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History of Metrohm IC – Part 4

History of Metrohm IC – Part 4

In the fourth installment in our series about the history of ion chromatography development at Metrohm over the years, we now focus on some of our combined analysis techniquesThese are unique combinations of Metrohm instruments from different product groups which broaden application possibilities beyond what IC could accomplish alone. Here we will discuss the TitrIC and VoltIC systems.

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

TitrIC: combining titration, direct measurement, and IC in one

The combination of titration, pH, and conductivity measurement, as well as ion chromatography in a single analytical system was introduced in the late 1990s. This TitrIC system consisted of a Titrino for the determination of the p- and m-value (alkalinity), pH and conductivity meters, as well as a modular IC from the 732 IC Detector generation.

Figure 1. The first-generation TitrIC system from the late 1990s, including an autosampler for higher sample throughput.

Depending on the analysis requirements, either a second Titrino (for the Ca/Mg water hardness determination) or a second IC channel (for alkali and alkaline earth metal cations as well as ammonium) was selected. The latter enabled an automatic determination of the ion balance for the first time.

The central unit is the autosampler, which directs the water sample to the titration/metering section and to the ion chromatographs. The respective titration software controls the titrators and pH/temperature meters, calculates the results, and transfers them to the IC software (at the time, IC Net). The IC software controls the ion chromatograph and creates the final report. The user only communicates with the master software, making comprehensive analysis a simple task. This combination was available in all Metrohm IC generations (Figures 1 and 2). The most current setup (TitrIC Flex I and II) combines the 930 Compact IC Flex instruments with OMNIS titration.

Figure 2. TitrIC has evolved: TitrIC 7 system with 850 Professional IC series and Robotic Titrosampler has now become the TitrIC Flex (I and II), based on OMNIS titration and the 930 Compact IC Flex series.

Do you want to learn more about the combination of titration, direct measurement, and IC analysis and what it can do for your laboratory efficiency? Take a look at our previous blog post, download a free application note, or check out our brochure full of important information.

VoltIC – Voltammetry and IC

Just as with titration, it also is possible to combine IC and voltammetry in order to further expand application capabilities for enhanced trace measurement of analytes in water. VoltIC Professional integrates these techniques in a single, fully automatic system that is controlled via a common software, providing users with the strengths of both IC and voltammetry. Anions, major cations as well as trace cations may be detected in one determination. 

Back in 2012, the original VoltIC pro system was launched to bridge the gap between these two techniques and to offer a unique solution to the market. In 2013, the new line of 940 Professional IC Vario instruments came along. A few years later in 2016, the 884 Professional VA analyzer was brought to the market, and thus VoltIC on the next level: the current VoltIC Professional system (Figure 3).

Figure 3. VoltIC Professional system developed in 2016 for the enhanced analysis of trace impurities in water samples.

Is VoltIC the right choice for your laboratory? We offer free application notes for download, or check out the Metrohm website and download our brochure!

Next topic:

In Part 5 of our series, we will move on the use of ion chromatography for continuous air monitoring with the MARGA from Metrohm Process Analytics!

Don’t miss out – subscribe to our blog for weekly updates from the experts!

Download our free monograph:

Practical Ion Chromatography – An Introduction

Post written by Dr. Markus Läubli, Manager Marketing Support IC at Metrohm International Headquarters, Herisau, Switzerland.

Thermometric titration – the missing piece of the puzzle

Thermometric titration – the missing piece of the puzzle

Titration is a well-established analysis technique taught to each and every chemistry student. Titration is carried out in nearly every analytical laboratory either as manual titration, photometric titration, or potentiometric titration. In this blog entry, I would like to present an additional kind of titration you may  not have heard of before – thermometric titration – which can be considered the missing piece of the titration puzzle.

Here, I plan to cover the following topics:
  1. What is thermometric titration?
  2. Why consider thermometric titration?
  3. Practical application examples

What is thermometric titration?

At first glance, thermometric titration (TET) looks like a normal titration and you won’t see much (or any) difference from a short distance. The differences compared to potentiometric titration are in the details.

TET is based on the principle of enthalpy change (ΔH). Each chemical reaction is associated with a change in enthalpy which in turn causes a temperature change. During a titration, analyte and titrant react either exothermically (increase in temperature) or endothermically (decrease in temperature).

During a thermometric titration, the titrant is added at a constant rate and the change in temperature caused by the reaction between analyte and titrant is measured. By plotting the temperature versus the added titrant volume, the endpoint can be determined by a break within the titration curve. Figure 1 shows idealized thermometric titration curves for both exothermic and endothermic situations.

Figure 1. Illustration of exothermic and endothermic titration curves showing clear endpoints where the temperature of the solution changes abruptly.

What happens during a thermometric titration?

During an exothermic titration reaction, the temperature increases with the titrant addition as long as analyte is still present. When all analyte is consumed, the temperature decreases again as the solution equilibrates with the atmospheric temperature and/or due to the dilution of the solution with titrant (Figure 1, left graph). This temperature decrease results in an exothermic endpoint.

On the contrary, for an endothermic titration reaction, the temperature decreases with the titrant addition as long as analyte is still available. When all analyte is consumed, the temperature stabilizes or increases again as the solution equilibrates with the atmospheric temperature and/or due to the dilution of the solution with titrant (Figure 1, right graph). This temperature decrease results in an endothermic endpoint.

Knowing the absolute temperature, isolating the titration vessel, or thermostating the titration vessel is thus not required for the titration.

Figure 2. Metrohm’s maintenance-free Thermoprobe used for the reliable indication of thermometric endpoints.

In order to measure the small temperature changes during the titration, a very fast responding thermistor with a high resolution is required. These sensors are capable of measuring temperature differences of less than 0.001 °C, and allow the collection of a measuring point every 0.3 seconds (Figure 2). 

Visit the Metrohm website to learn more about the fast, sensitive Thermoprobe products available even for aggressive sample solutions.

If you would like to learn more about the theory behind TET, then download our free comprehensive monograph on thermometric titration.

Why consider thermometric titration?

Potentiometric and photometric titration are already well established as instrumental titration techniques, so why should one consider thermometric titration instead?

 

TET has the same advantages as any instrumental titration technique:
  • Inexpensive analyses: Titration instruments are inexpensive to purchase and do not have high running and maintenance costs compared to other instruments for elemental analysis (e.g., HPLC or ICP-MS).
  • Absolute method: Titration is an absolute method, meaning it is not necessary to frequently calibrate the system.
  • Versatile use: Titration is a universal method, which can be used to determine many different analytes in various industries.
  • Easy to automate: Titration can be easily automated, increasing reproducibility and efficiency in your lab.
In comparison to classical instrumental titration, thermometric titration has several additional advantages:
  • Fast titrations: Due to the constant titrant addition, thermometric titrations are very fast. Typically, a thermometric titration takes 2–3 minutes.
  • Single sensor: Regardless of the titration reaction (e.g., acid-base, redox, precipitation, …), the same sensor (Thermoprobe) can be used for all of them.
  • Maintenance-free sensor: Additionally, the Thermoprobe is maintenance free. It requires no calibration or electrolyte filling and can simply be stored dry.
  • Less solvent: Typically, thermometric titrations use 30 mL of solvent or even less. The small amount of solvent ensures that the dilution is minimized, and the enthalpy changes can be detected reliably. As a side benefit, less waste is produced.
  • Additional titrations possible: Because enthalpy change is universal for any chemical reaction, thermometric titration is not bound to finding a suitable color indicator or indication electrode. This allows the possibility of additional titrations which cannot be covered by other kinds of titration.
  • Easier sample preparation: As TET uses higher titrant concentrations it is possible to use larger sample sizes, reducing weighing and dilution errors. Tedious sample preparation steps such as filtration can be omitted as well.
Figure 3. The Metrohm 859 Titrotherm with 801 Stirrer and notebook with tiamo™ software.

Learn more about the 859 Titrotherm system for the most reliable TET determinations on the Metrohm website.

Practical application examples

In this section I would like to present you some practical examples where TET can be applied.

Acid number and base number

The acid number (AN) and base number (BN) are two key parameters in the petroleum industry. They are determined by a nonaqueous acid-base titration using KOH or HClO4, respectively, as titrant.

During such determinations, very weak acids (for AN analysis) and bases (for BN analysis) are titrated with only small enthalpy changes. Using a catalytic indicator, these weak acids and bases can also be determined by TET.

ASTM D8045 describes the analysis of the AN by thermometric titration. The benefits of carrying out this titration are:

  • Less solvent (30 mL instead of 60 or 120 mL), meaning less waste
  • Fast titration (1–3 minutes)
  • No conditioning of the sensor

If you wish to learn more about how well the results of the AN determination according to ASTM D8045 correlate with ASTM D664, download our free White Paper WP-012 as well as our brochure below.

For more detailed information about the titration itself, download the free Application Bulletin AB-427 (AN) and Application Bulletin AB-405 (BN) below.

Sodium

Using conventional titration, the salt content in foodstuff is usually determined based solely on the chloride content. However, foods usually contain additional sources of sodium, e.g. monosodium glutamate (also known as «MSG»). With TET it becomes possible to titrate the sodium directly, and thus to inexpensively determine the true sodium content in foodstuff, as stipulated in several countries.

If you wish to learn more about the sodium determination, watch our Metrohm LabCast video: «Sodium determination in food: Fast and direct thanks to thermometric titration».

Fertilizer analysis

Fertilizers consists of various nutrients, including phosphorus, nitrogen, and potassium, which are important for plant growth. TET enables the analysis of these nutrients by employing classical gravimetric reactions as the basis for the titration (e.g., precipitation of sulfate with barium). This allows for a rapid determination, without needing to wait hours for a result, as with conventional procedures based on drying and weighing the precipitate.

Nutrients which can be analyzed by TET include:
  • Phosphate
  • Potassium
  • Ammoniacal nitrogen
  • Urea nitrogen
  • Sulfate

Want to learn more about the analysis of fertilizers with thermometric titration? Download our free White Paper WP-060 on this topic. For more detailed information regarding the different fertilizer applications, check out the Metrohm Application Finder, or find a curated selection here.

Metal-organic compounds

Metal-organic compounds, such as Grignard reagents or butyl lithium compounds, are used for synthetizing active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) or manufacturing polymers such as polybutadiene. With TET, the analysis of these sensitive species can be performed rapidly and reliably by titrating them under inert gas with 2-butanol.

If you wish to learn more about this topic, check out our news article and download the free corresponding Application Note AN-H-142.

These were just a few examples about the possibilities of thermometric titration, to demonstrate its versatile use. For a more detailed selection, have a look at our Application Finder.

To summarize:

  • TET is an alternative titration method based on enthalpy change
  • A fast and sensitive Thermoprobe is used to determine exothermic and endothermic endpoints
  • Thermometric titration is a fast analysis technique providing results in less than 3 minutes
  • Thermometric titration can be used for various analyses, including titrations which cannot be performed otherwise (e.g., sodium determination)

I hope this overview has given you a better idea about thermometric titration – the missing piece of the titration puzzle.

For more information

Download our free Monograph:

Practical thermometric titrimetry

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

Oven method for sample preparation in Karl Fischer titration

Oven method for sample preparation in Karl Fischer titration

Maybe you have experienced one of the following situations in the laboratory. You need to determine the water content of a sample using Karl Fischer titration and you realize one or more of these issues:

  • The sample does not dissolve in the KF reagent. No solubilizer helps, the sample is still not dissolving, and the results are far from reproducible.
  • The sample reacts with the KF reagent. The titration does not stop, and there is no endpoint detected.
  • The sample contaminates the titration cell and the electrode(s). Even if you replace the reagent after every measurement, the obtained results are out of specification.

There is a way to solve the above-mentioned problems. Trust me—it’s fantastic!!

The solution is the oven method or gas extraction technique.

What is Karl Fischer titration? Download our free Monograph to learn more from the experts.

What is the oven method?

The oven method is a sample preparation technique used in Karl Fischer titration to analyze samples…

For more help, take a look at our frequently asked questions in Karl Fischer titration under the section «Sample Handling» here on our website:

The principle is very simple.

The sample is weighed into a headspace vial and closed with a septum cap. When placed in an oven, the water evaporates and a carrier gas (usually air or nitrogen) dried with a molecular sieve transports the released water into the titration cell, where the determination of the water content takes place. The water is separated from the sample matrix, avoiding side reactions and contamination.

The temperature of the oven is chosen according to the temperature stability of the sample. This leads to the question to which temperature the sample should be heated. What is the optimal oven temperature?

Finding the optimal oven temperature

Using a suitable oven temperature to analyze a sample is crucial to obtain the correct results. The oven temperature should be as high as possible, within reason. This guarantees a fast and complete release of the water and subsequently, short titration times. However, you should avoid choosing a temperature that is too high. Decomposition of the sample usually leads to the formation of unwanted substances that can falsify the water content. Therefore, as a rule of thumb, I recommend choosing an oven temperature 20 °C below the decomposition temperature of the sample.

But what can you do if you have no idea at which temperature your sample should be analyzed? No worries! There are several ways to find the optimal oven temperature.

One possibility is to search in the literature. The more information on temperature stability of the sample you find, the better off you will be. If you are able to find a decomposition temperature, it will help immensely to define the optimal oven temperature. Maybe you are lucky and someone else has already analyzed the same sample; then you may also find a recommended oven temperature. A good start is reading our free Application Bulletin AB-280, which lists several substances.

Are you searching for Karl Fischer titration oven applications? Look no further – the Metrohm Application Finder contains several applications you can download for free! Check them out here:

If literature research does not reveal a suitable oven temperature, you must determine it yourself. How this is done depends upon the type of instrument you are using.

Some instruments offer you the possibility to run a so-called temperature gradient or temperature ramp. The sample is heated at a constant rate (e.g., 0.5 °C or 2 °C per minute) in a defined temperature range (e.g., 50 to 250 °C). At the same time, the released water is determined. In the end, the software will display a curve, showing you the released water as a function of the temperature. The following graph shows an example of such a temperature gradient curve.

The blue line corresponds to the determined water content, whereas the orange line indicates the drift value. An increasing drift signals the release of water, but it can also be a sign for decomposition, especially if the drift no longer decreases to a low level. In this graph, the drift peak at 50 °C corresponds to the blank value and free water. Between 120 and 200 °C, the drift value increases again, meaning the sample releases water. Then the drift decreases and remains low and stable up to 250 °C. There are no signs of decomposition up to 250 °C. As we do not know what would happen at temperatures above 250 °C, the optimal oven temperature for this sample is 230 °C (250 °C – 20 °C = 230 °C).

In case the instrument you use does not offer the option to run a temperature gradient, you can manually increase the temperature and measure the sample at different temperatures. In an Excel spreadsheet, you can display the curve (released water against temperature). If there is a temperature range where you see reproducible water contents, then you have found the optimal oven temperature.

Here is an example of a sample which started to decompose at temperatures above 106 °C (left sample vial) and thus is turning brown. An optimal temperature would therefore be 85 °C.

Sample analysis with a KF oven – step by step

After you have found the optimal oven temperature, water content determination in the sample can begin.

  • First, I recommend to run a system preparation. This means running a determination, but with an empty sample vial. During this preparation step, all tubes in the system are purged with dried carrier gas, and any traces of water are removed.
  • Next, you need to determine the blank value. The sample vials and the caps contain some residual moisture. With the blank determination, the amount of water contained in an empty sample vial is determined. The mean value of e.g. 3 blank value determinations is then subtracted from the water content obtained for the samples.
  • Finally, you can analyze the samples.

Please keep in mind that the same parameters for the system preparation, the blank value determination, and the sample determination must be used. This is of importance if you want to measure a check standard before and/or after the sample analysis or sample series. If the optimal oven temperature for the standard is different from the one for the sample, I recommend that you determine a blank value for the standard as well.

Checking an oven system

There are special, solid water standards available to check the performance of an oven system. These water standards are perfect to inspect the complete oven system and to ensure that the evaporated water reaches the titration cell and is determined there. Such standards include a certificate stating the water content.

Using the certified value, you can calculate the recovery when determining the water content of the standard with the oven. If the recovery value is between 97–103%, everything is fine. However, if the recovery is outside this range, the oven system should be checked for leaks or water deposits. It might be that only the molecular sieve needs to be exchanged. Possibly, the reagent is exhausted and needs to be replaced.

There are other reasons which explain recovery values which are too high or too low. The reason must be found, as incorrect recovery values also mean that the determined sample water content is wrong. Have a look at our free Application Bulletin 280 for detailed information on troubleshooting an oven system.

Summary

The oven method is a simple and convenient way to analyze difficult samples. Side reactions are reduced to a minimum. The titration cell and the reagent are not contaminated with sample. In case you have to analyze a large series of samples, automation of the oven method is possible. Have a look at the available instruments for the oven method on our website!

Want to learn more

about Karl Fischer titration

Watch our free webinars here!

Post written by Michael Margreth, Sr. Product Specialist Titration (Karl Fischer Titration) at Metrohm International Headquarters, Herisau, Switzerland.

Forewarned is Forearmed: Error and risk minimization in process analysis – Part 3

Forewarned is Forearmed: Error and risk minimization in process analysis – Part 3

In the course of life, each of us learns to trust our gut feelings or our experiences to avoid situations that seem dangerous or risky. You quite literally sense potential dangers with an uneasy feeling. Who hasn’t painfully learned that touching a hot stove top isn’t a good idea? Or who voluntarily goes outside during a tornado?

While humans can rely on their intuition and learned patterns to avoid dangers or use protective strategies, this is far more complicated with electronic systems or machines. All components of a system must be in a permanently safe state. Failures and malfunctions of individual components can have devastating consequences for production processes and the safety of the operators.

An example of this is the Seveso disaster in 1976, in which highly toxic dioxin TCDD escaped as a result of an uncontrolled reaction, and sustainably poisoned flora and fauna. With regard to other major chemical accidents, the European Seveso III Directive then came into force in 2012 to control major accident hazards to prevent major accidents.

Have you read Part 1 and Part 2 of our «Advantages of PAT (Process Analytical Technology)» series? If not, find them here!

Recognize, master, and avoid errors

Process engineering systems that are operated continuously contain countless components that can wear out or fail during their life cycle. However, if the measuring, control, or regulating circuit is affected, failures can cause immense damage. Under no circumstances should humans nor the environment be exposed to any kind of danger. For this reason, the functional safety of the components must be guaranteed, and their risk and hazard potential must be analyzed in detail.

The service life of mechanical components can be evaluated by observing mechanical wear and tear. However, the aging behavior of electronic components is difficult to assess. A unit of measure that makes risk reduction and thus functional safety quantifiable is the so-called «Safety Integrity Level» (SIL). 

The following procedure is followed:

  1.   Risk analysis
  2.   Realization of risk reduction
  3.   Evidence that the realized risk reduction corresponds at least to the required risk reduction

«Process analysis systems are part of the entire safety cycle of a manufacturing plant and therefore only one component whose risk of malfunctions and failures must be considered in an assessment.»

Risk assessmentA process is considered safe if the current risk has been reduced below the level of the tolerable risk. If safety is ensured by technical measures, one speaks of functional safety.

Significance for process analysis systems

Errors can happen anywhere, and can never be completely excluded. To minimize possible errors, it is therefore necessary to estimate the risk of occurrence and the damage to be expected from it as part of a risk analysis. A distinction must be made here between systematic and random errors.

Systematic errors are potentially avoidable and are caused, for example, by software errors or configuration deficiencies. Accordingly, they already exist during or prior to commissioning.

In contrast, random errors are potentially difficult to avoid because they occur arbitrarily. Nevertheless, the error rate or failure probability can be determined statistically and experimentally.

Random errors usually result from the hardware and occur during operation. Ultimately, systematic errors should be avoided, and random errors should be mastered to ensure trouble-free functionality.

Process analysis systems are the link between manual laboratory analysis and the industrial process. In applications where continuous and fully automatic monitoring of critical parameters is required, process analyzers are indispensable. Due to the different analysis conditions in the laboratory and directly in the process, there are some challenges when transferring the measurement technology from the lab to the process. The decisive factors are the working and environmental conditions (e.g., high temperatures, corrosive atmospheres, moisture, dust, or potentially explosive environments) which the process analyzers have to meet regarding their design, construction materials, and reliability of the components. The analyzer automatically and continuously transmits system and diagnostic data to prevent hardware or software components from failing through preventive measures. This significantly reduces the chance of random errors occurring.

General process analyzer setup

a) Analyzer Setup

Process analyzers have been specially developed for use in harsh and aggressive industrial environments. The IP66 protected housing is divided into two parts, and consists of separate wet and electronic parts. The electronics part contains all components relevant to control and operate the process analyzer. Modular components like burettes, valves, pumps, sampling systems, titration vessels, and electrodes can be found in the analyzer wet part. Representative samples can thus be taken from the process measuring point several meters away. The analysis procedure, the methods to be used, and method calculations are freely programmable.

A touchscreen with intuitive menu navigation allows easy operation, so that production processes can be optimized at any time. The course of the measurement is graphically represented and documented over the entire determination, so that the analysis process is completely controlled. The measurement results can be generated 24/7 and allow close and fully automatic monitoring of the process. Limits, alarms, or results are reliably transferred to the process control system.

When operating the analyzer, there is a risk that software errors can lead to failures. In order to recognize this with foresight, the system delivers self-diagnostic procedures as soon as it is powered on and also during operation. This includes, e.g., checking pumps and burettes, checking for leaks, or checking the communication between the I/O controller, the human interface, and the respective analysis module.

b) Sensors

The central component of a process analyzer is the measurement technique in use. In the case of sensors or electrodes, there are several requirements such as chemical resistance, ease of maintenance, robustness, or precision which they must meet. The safety-related risk arises from the possibility if measurement sensors fail due to aging, or if they become damaged and subsequently deliver incorrect measurement results.

Failure of the electrode, contamination, or damage must be reported immediately. With online analysis systems, the analysis is performed in an external measuring cell. In addition, recurring calibration and conditioning routines are predefined and are performed automatically. The status of the electrode is continuously monitored by the system.

Between measurements, the electrode is immersed in a membrane-friendly storage solution that prevents drying out and at the same time regenerates the swelling layer. The electrode is therefore always ready for use and does not have to be removed from the process for maintenance. This enables reliable process control even under harsh industrial conditions.

c) Analysis

Process analyzers must be able to handle samples for analysis over a wide concentration range (from % down to trace levels) without causing carry-over or cross-sensitivity issues. In many cases, different samples from several measuring points are determined in parallel in one system using different analysis techniques. The sample preparation (e.g., filtering, diluting, or wet chemical digestion) must be just as reliable and smooth as the fully automatic transfer of results to the process control system so that a quick response is possible.

Potential dangers for the entire system can be caused by incorrect measurement results. In order to minimize the risk, a detector is used to notify the system of the presence of sample in the vessel. The testing of the initial potential of the analysis or titration curves / color development in photometric measurements are diagnostic data that are continuously recorded and interpreted. Results can be verified by reference analysis or their plausibility can be clarified using standard and check solutions.

Detect errors before they arise

The risk assessment procedures that are carried out in the context of a SIL classification for process engineering plants are ultimately based on mathematical calculations. However, in the 24/7 operation of a plant, random errors can never be completely excluded. Residual risk always remains. Therefore, the importance of preventive maintenance activities is growing immensely in order to avoid hardware and software failures during operation.

A regular check of the process analyzer and its diagnostic data is the basic requirement for permanent, trouble-free operation. With tailor-made maintenance and service concepts, the analyzer is supported by certified service engineers over the entire life cycle. Regular maintenance plans, application support, calibration, or performance certificates, repairs, and original spare parts as well as proper commissioning are just a few examples.

Advantages of preventive maintenance from Metrohm Process Analytics

  • Preservation of your investment
  • Minimized risk of failure
  • Reliable measurement results
  • Calculable costs
  • Original spare parts
  • Fast repair
  • Remote Support

In addition, transparent communication between the process control system and the analyzer is also relevant in the context of digitalization. The collection of performance data from the analyzer to assess the state of the control system is only one component. The continuous monitoring of relevant system components enables conclusions to be drawn about any necessary maintenance work, which ideally should be carried out at regular intervals. The question arises as to how the collected data is interpreted and how quickly it is necessary to intervene. Software care packages help to test the software according to the manufacturer’s specifications, to perform data backup and software maintenance.

«Remote support is particularly important in times when you cannot always be on site.»

In real emergency situations in which rapid error analysis is required, manufacturers can easily support the operator remotely using remote maintenance solutions. The system availability is increased, expensive failures and downtimes are avoided, and the optimal performance of the analyzer is ensured.

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 Dr. Kerstin Dreblow, Product Manager Wet Chemical Process Analyzers, Deutsche Metrohm Prozessanalytik (Germany).

Frequently asked questions in Karl Fischer titration – Part 2

Frequently asked questions in Karl Fischer titration – Part 2

Since I started working at Metrohm more than 15 years ago, I have received many questions about Karl Fischer titration. Some of those questions have been asked repeatedly from several people in different locations around the world. Therefore, I have chosen 20 of the most frequent questions received over the years concerning Karl Fischer equipment and arranged them into three categories: instrument preparation and handling, titration troubleshooting, and the oven technique. Part 1 covered instrument preparation and handling, and Part 2 will now focus on titration troubleshooting and the KF oven technique.

Summary of questions in the FAQ (click to go directly to each question):

Titration troubleshooting

1.  If the drift value is 0, does this mean that the titration cell is over-titrated?

A drift of zero can be a sign that the cell might be over-titrated. In combination with the mV signal (lower than end-point criteria) and the color of the working medium (darker yellow than usual), it is a clear indicator for over-titration. However, volumetric titrations sometimes exhibit a zero drift for a short time without being over-titrated. If you have a real excess of iodine in the titration cell, the result of the next determination will most likely be erroneous. Therefore, over-titration should be avoided. There are various possible reasons for over-titration, like the sample itself (e.g., oxidizing agents which generate iodine from the working medium), the electrode (coating or invisible depositions on the Pt pins/rings), the reagent, and method parameters (e.g., the titration is rate too high), to name just a few.

2.  Should I discard the Karl Fischer reagent immediately if it turns brown?

Different factors can cause over-titration, however, the reagent is not always the reason behind this issue. The indicator electrode can also be the reason for overshooting the endpoint. In this case, regular cleaning of the electrode can prevent over-titration (see also questions 7 to 9 from Part 1 in this series on cleaning).

A low stirring speed also increases the risk of over-titration, so make sure the solution is well mixed. Depending on the type of reagent, the parameters of the titration need to be adjusted. Especially if you use two-component reagents, I recommend decreasing the speed of the titrant addition to avoid over-titration. Over-titration has an influence on the result, especially if the degree of over-titration changes from one determination to the next. So over-titration should always be avoided to guarantee correct results.

3.  What is drift correction, and when should I use it?

I recommend using the drift correction in coulometric KF titration only. You can also use it in volumetric titration, but here the drift level is normally not as stable as for coulometric titrations. This can result in variations in the results. A stabilization time can reduce such an effect. However, compared to the absolute water amounts in volumetry, the influence of drift is usually negligible.

4.  My results are negative. What does a negative water content mean?

Negative values do occur if you have a high start drift and a sample with a very low water content. In this case, the value for drift correction can be higher than the absolute water content of the sample, resulting in a negative water content.

If possible, use a larger sample size to increase the amount of water added to the titration cell with the sample. Furthermore, you should try to reduce the drift value in general. Perhaps the molecular sieve or the septum need to be replaced. You can also use a stabilizing time to make sure the drift is stable before analyzing the sample.

Karl Fischer oven

5.  My samples are not soluble. What can I do?

In case the sample does not dissolve in KF reagents and additional solvents do not increase the solubility of the sample, then gas extraction or the oven technique could be the perfect solution.

The sample is weighed in a headspace vial and closed with a septum cap. Then the vial is placed in the oven and heated to a predefined temperature, leading the sample to release its water. At the same time, a double hollow needle pierces through the septum. A dry carrier gas, usually nitrogen or dried air, flows into the sample vial. Taking the water of the sample with it, the carrier gas flows into the titration cell where the water content determination takes place.

6.  Can all types of samples be analyzed with the oven method?

Many samples can be analyzed with the oven. Whether an application actually works for a sample strongly depends on the sample itself. Of course, there are samples that are not suitable for the oven method, e.g., samples that decompose before releasing the water or that release their water at higher temperatures than the maximum oven temperature.

7.  How do I find the optimal oven temperature for water extraction?

Depending on the instrument used, you can run a temperature gradient of 2 °C/min. This means it is possible to heat a sample from 50 to 250 °C within 100 minutes. The software will then display a curve of water release against temperature (see graph).

From such a curve, the optimal temperature can be determined. Different peaks may show blank, adherent water, different kinds of bound water, or even decomposition of the sample.

This example curve shows the water release of a sample as it has been heated between 130 and 200 °C. At higher temperatures, the drift decreases to a stable and low level.

Generally, you should choose a temperature after the last water release peak (where the drift returns to the base level) but approximately 20 °C below decomposition temperature. Decomposition can be recognized by increasing drift, smoke, or a color change of the sample. In this example, there are no signs of decomposition up to an oven temperature of 250 °C. Therefore, the optimal oven temperature for this sample is 230 °C (250 °C – 20 °C).

In case the instrument you use does not offer the option to run a temperature gradient, you can manually increase the temperature and measure the sample at different temperatures. In an Excel spreadsheet, you can display the curve plotting released water against temperature. If there is a plateau (i.e., a temperature range where you find reproducible water contents), you have found the optimal oven temperature.

8.  What is the highest possible water content that can be measured with a Karl Fischer oven?

Very often, the oven is used in combination with a coulometric titrator. The coulometric titration cell used in an oven system is filled with 150 mL of reagent. Theoretically, this amount of reagent allows for the determination of 1500 mg of water. However, this amount is too high to be determined in one titration and it would lead to very long titration times and negative effects on the results. We recommend that the water content of a single sample (in a vial) should not be higher than 10 mg, ideally around 1000–2000 µg water. For samples with water contents in the higher percentage range, you should consider the combination with a volumetric titrator.

9.  What is the maximum sample size that can be used with the oven? If I use too much sample, will the needle be blocked?

The standard vial for the oven method has a volume of approximately 9 mL. However, we do not recommend filling the vial completely. Do not fill more than 5–6 mL of sample in a vial. We offer the possibility to customize our oven systems, allowing you to use your own vials. Please contact your local Metrohm agency for more information on customized oven systems.

For liquid samples, we recommend using a long needle to lead the gas through the sample. Solid samples and especially samples that melt during analysis require a short needle. The tip of the needle is positioned above the sample material to avoid needle blockage.

Additionally, you should use a «relative blank value», i.e., taking only the remaining air volume into account for blank subtraction. You can find more information about the relative blank and how to calculate it in Application Note AN-K-048.

10.  What is the detection limit of the oven method, and how much sample is required to analyze a sample with 10 ppm (mg/L) water content?

We recommend having at least 50 µg of water in the sample, if analyzed with coulometry. However, if conditions are absolutely perfect (i.e., very low and stable drift plus perfect blank determination), it is possible to determine even lower water contents, down to 20 µg of absolute water. For a sample with a water content of < 10 ppm (mg/L), this would correspond to a sample size of at least 2 g.

11.  How do I verify an oven method?

For the verification of an oven system, you can use a certified water standard for oven systems. With such a standard, you can check the reproducibility and the recovery. There are a few types of standards available for different temperature ranges.

I hope this collected information helps you to answer some of your most burning KF questions. If you have further unanswered questions, do not hesitate to contact your local Metrohm distributor or check out our selection of webinars.

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Post written by Michael Margreth, Sr. Product Specialist Titration (Karl Fischer Titration) at Metrohm International Headquarters, Herisau, Switzerland.