A Gas Chromatographic system which is ready for analysis should be free of line leakages to give precise results every time under identical conditions. Gas leaks can be frustrating due to the following reasons:
- Leaks lead to loss of expensive high-quality gases
- Flow changes due to leaks result in shifting of peak positions due to changes in retention times
- Detector noise and unstable baselines
- Reduction in useful life of the column traps
- Irreversible damage to column packing if exposed to oxygen entering through leaks at high operation temperatures
- Need for greater detector maintenance
Let us now consider the potential leak points in the Gas chromatographic system. One should check for leaks at the gas source (gas cylinders), regulators, fittings, adapters and connectors down the line and even all fittings and connectors within the Gas Chromatography column over. Remember to turn off the oven fan when checking Gas Chromatography column leaks. Unlike HPLC where leaks become visible the leaks of gas chromatography system can go unnoticed if leak detection devices are not used.
Conventionally soap or detergent solutions have been used to detect leaks but due to venturi effect such solutions can be sucked in and lead to column contamination. The other convenient alternative is to use portable hand-held detectors generally based on the principle of thermal conductivity. These are relatively in expensive devices which have sensors capable of access to every nook and corner of the Gas Chromatograph and do not lead to system contamination. In high sensitivity detectors such as mass spectrometer argon gas is sprayed around fittings and connections and monitoring is conducted for mass 40. Otherwise one can even monitor for nitrogen (mass 28) or oxygen (mass 32) by the mass sensitive detector.
Reliable inexpensive leak detectors are available from a number of manufacturers some of which are listed here:
Leak detection should be adopted as a regular laboratory practice every time you change a cylinder or the Gas Chromatography column and before conditioning the column prior to start of analysis.
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