Translator for HPLC HINTS and TIPS for Chromatographers

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Common pKa Values for ACIDS & BASES used in HPLC and LC/MS Method Development





pKa (25°C)                              ACID
0.3                                           Trifluoroacetic acid
2.15                                          Phosphoric acid (pK#1)
3.13                                          Citric acid (pK#1)
3.75                                          Formic acid
4.76                                          Acetic acid
4.76                                          Citric acid (pK#2)
4.86                                          Propionic acid
6.35                                          Carbonic acid (pK#1)
6.40                                          Citric acid (pK#3)
7.20                                          Phosphoric acid (pK#2)
8.06                                          Tris
9.23                                          Boric acid
9.25                                          Ammonia
9.78                                          Glycine (pK#2)
10.33                                        Carbonic acid (pK#2)
10.72                                        Triethylamine
11.27                                        Pyrrolidine
12.33                                        Phosphoric acid (pK#3)



Notes: (1) This is a general list of commonly used acids & bases for chromatography applications and not meant to be a comprehensive list of all values. (2) TFA is an overused and very strong acid for many chromatography applications. It also has strong ion pairing properties and can result in high UV noise, vacuum degasser and/or MS contamination. If you must use it, try and use the lowest concentration which results in the desired pH. Example: 0.1 % TFA ~ pH 2.0, 0.02% TFA ~ pH 2.7. (3) Formic acid is a popular alternative to TFA for many applications, esp LC/MS.

Reference: CRC Handbook of Chemistry & Physics.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

HPLC Retention Time Drift, Change, Variability or Poor Reproducibility. Common Reasons for it.

Retention times must be reproducible from run to run. When problems occur, late, early or variable retention times may be observed. Here are several reasons why they may occur:

(1) TEMPERATURE FLUCTUATIONS:
To obtain reproducible results, the temperature of the HPLC column must be kept constant or controlled during each analysis. Laboratory room temperatures can vary up and down by several degrees during the course of one day and these changes will often change the retention characteristics of the sample(s). The 'On' and 'Off' cycling of power from an air conditioner or heating unit will often cause the baseline to drift in a cyclical manner, up and down, during the day (this can often be seen as a clear sine wave pattern when you zoom-in to study the baseline trace over time). Temperature also changes the refractive index of the mobile phase. Optical (Light) based detectors (i.e. UV/VIS, RI...) will show this change as drift up or down). In some cases, a temperature change of plus or minus one degree C from run-to-run can cause changes in retention times which effect reliability of the method. 

To reduce temperature fluctuations, you must control the temperature of the column and mobile phase (if applicable) during the analysis. This is most commonly done by: (a) using fully equilibrated mobile phase at the start of the day or analysis, (b) keeping the interconnecting lines as short as possible (esp. any which exit the column and go to detectors/flow cells), (c) insulating any stainless steel lines with plastic tubing sleeves to reduce heat loss and (d) using a thermostatted column compartment to maintain the column at a single set temperature throughout the day. Control of the column temperature will remove 'temperature' as a variable from your analysis. Temperature should be constant from run to run, not a variable. Be sure and document the temperature selected as part of your method. 

(2) INADEQUATE MOBILE PHASE MIXING:
Both high pressure (with separate pumps) and low pressure pumping (one pump with a proportioning valve module) systems depend on efficient mixing to accurately meter the requested mobile phase composition. For gradient analysis, failure to completely mix the mobile phase solution before it enters the HPLC column often results in excessive baseline noise, spikes and poor Retention time reproducibility. If your mobile phase composition changes, then the chromatography will change too (e.g. evaporation of the more volatile organic phase from an open bottle may result in a change in composition). "Mixing" is often accomplished directly in a mixer installed in the flow path of an HPLC pump (For more info, please read this article on selecting a mixer). The associated noise and ripple of incomplete mixing can reduce the limit of detection (LOD) and increase integration error. This mixer is often a static mixer (a simple 'Tee', a tube filled with baffles, a frit or beads, valve orifice or microfluidic device) of low volume design for chromatography use, but allows adequate mixing of the liquids within a prescribed flow rate range. The best mixers incorporate longitudinal and radial mixing in-line. A mixer with too low a volume or of insufficient design can result in poor mixing of the mobile phase (note: incorrect solvent compressibility settings can also cause mixing, flow instability and noise problems too). To reduce mixing problems, first insure that the mobile phases used are fully soluble with each other. Next, make sure that any mixer used is appropriate for the flow rates and volumes you will be using. Monitor the baseline for drift, ripple and artifacts in real time to spot problems and make adjustments to correct them. 

(3) INADEQUATE MOBILE PHASE DEGASSING:
For the best results, continuously degass your mobile phase. Reducing the amount of gas in solution will also improve signal to noise levels of detection, reduce Retention time drift and reduce pump cavitation. If you are using an electronic vacuum degassing module, make sure it is maintained and working 100%. A faulty degasser may cause more damage to your system and methods. Maintain and Repair them just as you do for your other instrument modules. Gas bubbles may cause check valves to malfunction (get stuck), baseline noise spikes to appear randomly, flow rates and/or pressures to become irregular, detector outputs to show high levels of noise (from air in the flow cell) and also cause the loss of prime or cavitation in pumps. To achieve the best balance of low noise levels and high reliability, both aqueous and organic mobile phases should be fully degassed. This can be accomplished through stand alone vacuum degassing modules or through gentle helium gas sparging. In all cases, degassing must be continuous (not just done one time). Continuous degassing reduces cyclical noise and signal variations. For this reason, I do not recommend using ultrasonic baths to degass mobile phase solutions as these are not used continuously. The mobile phase solution starts to re-absorb gas as soon as you stop sonicating the solution. This results in continuous baseline drift.
Removal of gasses is critical to the function of a modern HPLC pumping system. The liquids used are compressed to very high levels which forces out solubilized gas from the solutions. This is best accomplished before the liquid is transferred into the pump. These gas bubbles must be minimized to achieve desirable baselines. *Even if you use a high pressure pumping system, an inline degassing system reduces the amount of noise and baseline drift. Properly maintain and service your degasser to insure compliant operation. IOW: Always degas your mobile phase solutions.
 
(4) SYSTEM LEAKS or FLOW RATE INSTABILITY:
If the peak retention times have increased over time, one possible reason for this change could be a leak. If your flow rate is reduced by a leak, then the retention times will be longer. Always be alert to this pattern of change and check for any signs of leaks on a regular basis. If you find a leak, do not use the HPLC system until it has been repaired. If there is no leak, then the flow rate may not be what you think it is. 

When the actual flow rate is in question, start by checking it manually (never trust the instrument's display screen or the software value for flow rate. Measure it). An easy way to measure the flow rate involves timing the amount of liquid that exits the HPLC detector line after a defined period of time. For example: If your flow rate is set at 1.000 ml/minute, measure the time it takes to fill a 10ml graduated cylinder. It must take exactly 10.00 minutes.

Inadequate degassing, sticking valves and/or incorrect solvent compressibility values may also cause flow instability.

(5) COLUMN FOULING: 
One of the most common reasons for changes in retention times of well established peak(s) are due to column contamination and fouling of the support material (or of the inlet frit, guard column). The most common reason for this to happen is due to a lack of column flushing or washing after each analysis (esp when running only isocratic methods). Samples that have been poorly prepared, not filtered or were sourced from a complex matrix (i.e. clinical samples) often contain many compounds which are in-addition to the compound of interest. These materials can be retained on the column and not eluted off during each analysis. They build up over time and cause all kinds of strange problems, including changing retention times, new peaks seen and poor overall or wide peak shapes. 

Gradient analysis provides an opportunity to make sure you use a strong enough mobile phase to elute everything off the column during the run. Make sure you ramp up to a high enough concentration of solvent and use a "hold time" to insure this.
Isocratic analysis is a worst case situation for this to occur as the mobile phase is not ramped up to a strong solvent at the end of the method to push off any late eluters, Instead, they accumulate on the column. 

If you use isocratic methods to analyze samples, then you must follow each analysis run with a second, and separate from your analysis method, "column only wash step". This method does not inject any sample. Instead, it uses a strong wash solution which is compatible with your column AND is well known to dissolve any accumulated material into solution and elute it all off the column. For NP applications an alcohol (e.g. MeOH) may be suitable for this job and for RP applications ACN or even MeCl may be be appropriate. Check with the column manufacturer to find out which wash solution should be used (do not guess). 

(6) SAMPLE OVERLOADING or too large an Injection volume: If you inject (load) more sample than the column can hold (as determined by a proper loading study), then the peak that results will be broader in width with more tailing (from diffusion). This will result in a peak which elutes later than expected.  

(7) pH OF MOBILE PHASE: Samples containing ionizable compounds are strongly effected by the pH of your mobile phase. Buffer capacity is often overlooked (the ability to resist pH change). It is highest at the pKa of the acid/base. Try to work within ±1 pH unit of the buffers pKa value for the best pH control of the mobile phase. If your mobile phase is buffered too far away from its pKa, then poor peak shape or variable retention times are often the result. Note: Weakly ionizable samples can be very sensitive to changes of as little as 0.1 pH unit. 

Saturday, October 31, 2015

HPLC System Dead (Dwell) Volume. Is It Static or Can It Change During a Method? Autoinjectors and Gradients.

I recently read a post on a popular LinkedIn chromatography group where a user asked "if it is possible for the total system volume of their HPLC system to change during a method? Would it effect sample retention times? If so, how? If not, why?" Almost all of the group members who responded to the question said that it was impossible for the system volume to change once the HPLC system was installed! Note, we are referring to the HPLC "System" volume, not the column volume in this question. Column volume is fixed, but the total system volume is not fixed. Another reason why you should not believe everything you read on the web! The question tests your practical knowledge of how HPLC systems operate (specifically, how HPLC injectors operate).

The numerous and incorrect responses posted to the initial question made me realize that this would be an excellent job interview question for chromatographers seeking employment. The question certainly tests the users practical knowledge of chromatography hardware and systems. An advanced user with a few years of experience should have practical knowledge of the flow path of an HPLC system and how it effects sample retention times and method development. A novice user would not be expected to have this same level of practical knowledge. Additionally, most chromatography books only address concepts and fundamentals, but to be a good chromatographer you also need a great deal of practical knowledge about the how the chromatography hardware operates. This information is obtained through receiving proper training and practical hands-on experience running a wide variety of methods with real samples to solve complex problems.

To get back to the original question posed, "if it is possible for the system volume of their HPLC system to change during a method?" Knowledge about column dead volume, system dead volume (dwell volume), gradient composition delays and most importantly of all, how the flow path is manipulated in an autoinjector (or a manual injection valve) to inject a sample into the flow path are all needed to formulate an answer. Which parts of an HPLC system contribute to the total system dwell volume? The total volume of liquid contained in the system from the inside of the pump head to the column and detector inlet or flow cell contribute to the total system volume. These parts are pre-plumbed. The mobile phase mixer and/or pulse dampener are two parts (e.g. ~300 ul) which may contribute a significant percentage of the volume up to the column head. However, of more concern in this case and also a significant contributor of total delay volume in an HPLC system is the injection loop (usually ~100 ul). For manual injection and auto-injector valves, this loop is of a fixed volume, but allows for partial filling (though the loops used are not really accurately measured as the metering device is responsible for most of the volume accuracy). For both types of valves, the loop volume should be at least as large as the largest volume needed (e.g. 100 ul size is common). If the loop size is 100 ul and you only inject 1 ul of sample into a std loop of 100 ul, then you are placing your 1 ul sample up against a slug of 99 ul of mobile phase. While this dilutes the sample and allows some diffusion to take place, spreading out the sample (not ideal), when injected into a  typical 4.6 x 250 mm, 5u column (which has a volume of ~ 2.90 mls), it normally has very little negative effect on the chromatography seen. The effect can be dramatically different when using a tiny column with a small volume (e.g. 2.1 x 50 mm, 3u). The diffusion effect can result in very wide peak widths resulting in poor loading and resolution. A physically smaller volume loop is needed to improve the performance.

However, when we run a gradient analysis another effect is introduced, gradient delay. The mobile phase composition is mixed at the pump head outlets or in a mixer after the pump(s). It takes a specific amount of time for this mixture to reach the head of the column. This time delay is known as the gradient delay. The flow rate and the volume of liquid contained in the tubing from where the liquid is mixed to the head of column determines how long this delay lasts. Since the flow rate normally remains fixed during a method, the total volume of liquid between these two points is the critical value we are interested in. The larger the volume, the longer the delay before the mobile phase composition reaches the column head.
  • Gradient Delay Example: Flow rate = 1.00 ml/min; Volume between pump and head of column is 0.300 mls. Delay volume is 300 ul and the Gradient Delay Time would be 0.3 minutes. So the mobile phase composition that we programmed into the pump does not actually reach the column until 0.3 minutes after we programmed it to occur.  

Depending on the value of this volume, the delay from the time the gradient program starts until the gradient reaches the head of the column will vary. This is a critical concept to understand when developing gradient methods and especially when transferring gradient methods to other HPLC systems (as different systems have different dwell volumes). This poses a minor inconvenience to method development and we need to take it into account so we program composition changes with enough time in between them to allow the changes we programmed to have time to take place and cause the desired effect.

How do we change the volume of the Autoinjector (or manual injector) without re-plumbing the system? One of the most common methods used to reduce the total flow path volume of an autoinjector is to program the injector to switch the injection loop (which has a large volume) out of the flow path immediately after the injection, instead of leaving it directly in the flow path for the remainder of the method. Remove the loop and you subtract the loop volume from the total dwell volume. This will reduce the total system volume (dwell volume) at the start of the method which will also reduce the total gradient delay observed. The newly mixed solvent composition will arrive at the column head sooner. *Using the previous example of a system with a 300 ul gradient delay volume, toggling the injection valve to switch out the 100 ul loop from the flow path would reduce the total delay volume by one third, from 300 ul to 200 ul. So this illustrates a well known technique to change the total system dead volume (dwell volume) of an HPLC system without manually re-plumbing it. Most autosamplers (autoinjectors) provide this loop "toggle" feature as standard in their software menus for exactly this purpose. It can also be time-programmed into most injector's (if no "feature" or menu option is available) and can also be employed with manual injection valves too by placing them back in the "Load" position after injection.

Can the HPLC system dead volume be changed during a run? YES it can. 
How? One of the easiest ways is by switching the injection loop out of the flow path during the analysis.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Vacuum Pressure Units Conversion Table

Several of the questions I receive each week by email deal with scientific calculations or conversion of various units. One popular request relates to the conversion of micrograms, ppm and percent. Several years ago to address this question, I posted a table of weight to ppm units ("Conversion Factors microgram, nanogram, ppm, ppb and percent") which has proven to be very popular.

Because of the large number of vacuum pumps attached to HPLC and MS systems, another common conversion question relates to vacuum units. Due to the different applications and regions of the world, the desired unit often varies. It is for this reason that I develop unit conversion tables as I find these tables provide for a convenient way to print out and/or keep handy in a binder for future reference. Widespread computer use coupled to freely available page reader software (e.g. Adobe PDF) provides another means to store useful information as a pdf file too. I present this "Vacuum Pressure Units Conversion Table" in a viewable and an optionally available downloadable form [click HERE to download].




VACUUM PRESSURE UNITS CONVERSION TABLE:
*Some of the more commonly used values are shown in boldface type. ** Absolute Vacuum..


%
Vacuum
Torr
(mm Mercury)
kPa
abs
Inches of
Mercury
Micron
PSI
0.0
760.0
101.4
0.00
760,000
14.7
1.3
750.0
99.9
0.42
750,000
14.5
1.9
735.6
97.7
1.02
735,600
14.2
7.9
700.0
93.5
2.32
700,000
13.5
21.0
600.0
79.9
6.32
600,000
11.6
34.0
500.0
66.7
10.22
500,000
9.7
47.0
400.0
53.2
14.22
400,000
7.7
50.0
380.0
50.8
14.92
380,000
7.3
61.0
300.0
40
18.12
300,000
5.8
74.0
200.0
26.6
22.07
200,000
3.9
87.0
100.0
13.3
25.98
100,000
1.93
88.0
90.0
12
26.38
90,000
1.74
89.5
80.0
10.7
26.77
80,000
1.55
90.8
70.0
9.3
27.16
70,000
1.35
92.1
60.0
8
27.56
60,000
1.16
93.0
51.7
6.9
27.89
51,700
1.00
93.5
50.0
6.7
27.95
50,000
0.97
94.8
40.0
5.3
28.35
40,000
0.77
96.1
30.0
4
28.74
30,000
0.58
96.6
25.4
3.4
28.92
25,400
0.49
97.4
20.0
2.7
29.14
20,000
0.39
98.7
10.0
1.3
29.53
10,000
0.193
99.0
7.6
1.0
29.62
7,600
0.147
99.87
1.0
0.13
29.88
1,000
0.01934
99.90
0.75
0.1
29.89
750
0.0145
99.99
0.10
0.013
29.916
100
0.00193
99.999
0.01
0.0013
29.9196
10
0.000193
100
0.00
0
29.92
0
0