Part 3 of this series on the history of ion chromatography development at Metrohm focuses on the near past, from the mid 2000's until a few years ago. Here, sequential suppression was introduced, making analysis even more sensitive with the removal of baseline disturbances from the chromatogram. In the rest of this blog post, I cover the 4th and 5th instrument generations, presenting professional, flexible, intelligent ion chromatography from Metrohm to the world.
2005: Sequential suppression is introduced
Sequential suppression was introduced in 2005 to overcome issues that arise from using chemical suppression alone.
In chemical suppression (using the packed bed Metrohm Suppressor Module, MSM), the dissociated carbonic acid from carbon dioxide attributes a background conductivity of approximately 15 µS/cm. This yields in relatively large water dips as well as system peaks (from carbonate). Depending on the carbonate concentration, the system peak may interefere with other peaks of interest in the chromatogram.
Furthermore, the pH in a peak changes due to the increasing concentration of H+, as e.g., chloride is eluted as HCl. This pH change induces a decreasing baseline as the hydrogen carbonate—carbonic acid equilibrium is pushed towards development of carbonic acid. The effect is schematically illustrated in Figure 1.
Here, the calculated baseline is marked with the straight red line, but the real baseline shows small negative deviations under the analyte peaks. This negative peak area is not taken into account for the quantification of the respective analyte.
This and other effects result in a deviation from the linearity of the calibration curve. In most cases it is therefore recommended to apply a quadratic curve fit.
Sequential suppression for anions
The term «sequential suppression» represents the combination of chemical suppression and CO2 suppression. The Metrohm CO2 Suppressor (MCS) removes CO2 from the eluent (mobile phase) after chemical suppression, but before detection. This shifts the equilibrium from hydrogen carbonate towards dissolved CO2. Applying sequential suppression therefore reduces the background conductivity to <1 µS/cm, corresponding to ultrapure water itself.
As an effect of sequential suppression, the water dip as well as the system peak (carbonate peak) is reduced dramatically. The former allows easier integration of the early eluting peaks (Figure 2), such as fluoride. The latter reduces the interference and disturbance of peaks of interest. Using the MCS in combination with the MSM, there are no negative baseline peaks present in the chromatogram, and the linearity is improved. Nevertheless, it is still recommended to apply a quadratic curve fit when calibrating a concentration range of one or more orders of magnitude.
4th generation: Intelligent ion chromatography – 2007
The fourth generation of Metrohm ion chromatography was introduced in 2007, bringing with it a higher level of detection data handling and finally adding intelligence to the IC instruments.
After the introduction of the 850 Professional IC series in 2007, the respective compact versions (881 Compact IC pro and 882 Compact IC plus) were launched in 2009 (Figure 3), offering IC systems for all kinds of laboratories and sample throughput needs. The 883 Basic IC plus followed shortly after this as well in 2009 (Figure 3).
Aside from general improvements on the hardware modules, the conductivity detector was switched from analog to digital. The previous iteration consisted of a stand-alone detector block and an electronic unit, which was able to cover the full signal range of conductivity for IC. However, it was required to select a dedicated measuring range and an optimal full-scale (e.g., 20 µS/V) for the best signal quality.
The new IC Conductivity Detector for 850 Professional IC instruments consisted of only the «detector block» itself. The complete electronics were now integrated within the thermostated detector block. Besides the digital data acquisition capability, this significantly improves the signal stability which yields in an extremely low noise level. The digital detector could now handle the full conductivity range without the need for any range or full-scale settings.
MagIC Net, the new fully in-house developed software for both hardware control and data handling, brought many enhanced features and capabilities to the world of Professional IC (Figure 4). Here, «Intelligent IC» was born. Intelligent IC stands for the automatic recognition of most of the hardware components, e.g., the high pressure pump, the separation column, etc. This information is stored in every determination, allowing users full system traceability for each analysis.
MagIC Net also brought forth many special control functions enabling sophisticated Inline Sample Preparation and automatic calibration techniques. Logical decisions are available, allowing analysts to perform logical dilutions for example. Here, the logical decision-making software decides whether an analysis is a standard, a QC standard, or a sample. After the chromatographic run, the results can be tested for concentrations out of the calibration range. When such outliers are found, MagIC Net calculates new dilution factors and automatically re-runs the samples with the new values. At the end, perfect results are available for all analytes without manual redilution and re-injection.
These instruments were followed in quick succession by the 942 Extension Modules Vario as well as the stand-alone 945 Professional Detector with conductivity and/or amperometric detection options to further broaden application suitability.
The 941 Eluent Production Module, also introduced in 2013, enabled the continuous preparation of all types of eluents via dilution of concentrated mobile phase constituents. Commercial as well as homemade concentrates may be applied. Therefore, the eluent production is not reduced to standard or costly eluents.
Intelligent IC: Not only limited to the laboratory
After the introduction of the new MagIC Net software for IC analysis, an updated version of the Metrohm IC process analyzer from Metrohm Process Analytics was also developed and launched. In 2016, the Process IC ONE and Process IC TWO were introduced, only differing in the amount of measurement channels and detectors (Figure 7). These process analyzers were built using the 940 Professional IC Vario series with the same functionality for the laboratory, in a rugged housing suitable for harsh industrial conditions.
The use of various MISP techniques (Metrohm Inline Sample Preparation) such as Inline Ultrafiltration and Inline Dilution, along with nine configurable wet part modules for further sample conditioning, integrated eluent production, and the possibility to connect one system to up to 20 process points for time-saving sequential analysis at multiple areas inside of a plant further expanded the application capabilities beyond what any lab instrument could offer. The use of liquid level sensors and integrated alarms for leakages and out-of-specification data results in maximum analyzer uptime due to reduced maintenance intervals.
After the mid 2010s, more focus was given to the development of hyphenated techniques to support IC as part of a comprehensive analytical solution for more difficult sample matrices and analytes. In the next installment, we discuss our combined analysis techniques including TitrIC and VoltIC.