn more about rapid food analysis with Raman spectroscopy

Download free applications directly from our website.

References

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Raman vs SERS… What’s the Difference?

Raman vs SERS… What’s the Difference?

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

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

Figure 1. 

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

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

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

Figure 2.

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

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

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

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

Figure 3.

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

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

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References

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

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