Janus Part 2: The Project “Advanced Chromatography”
The what, why and how from the point of view of the research institute.
Introducing new technologies, especially in the field of techniques in analysis and chromatography, is not only about the technical development. It is always connected to establishing their position in the market or rather with the users. Simply having an idea or an invention is a long way from having innovation. It is the successful practical implementation that turns and idea into an innovation. Unfortunately a lot of potential is left unused simply because of the lack in acceptance or important fundamental knowledge. Often flimsy excuses are given as to why new methods or technologies cannot be used. A favoured argument is the well-used revalidation of existing methods and processes. We have experienced this at first hand during countless seminars and user conferences where appliance manufacturers present new systems with extended specifications.
What: The state of affairs
What does the road from the first idea to the marketable implementation of a new product or process look like? At the beginning we have the academic fundamental research. In these projects the basis or foundation for a new technology is laid out and the results are published in a peer review journal with the highest rank possible. The whole truth isn’t always told here. Sometimes, only one experiment showing “proof of concept”, was successfully carried out over a period of several years. Often, reproducibility and robustness don’t play a role in this context. This is also the reason why this literature isn’t often taken seriously by the practitioners.
We, as a private, user oriented research institute are directly involved in the next step. As a procedural institute the IUTA can look back at a long tradition of analytics. They have played a central role at the institute since its foundation in 1989. Back then it was the determination of dioxins, today in the gathering of data with respect to extremely low concentrations of micro-pollutants in water, soil and air. Over the years a large network of companies from the field of analysis technology has come together, and is in constant dialogue with our group.
Why: From the research to an actual product
We try to pick up the new scientific trends and needs of industry and actively provide the knowledge gained from pre-competitive research to a wide circle of users, this means using a bundle of target group oriented transfer measures. In many projects, so called technical demonstrators are developed in co-operation with university and non-university research institutions and after the pre-competitive project are often brought to market maturity by medium sized companies. But even then, our work is not yet over. We expect to use these new technologies ourselves in our own institute during routine operations. Over a shorter or longer period of time, a team of experienced laboratory technicians and scientific assistants put them into practice themselves. This raises new scientific questions which are in turn taken up into new projects and finally disseminated to a wide circle of users in the form of training courses, workshops and webinars.
In the field of laboratory analytics we see the following trends. On the one hand, pressure is increasing to present results faster while simultaneously improving the quality of analytics. However, in order to be economically successful the costs should not get out of hand, and in many cases should be reduced. This trend makes it necessary to explore new avenues. We have consistently done exactly this, and for several years we have been working intensively on miniaturized HPLC processes on the basis of Nano- and Micro-LC. It was a rocky road to the point of it becoming routine. We have by no means reached the end but we recently accredited our first method on the basis of Micro-LC-MS/MS-Coupling and are quite satisfied with the result. Acceptance from the colleagues who use the system daily has grown significantly too. Although scepticism was the norm a few years ago, nowadays new LC-MS methods are almost exclusively developed on the basis of Micro-LC. The reason why this makes sense is something that we will address more thoroughly later on in this project.
The second trend is the analytics of complex samples. It doesn’t matter whether it’s the field of food analytics, environmental analytics or general life sciences, a large amount of discrete information should be extracted from one single sample. One dimensional chromatography separating processes inevitably reach their limits sooner or later. A high peak capacity is always coupled with long analysis times. A way out of this dilemma is offered by two dimensional HPLC either as comprehensive (LC x LC) or the Heart-Cut (LC – LC) variant. Nowadays, most manufacturers offer 2D-LC systems but: the technical problems can multiply as can the peak capacities. While the GC x GC processes are well-established in research and routine laboratories, it still looks very different for LC x LC or rather the miniaturized separation techniques.
How: The Project
This is exactly what we want to change using our joint project with the colleagues from GIT. One of the key words here is: networking. I am constantly surprised at the number of fantastic products available on the market which can be combined with other technologies. SMEs, in particular, are real drivers of innovation. Unfortunately, the resources for effective marketing campaigns, which would reach potential customers, are often not available. This is a dilemma for both parties, the user and the supplier because the information in the World Wide Web is hidden and first has to be made visible - an increasing problem in our information society which is dependent on “exformation” (i.e. extracted information). This is why we, in the field of mass spectrometry are mainly interested in extracted ion current chromatograms. A complete ion current chromatogram is often of no use. Sharing the platform with GIT means that specific links to the appropriate product or applications can be set up.
The other key word is: training. For example if a Micro-LC system is to be bought, it is quite easy to gain an overview of the relevant suppliers by doing market research and a search for technical specifications. But what happens when the system has been installed in the lab and the service technician has left? What must one take into consideration when connecting the columns? Which fittings are there? And are special detectors such as ELSD or CAD appropriate for Micro-LC, too? What has to be taken into consideration if one doesn’t want to damage the column? Can it be operated under 1,000 bar? Etc. First of all it should be said that we won’t have the answers to all questions. Some questions may lead to new projects and we are always interested in such developments. However, we don’t want to keep the knowledge that we have collected over the years to ourselves but to pass it on so that certain technologies that we consider future oriented will in fact assert themselves, become routine and therefore real innovations.
In the area of research there are currently two projects in focus in co-operative industrial research (IGF), that are being supported by the industrial research association (AiF) in the federal ministry for economics and energy (BMWi) that have a direct connection to the above mentioned topics. The IGF bridges the gap between fundamental research and economic importance. Under the umbrella of the AiF and research associations such as IUTA, new technologies for entire branches and increasingly between industries are being prepared in order to strengthen and maintain the competitiveness os SMEs. The co-operation project with the colleagues from the University of Duisburg-Essen - Chair of applied analytical chemistry - is focused on building and evaluating a four dimensional separation and detection system based on two dimensional liquid chromatography of the ion mobility spectrometry and mass spectrometry. Within this project there will be an investigation into the question – To what extent does the increasing level of complexity in the different separation and detection systems lead to a real added value in the clarification of current analytical questions from the fields of environmental technology and pharmaceutical analytics?
A further project that deals with the microfluidic characterization of miniaturized systems on the basis of liquid chromatography is on the threshold of getting its approval. In this case the question being asked is – what is the maximum separating efficiency that can be achieved with miniaturized separating columns that have an internal diameter of 300µm and are packed with ultra-small particles with a diameter of between 1.3µm and 1.9µm if all ex-column volumes that contribute to a significant loss in the intrinsic separating efficiency are reduced to the currently lowest possible technical level? There are regular information events for both projects. Participation in these meetings is usually free of charge. Potential users and appliance manufacturers from branches in the analysis technology are given the chance to find out first-hand about the most up to date results and to discuss the practical application possibilities with members of the research centers. The dates for each of the meetings will be announced on the GIT portal and the IUTA website.
Do you have questions regarding the application and technology in the field of Micro-LC and 2D-LC? Ask the experts at IUTA under: firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr. Thorsten Teutenberg
Institut für Energie- und Umwelttechnik e. V.