Technology Forum: Gas Chromatography

E-Separation Solutions

E-Separation Solutions-03-23-2007, Volume 0, Issue 0

Each month in our Technology Forum we will feature a discussion between industry experts on various trends and issues in the chromatography field. This month's Technology Forum looks at the topic of gas chromatography and the trends and issues surrounding it. Joining us for this discussion are Mark Collins, Gas Chromatography Product Manager at Perkin Elmer, and Jaap de Zeeuw, International Specialist GC consumables at Restek.

Each month in our Technology Forum we will feature a discussion between industry experts on various trends and issues in the chromatography field. This month's Technology Forum looks at the topic of gas chromatography and the trends and issues surrounding it. Joining us for this discussion are Mark Collins, Gas Chromatography Product Manager at Perkin Elmer, and Jaap de Zeeuw, International Specialist GC consumables at Restek.

1) What trends do you see emerging in GC?

Collins: In environmental laboratories, regulatory pressure drives increased testing and sensitivity requirements along with pressure to drive costs down and to increase lab productivity.

In petrochemicals and chemicals testing laboratories, we see a need to maximize uptime, reduce downtime and the need to recuperate quickly after an event.

With government laboratories, we see decreased government spending, lab consolidation, increased pressure to cut costs and, in forensics laboratories for example, increasing case loads.

Customers want results - better and faster - in the GC marketplace. Customers today expect GC instrumentation to be faster than ever before, easier to use, and able to produce comprehensive, complete results.

In addition, there is a global need for turnkey, complete systems – instrumentation and services that provide application-specific solutions for customers.

de Zeeuw: GC is perceived by lab management as a rather adult technique, however the use of GC as a routine technique requires some knowledge of how the GC operates. Unlike a spectrometric method, in GC many things can go wrong if not performed in the right way.So, the trends that move this technology forward are needs from the existing users and the development of the technology itself.

The needs of today’s customer can be summarized as:measuring lower levels, reducing operational costs by reducing maintenance and shortening run times. Additionally a challenge that appears everywhere is that the user of GC is becoming less educated, which needs to be addressed. Developments will be focused also to make the GC systems more robust and have more self-diagnostics built into the system. Also portability is important. There is an ongoing development to bring the analysis to the place where the data is needed: Lab GC is moving into the direction of the process GC.

For the sake of speed, miniaturization will continue. Smaller bore columns, injection and detection systems will be developed and will be offered as integrated solutions; Also the operation of columns need to be simplified. Clumn recognition, auto-setting as well as self diagnostics will play an important role. Cartridge systems may be a welcome solution for the routine lab. GC-columns will become more robust, highly inert and will be tuned/optimized for specific applications. New heating concepts will allow direct heating with even shorter run times;Additionally the comprehensive or 2D-GC is being developed which can isolate > 6000 peaks. This technique will be developed further but needs.

2) What is the future of GC?

Collins: With the demand for higher laboratory productivity and higher analytical performance, the new Clarus 600 GC was designed to allow users to run their existing applications faster and enable faster chromatography with no compromise to performance

de Zeeuw: Ten years ago voices were predicting that GC was going to be replaced by other techniques. However, GC is such an elegant technique, versatile, short implementation time, sensitive and provide low cost per analysis. This makes GC still grow in more application fields. As the technology is still rapidly evolving, GC-systems will become more user friendly and for the next 20 years it will find more applications.

3) What is the GC application area that you see growing the fastest?

Collins: Biodiesel currently comprises 4 percent of the world’s transportation fuel; it will become an estimated 20 percent or more. The biofuels market is fairly new and growing in the United States; currently, demand is very close to production. The industry is more mature in Europe where production is costly because of the scarcity of land to grow crops. The Pac Rim, particularly China, is focused on non-corn based ethanol. In Asia, the feedstock is used for cellulose-based fuel. In Brazil, biofuels are made using sugarcane and are part of an energy-independence initiative.

de Zeeuw: Depending on the application area, the fastest growing area is the interest of users in shorter run times. This can be done by optimization, using faster carrier gas, development of high speed methods, but also by miniaturization and/or using columns of smaller bore.

Instruments are designed to deal with "fast" peaks (peak width < 0.5 sec) for injection as well as detection. Direct heating is another way to achieve short run times. Ultimately, the most selective stationary phase in a small i.d. capillary with direct heating and hydrogen as the carrier gas will provide analysis times in seconds.

4) What obstacles stand in the way of GC development?

Collins: PerkinElmer has been involved in GC innovation for over 50 years. Since then, globalization has made a significant impact on the development requirements in GC. Meeting the needs of the global marketplace with integrated application solutions is a key factor in all GC product development.

Being able to offer a complete global solution takes experience not only in specific GC application areas, but also a global understanding of laboratory needs. Most laboratories are facing pressures to cut costs and utilize easy-to-use instrumentation. This results in an increasing demand for turnkey analyzers as well as low-priced integrated systems.

de Zeeuw: The biggest obstacle in GC development is to make the technology applicable for the people that run laboratories today.

That’s why training is very important. Faster technologies, which must produce reproducible and low level data, also require more systematic approach. This means that the management needs to invest in skilled operators or have a service team to help out. Essential is to allow analyst to understand what is happening in a GC, so he/she can stand for 100% behind the numbers generated. Periodic training will help to keep the fleet of GC in optimal condition.