Elements are the fundamental building blocks of matter, representing the purest forms of substances that cannot be further decomposed through chemical reactions. The significance of elemental analysis lies in its ability to unveil the elemental composition of a sample, offering crucial insights into the properties, behavior, and interactions of various organic and inorganic substances.
By determining the specific elements present in a sample and quantifying their concentrations, elemental analysis provides a comprehensive understanding of the composition and structure of matter.
Furthermore, elemental analysis plays a pivotal role in ensuring human safety and well-being by allowing for the detection of harmful elements and pollutants in environmental samples, food, and pharmaceutical products.
By providing essential information about elemental composition, elemental analysis contributes to scientific discoveries, technological innovations, and informed decision-making processes that impact society, the environment, and human health.
In order to perform this technique, an elemental analyzer is often used. Elemental analyzers are designed to measure the concentrations of different elements in a given sample.
In this blog post, we’ll comprehensively review the elemental analyzer, its components, and the different types used. We’ll also discuss elemental analysis, its principles, methodologies, and applications.
An elemental analyzer is a specialized instrument used in analytical chemistry to determine the elemental composition of a sample—its primary purpose is to quantitatively measure the concentrations of different elements present in a given sample, enabling researchers to understand the sample’s elemental makeup.
By employing various techniques such as combustion analysis, X-ray fluorescence (XRF), inductively coupled plasma optical emission spectroscopy (ICP-OES), or inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS), elemental analyzers offer precise and accurate quantification.
These instruments are critical in research, quality control, environmental monitoring, and compliance with regulatory standards. With their ability to provide detailed elemental information, elemental analyzers contribute to our understanding of substances' composition, properties, and behavior, facilitating scientific advancements and practical applications.
In general terms, elemental analyzers use various techniques to separate, identify, and quantify the elements within a sample. Here’s a broad overview of how these analytical instruments work:
The specific working principle of an elemental analyzer can vary depending on the technique employed. Each method has its unique methodology and instrumentation.
Components and instrumentation of elemental analyzers typically include sample introduction systems, combustion systems (for organic samples), detectors, data analysis software, and optional features and accessories like autosamplers and gas purification systems. Let’s delve into each of these components in more detail:
Manufacturers often offer different types of elemental analyzers to cater to the various analytical needs and research and development applications. We’ll review some common types, mention notable manufacturers, and include price ranges.
The prices are general estimates and can vary significantly based on instrument specifications, additional features, included accessories, and after-sales support packages. For accurate and up-to-date pricing information, consult with manufacturers or authorized distributors.
If you’re interested in leasing, Excedr is a scientific equipment leasing company that supports laboratories in their research and development. Although we cannot provide pricing, we can explain how our leasing program works. If you have or obtain a quote from the manufacturer, we can use that to assemble a lease estimate and conduct underwriting.
These analyzers are designed for the analysis of organic samples and employ a combustion process to convert the organic material into gaseous combustion products, including carbon (C), hydrogen (H), nitrogen (N), and sulfur (S).
They typically utilize high-temperature combustion furnaces or reactors, followed by the separation and detection of the released elements. These elemental analyzers are widely used in applications such as soil and plant analysis, food analysis, pharmaceutical analysis, environmental monitoring, and the analysis of CHNS content in organic compounds.
By accurately determining the relative amounts of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, and sulfur in a sample, combustion analyzers provide valuable information about organic compounds' elemental composition and structure. This knowledge is essential for various fields, including organic synthesis, environmental science, forensic investigations, and pharmaceutical research.
XRF elemental analyzers utilize X-ray excitation to induce characteristic X-ray fluorescence in the sample. The emitted X-rays are then detected and quantified to determine the elemental composition. XRF analyzers can analyze various sample types, including solids, liquids, and thin films. They find applications in material analysis, mining, geology, environmental analysis, and archaeology.
ICP-OES analyzers use an inductively coupled plasma source to excite the atoms in the sample, causing them to emit characteristic optical emissions. These emissions are then dispersed and detected, allowing for the quantification of elements present in the sample. ICP-OES analyzers are widely used in environmental analysis, metallurgy, pharmaceuticals, and other fields requiring multi-elemental analysis.
ICP-MS elemental analyzers combine the inductively coupled plasma source with mass spectrometry detection. They enable the simultaneous measurement of elemental concentrations and isotopic ratios, providing high sensitivity and precision. ICP-MS analyzers are commonly used in environmental analysis, geology, pharmaceutical research, forensic science, and nuclear applications.
TOC analyzers measure the total carbon content in a sample, including both inorganic and organic carbon. They assess the organic pollution levels in water, soil, and wastewater samples. TOC analyzers are widely employed in environmental monitoring, water quality analysis, and pharmaceutical industry applications.
EA-IRMS analyzers combine elemental combustion with isotope ratio mass spectrometry to measure the isotopic composition of elements such as carbon, nitrogen, sulfur, and hydrogen. They have applications in environmental science, ecological studies, food authenticity, forensic investigations, and geochronology.
Elemental analysis can be used to unravel the composition of various substances. By determining the types and quantities of elements present in a sample, it provides valuable insights across a range of fields.
From the organic analysis of carbon, hydrogen, and nitrogen in compounds to the inorganic examination of elements in solid materials, techniques such as combustion analysis, X-ray fluorescence (XRF), inductively coupled plasma optical emission spectroscopy (ICP-OES), and inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS) enable researchers to uncover the fundamental building blocks of matter.
Moreover, isotope ratio analysis offers a glimpse into the isotopic composition of elements, shedding light on origin, processes, and environmental implications.
This technique is primarily used for organic analysis. It is commonly employed to determine the elemental composition of organic compounds, mainly carbon, hydrogen, and nitrogen. The elements are converted into their respective compounds by completely burning the sample, which can be quantitatively analyzed.
In combustion analysis, a sample is subjected to complete combustion in a controlled environment, often using excess oxygen. The combustion process converts the elements in the sample into their respective compounds, such as carbon dioxide (CO2), water (H2O), and nitrogen oxides (NOx).
By accurately measuring the quantities of combustion products generated (e.g., CO2, H2O, and NOx), the elemental composition of the sample can be determined. The stoichiometry of the combustion reactions allows for calculating the elemental ratios and, consequently, the elemental composition.
XRF is mainly used for inorganic analysis. It is notably helpful for solid samples, such as metals, minerals, and geological specimens. XRF detects characteristic X-rays emitted by the atoms in the sample when irradiated with X-rays. It provides information about the sample’s elemental composition, including both major and trace elements.
XRF involves irradiating a solid sample with high-energy X-rays. When the X-rays interact with the atoms in the sample, inner-shell electrons are excited and emit characteristic fluorescent X-rays as they return to their original energy state.
The emitted fluorescent X-rays carry information about the elements present in the sample. It is possible to identify the elements and quantify their concentrations by measuring their energy and intensity. XRF analysis can be calibrated using known standards for accurate elemental quantification.
ICP-OES is primarily used for inorganic analysis. It is well-suited for determining various elements in various sample types, such as liquids, solids, and even gasses. It is extensively employed in environmental analysis, metallurgy, and pharmaceutical research.
In ICP-OES, a sample is typically converted into an aerosol and introduced into a high-temperature plasma (generated by an inductively coupled plasma source). The plasma ionizes the sample, leading to the excitation of atoms and ions.
As the excited species return to their ground state, they emit light at characteristic wavelengths. The emitted light is dispersed and detected using an optical spectrometer. The elemental composition and concentrations in the sample can be determined by analyzing the intensities of these emitted wavelengths. Calibration with standards is employed for accurate quantification.
ICP-MS is versatile and used for organic and inorganic analysis, depending on the specific application. It can detect and quantify elements at trace levels and is often employed in environmental monitoring, geological studies, and bioanalysis. In addition to elemental composition, ICP-MS can also provide information about isotopic ratios of elements.
ICP-MS combines an inductively coupled plasma source with a mass spectrometer. Like ICP-OES, the sample is converted into an aerosol and introduced into the high-temperature plasma. However, instead of detecting emitted light, ICP-MS measures the mass-to-charge ratios of ions generated from the sample.
The ions generated in the plasma are extracted and focused into the mass spectrometer, where they are separated based on their mass-to-charge ratios. The elemental composition of the sample can be determined by detecting and measuring the ion currents at different mass-to-charge ratios. Isotope ratio analysis can also be performed by measuring the relative abundances of isotopes of specific elements.
AAS is used for the quantitative determination of various elements in a sample. It is based on the principle of light absorption by the atoms of specific elements at characteristic wavelengths, enabling the measurement of metals, metalloids, and nonmetals in a wide range of samples, including liquids, solids, and gases.
In AAS, a sample containing the element of interest is atomized and introduced into a flame or heated graphite furnace. A hollow cathode lamp emits light at a specific wavelength corresponding to the absorption line of the element being analyzed.
As the light passes through the atomized sample, the atoms of the target element absorb light at their characteristic wavelengths, decreasing the intensity of the transmitted light. The degree of absorption is directly proportional to the concentration of the element in the sample.
AAS is beneficial for the analysis of elements in trace or ultra-trace amounts. It is highly sensitive and offers excellent selectivity, allowing for detecting and quantifying elements at very low concentrations.
While AAS is a valuable technique for elemental analysis, it has limitations. It is typically single-element specific, meaning that only one element can be analyzed at a time. Additionally, AAS requires a calibration curve using standard solutions to accurately quantify the element's concentration in the sample. Despite these limitations, atomic absorption spectroscopy remains a widely utilized and valuable tool for elemental analysis.
Isotope ratio analysis is a specialized application of elemental analysis that focuses on the relative abundance of isotopes in a sample. Isotopes are variants of an element that have the same number of protons but different numbers of neutrons in the atomic nucleus.
The technique involves measuring the ratios of different isotopes of an element, such as carbon-13 to carbon-12 or oxygen-18 to oxygen-16. Isotope ratio analysis differs from combustion analysis and other elemental analysis techniques in its focus on the relative abundance of isotopes rather than the absolute elemental composition.
Isotope ratios can provide valuable information about a sample's origin, processes, and characteristics. Factors like fractionation, natural variations, and human activities can influence the relative abundance of isotopes. Scientists can draw conclusions about the sample’s history, environmental conditions, and authenticity by comparing the measured isotope ratios to known standards or reference materials.
The methodology of isotope ratio analysis varies depending on the elements and isotopes being analyzed.
From environmental analysis to geology and mining to food and beverage, elemental analysis’s wide-ranging applications impact numerous and diverse disciplines, offering valuable insights into environmental dynamics, health and safety considerations, industrial processes, and more, supporting advancements in scientific knowledge.
Elemental analysis is crucial in environmental monitoring and assessment. It plays a pivotal role in understanding the impact of human activities, identifying pollutants, evaluating environmental risks and contamination, assessing ecosystem health, and supporting environmental management and remediation efforts.
It helps identify and quantify pollutants, heavy metals, and other elements in various environmental samples, including analyzing air, water, soil, sediments, and biota. Based on what’s being analyzed, it can be broken down into separate categories:
Elemental analysis is extensively used in geology and mining. It aids in identifying mineral compositions, exploring ore deposits, and assessing the economic viability of mining operations. It helps determine elemental concentrations in rocks, ores, and minerals, facilitating geological mapping, resource estimation, and characterization of geological processes.
Elemental analysis plays a vital role in pharmaceutical and forensic sciences. It ensures pharmaceutical products' quality, purity, and safety by analyzing elemental impurities, verifying drug authenticity, and assessing product stability. In forensics, elemental analysis aids in identifying trace evidence, such as gunshot residue or paint chips, and establishing links between samples and crime scenes.
This technique is used in the food and beverage industry for quality control, nutritional assessment, and detecting contaminants. It helps determine nutrient content, identify additives, assess food authenticity, and screen for heavy metals, pesticides, and other contaminants to ensure food safety and regulatory compliance.
Elemental analysis is important in agricultural and plant sciences. It helps optimize fertilizer application by assessing soil nutrient levels, analyzes plant tissues to evaluate nutrient deficiencies, studies nutrient uptake and cycling in crops, and investigates elemental composition in genetically modified organisms (GMOs) or biofortified crops.
Elemental analysis is also fundamental in material science and quality control across industries. It helps characterize the elemental composition of materials, assess impurities, ensure product quality, and support research and development efforts. It is essential to metallurgy, electronics, polymers, ceramics, and construction materials.
From sample handling, storage, and preparation to quality control, method validation, and safety precautions, there are several considerations and best practices to make when performing or preparing to perform elemental analysis. Let’s start with sample prep.
Sample preparation is a crucial aspect of elemental analysis. Proper sample preparation ensures accurate and representative results. Here are some common considerations in sample preparation for elemental analysis:
The specific sample preparation considerations may vary depending on the nature of the sample, the analysis technique, and the study's objectives. It is essential to carefully follow established protocols and consult relevant literature or analytical guidelines to ensure appropriate sample preparation.
Choose the appropriate analytical method based on the nature of the sample, the elements of interest, required detection limits, and the desired accuracy and precision. Consider each technique's advantages, limitations, and suitability for your specific analysis.
Validate the analytical method to demonstrate its suitability for the intended analysis. Verify the method’s accuracy, precision, selectivity, linearity, limit of detection, and robustness. This ensures that the process is fit for purpose and produces reliable and valid results.
Implement rigorous quality control procedures to monitor and assess the accuracy and precision of the analysis. This includes running blank samples, duplicate analyses, spikes, and recovery tests. Document and track quality control data to ensure data integrity.
Calibration is essential for accurate quantification of elemental composition. Establish a calibration curve using certified reference materials or standards with known concentrations. Regularly validate and update the calibration to ensure accurate results.
Regularly maintain and calibrate the analytical instrument following manufacturer guidelines. Perform instrument performance checks, such as wavelength accuracy, resolution, and stability, to ensure reliable and consistent results.
Employ appropriate statistical methods for data analysis, such as calculating means, standard deviations, and confidence intervals. Use suitable software or tools to process and interpret the data accurately. Document and report the methodology, results, and any limitations or uncertainties associated with the analysis.
Adhere to proper safety protocols when handling hazardous materials, chemicals, or instruments and follow safety guidelines, such as wearing appropriate personal protective equipment and disposing of waste properly.
It is also important to consider various regulatory compliances. Laboratory accreditation, such as ISO/IEC 17025, ensures technical competence and reliability. Adhering to health and safety regulations, such as those outlined by OSHA, guarantees proper training, personal protective equipment usage, safe chemical handling, waste disposal, and risk assessment.
Compliance with environmental regulations like the Clean Air Act or Clean Water Act is necessary when monitoring and complying with element limits. In the food and pharmaceutical industries, guidelines such as GLP, GMP, and regulations from FDA or EMA ensure safety, quality control, and traceability. Consumer product safety regulations, like CPSIA, require elemental analysis for product safety.
Reporting elemental analysis results to regulatory authorities for environmental, health, and safety compliance, including programs like TRI, is also essential. Adhering to these regulatory compliances ensures elemental analysis quality, safety, and legal compliance.
Advancements in elemental analysis have led to new technologies and techniques. These innovations have improved sensitivity, selectivity, speed, and ease of use.
For example, laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS) is an emerging technique that uses laser pulses to generate plasma, providing rapid elemental analysis with minimal sample preparation. Another advancement is the use of microfluidic devices, which has enabled the precise control over sample handling and allows for high-throughput elemental analysis with reduced sample volumes.
The developments in advanced imaging techniques are thanks to the development of elemental mapping, which combines scanning electron microscopy (SEM) with energy-dispersive X-ray spectroscopy (EDS) or wavelength-dispersive X-ray spectroscopy (WDS). These techniques offer detailed spatial information about the elemental composition of samples, allowing for higher resolution and accuracy.
A notable and significant trend in elemental analysis is the miniaturization and portability of analyzers. Researchers and industries are developing handheld or portable devices that can perform elemental analysis on-site, providing rapid results without sample transportation to a centralized laboratory.
These portable analyzers often use techniques like XRF, ICP-OES, or MS, which enables real-time monitoring, field measurements, and in situ analysis. It makes elemental analysis more accessible and versatile in various applications, including environmental monitoring, mining, and on-site quality control.
Integration with other analytical techniques continues to develop as well. Combining elemental analysis with chromatography techniques, such as gas chromatography (GC) or liquid chromatography (LC), helps determine elemental composition alongside compound identification. This provides comprehensive analysis by combining the separation capabilities of chromatography with the elemental information obtained through elemental analysis.
Another example is the integration of elemental analysis with mass spectrometry techniques, such as gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) or liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry (LC-MS), which allows for simultaneous identification and quantification of both elemental and molecular species.
This enhances the analytical power by providing complementary information on elemental composition and molecular structure, offering deeper insights into complex samples and facilitating advanced research in areas like metabolomics, environmental analysis, and forensics.
Elemental analysis plays a pivotal role in various industries and fields of research, offering valuable insights into the composition, properties, and behavior of matter.
By determining the elemental composition of samples, scientists gain a deeper understanding of materials, environmental processes, and the quality of products. From chemistry to environmental analysis, elemental analysis supports advancements in materials science, pharmaceuticals, geology, forensic investigations, and more.
As technology continues to evolve, the future of elemental analysis holds promising prospects. Advancements in instrumentation, such as miniaturization and integration with other analytical techniques like chromatography and mass spectrometry, enhance sensitivity, accuracy, and efficiency.
Consider the benefits of leasing an elemental analyzer, unlock the power of elemental analysis, and take your research or industrial processes to new heights. Leasing offers flexibility, cost-effectiveness, and access to cutting-edge equipment without the burden of large upfront investments.
Whether you’re interested in learning more about our leasing program or want to obtain a lease estimate for an elemental analyzer, contact Excedr today. Our team of experts is ready to help you find an ideal leasing solution for your specific needs.