Translator for HPLC HINTS and TIPS for Chromatographers

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Hydrophilic Interaction Chromatography (HILIC)


Perhaps you have a polar sample which shows poor or no retention under reverse phase conditions. HILIC may provide you with an alternative method for retention and separation. HILIC is a unique mode of chromatography which uses numerous retention mechanisms. The most important mechanisms involve surface layer liquid-liquid partitioning, adsorption and various types of ionic interactions.

Sometimes referred to as aqueous normal phase chromatography, this hybrid technique utilizes a stationary phase which is very polar (e.g. silica, amino or a diol column) and a mobile phase which is made up mostly of organic phase with some water added. The retention mechanism is based on the idea that adding a low percentage of polar phase (water in this case) to a polar surface will result in a water layer forming. Typically this hydrophilic layer results when as little as 2 or 3% water is added to the mobile phase. The remainder of the mobile phase is an organic solvent (ACN is the most popular). The polar charged analyte(s) will partition into and out of this adsorbed water layer (a cation exchange process takes place, but their also can be a purely electrostatic mechanism going on as well). Unlike conventional reverse phase chromatography, in HILIC increasing the organic content of the mobile phase increases the retention! Put another way, increasing the water content of the mobile phase and decreasing the organic portion (as in an HILIC gradient method) results in retention and then elution of very polar analytes. 

With HILIC mode, sample elution (retention) decreases as you increase the polarity of the organic solvent. Based on this information, good HILIC column wash solutions usually use alcohols in place of ACN  (IPA, Ethanol and Methanol; with Methanol being a stronger eluter).

The use of additives, buffers and pH can all play a role in retention and separation plus improve reproducibility. When developing methods, be sure and evaluate their role. Because of the low water content of most methods, buffers must be chosen carefully to insure full solubility. Ammonium formate and acetate are popular as are acids such as formic acid. Regarding pH, the low aqueous portion will mean that the actual pH of the final solution will be much closer to neutral.