Determination of ammonium with the ion-selective electrode – Tips and tricks for a reliable determination according to common standards

Although the known photometric methods for the determination of ammonia are accurate, they require a considerable amount of time (Nessler method 30 min, indophenol method 90 min reaction time). A further disadvantage of these methods is that only clear solutions can be measured. Opaque solutions must first be clarified by time-consuming procedures.These problems do not exist with the ion-selective ammonia electrode. Measurements can be easily performed in waste water, liquid fertilizer, and urine as well as in soil extracts. Especially for fresh water and waste water samples several standards, such as ISO 6778, EPA 350.2, EPA 305.3 and ASTM D1426, describe the analysis of ammonium by ion measurement. In this Application Bulletin, the determination according to these standards is described besides the determination of other samples as well as some general tips and tricks on how to handle the ammonia ion selective electrode. Determination of ammonia in ammonium salts, of the nitric acid content in nitrates, and of the nitrogen content of organic compounds with the ion-selective ammonia electrode is based on the principle that the ammonium ion is released as ammonia gas upon addition of excess caustic soda:

NH4+ + OH → NH3 + H2O

The outer membrane of the electrode allows the ammonia to diffuse through. The change in the pH value of the inner electrolyte solution is monitored by a combined glass electrode. If the substance to be measured is not present in the form of an ammonium salt, it must first be converted into one. Organic nitrogen compounds, especially amino compounds are digested according to Kjeldahl by heating with concentrated sulfuric acid. The carbon is oxidized to carbon dioxide in the process while the organic nitrogen is transformed quantitatively into ammonium sulfate.