Analytics: detecting trace FAME and characterizing algae with infrared

By | May 19, 2010
Wilks Enterprise Inc. announced that its InfraSpec VFA-IR Spectrometer, which has been marketed as a fast, easy way for nontechnical personnel to validate biodiesel blends, can also detect methyl ester content in fuel down to 0.05 percent, or 500 parts per million (ppm).

The company stated that this new application for the InfraSpec VFA-IR is important for nuclear power plants and some pipeline operators to ensure no biodiesel is present in their systems.

"For nuclear power plants, fuel can be stored for as long as 10 years to power their standby diesel generators in case of an electrical power shut down," Wilks Enterprise stated. "Emergency diesel generators supply electrical power to safely shutdown the nuclear reactor in the event of a loss of normal off-site power and supply power to critical items such as cooling pumps for decay heat removal. Biodiesel is a natural food source for microbial growth and while biocides should prevent the growth of bacteria, fungi and mold, nuclear power plants cannot risk that microbial growth could clog filters and shut down the [generators]. In cold weather areas, there is also concern that the cold flow properties of biodiesel blended fuel may cause it to gel in cold temperatures and again clog filters. Therefore, it has become necessary for many standby generator operators to determine whether their fuel delivery contains biodiesel."

While Wilks Enterprise is marketing its InfraSpec VFA-IR Spectrometer for pipeline operators to ensure there is no trace biodiesel in certain fuel shipments, the airline industry will only allow up to 5 ppm-100 times less than what the InfraSpec VFA-IR Spectrometer can detect-in jet fuel. This, of course, has been a major roadblock in widespread pipeline distribution of biodiesel, and there is a move to approve up to 100 ppm biodiesel in jet fuel. Even so, there is still the need for more sensitive detection methods at reasonable prices.

Sandy Rintoul with Wilks Enterprise told Biodiesel Magazine that the company is conducting tests now to figure out precisely what the margin of error is for the InfraSpec VFA-IR Spectrometer when detecting down to 500 ppm.

When asked what analytical technology might be capable of detecting down to 5 ppm, Rintoul said she doubts infrared technology could detect such minute traces of biodiesel. "That is such a low level, it's next to nothing," she said. "GC (gas chromatography) wouldn't really even be able to get to those levels-and if it could, at what price would it be?"

Algae characterization Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc. recently announced that its FT-IR sampling solutions are designed to provide a cost-effective approach to characterizing the chemical composition of biological systems, such as lipids in algae.
Thermo Scientific FT-IR-based automated sampling techniques, originally created for pharmaceutical high-throughput screening systems, can be applied effectively to the analysis of algae. The easy-to-use solutions combine instrumentation, accessories and software to greatly increase the number of biological samples that can be analyzed with automated spectroscopy.

Industry professionals can choose from among four different configurations capitalizing on ATR, transmission and reflectance spectroscopy, and infrared microscopy, to suit varying analytical requirements and sample preparation methods.
Researchers have emphasized the need to increase the amount of lipid produced by algae. To achieve this, a technique is required that can efficiently characterize the chemical composition of algae.

FT-IR has been used extensively to characterize the chemical composition of biological samples including bacteria, single cells and tissues.

Recently, FT-IR has been documented as a viable method for determining the protein, carbohydrate and lipid content in biomass from algae. Sample preparation is a key step of the process in order to increase the number of samples that can be analyzed and obtain reproducible results.

Thermo Scientific offers a complete range of FT-IR sampling techniques, forming a basis for developing rapid screening methods to determine the lipid content of microbiological species intended for biofuels.

A selection of Thermo Scientific infrared sampling techniques can be used to characterize the chemical composition of algae. A combination of the Thermo Scientific Nicolet iS10 FT-IR spectrometer configured with a Smart iTR diamond accessory or Smart OMNI-transmission accessory can be used to obtain spectra from dried algae.

The Thermo Scientific Nicolet 6700 FT-IR system, equipped with an automated well plate reader and the Thermo Scientific OMNIC Array Automation software analyzes multiple samples in reflectance studies in a simple and low-cost manner.

Finally, reliable infrared microscope transmission data can be obtained using the Thermo Scientific Nicolet 6700 and a trademarked Continuum infrared microscope configured with an automated X,Y stage.
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