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):
- In case the drift value is 0, does this mean that the titration cell is over-titrated?
- Should I discard the Karl Fischer reagent immediately if it turns brown?
- What is drift correction, and when should I use it?
- My results are negative. What does a negative water content mean?
- My samples are not soluble. What can I do?
- Can all types of samples be analyzed with the oven method?
- How do I find the optimal oven temperature for water extraction?
- What is the highest possible water content that can be measured with a Karl Fischer oven?
- What is the maximum sample size that can be used with the oven? If I use too much sample, will the needle be blocked?
- 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?
- How do I verify an oven method?
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.
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.
I recommend using the drift correction only during coulometric KF titration. 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.
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.
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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.
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.
Find out more about the KF oven in our related blog post.
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 below).
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.
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.
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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