According to the Bureau of Land Management, crude helium price has increased by 50% in the past decade as U.S. supplies decline. Hence, many laboratories are using hydrogen as a replacement for conventional helium carrier gas in their Gas Chromatography (GC) systems. Besides the price of supply, laboratories have realized that better results can be achieved in the GC process using hydrogen.
International Flavors and Fragrances (IFF) – A Case Study
Since 2008, IFF’s research and development laboratory has been using hydrogen as an alternative to helium carrier gas. IFF produces fragrances and flavorings for products ranging from foods to toiletries. Steve Toth, a research investigator at IFF, informed that the switch to hydrogen was not all about finances. The key reason was the ability of hydrogen to accelerate the analysis as is defined by the Van Deemter curve. The use of hydrogen in place of helium carrier gas enabled IFF to shorten the analysis time and achieve the same resolution as with helium.
IFF had three small hydrogen generators to supply combustion gas at a rate of around 2L/h. The lab had 30 GC systems, using different techniques, all of which needed nearly 5L/h of helium to operate. Hence, the lab was seeking a larger hydrogen generator to meet the demand. IFF selected the Proton OnSite’s S Series hydrogen generation system (Figure 1).
Figure 1. Proton OnSite’s S Series hydrogen generation system.
Toth said that the company initially tested hydrogen as a carrier gas on one of its GC systems with an existing benchtop hydrogen generator and confirmed that the decision would be a no-brainer as hydrogen allows more analysis in less time and supports the specific application processes used at IFF. Hence, the company started to switch all 30 systems over to hydrogen. It took nearly four months for the changeover.
Installation of the new hydrogen generator was done easily as the facility was already plumbed for small hydrogen generators. However, setting each system was time intensive and laborious. Although translation software guides created by Agilent Technologies were useful, the process took time. As different methods were in operation, each method of every GC system needed to be translated from helium to hydrogen.
Nevertheless, the IFF lab was not able to change all its techniques over to hydrogen, said Toth. Hydrogen is not suitable for certain processes, especially those involved in long-chain fatty acids as hydrogenation occurred in the inlets. For such methods, IFF still uses helium as the carrier gas.
Toth informed that IFF’s research lab hasn’t looked back since changing carrier gases. Actually, most of IFF’s other labs at its main R&D facility in Union Beach, NJ, are also now supplying hydrogen as a carrier gas for most of their GC systems. Helium to hydrogen conversion is gaining traction throughout the laboratory marketplace.
This year, Proton OnSite is offering a record number of solutions to labs and has also witnessed a significant increase in nitrogen and zero generator requests. It has been a positive experience and with routine maintenance of the hydrogen generator, the company is able to perform analyses efficiently and cost effectively, concluded Toth.
This information has been sourced, reviewed and adapted from materials provided by Proton OnSite.
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