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This technique tells you which elements are present in your sample. Elemental Analysis can be qualitative (a list of all the different elements which are present) or quantitative (the relative amounts of each element). There are different ways to analyze the elemental composition of a sample. Many are destructive, they will break your sample down into atoms. A non-destructive option is X-ray spectroscopy.
Elemental Analysis is used in many different branches of industry and research, such as materials science (often in Energy and Fuel, e.g. measuring composition of batteries or solar cells, or sulfur content in oil), inorganic materials such as Mined Minerals (ores) and metals, and Environment and Agriculture (soil composition, quality control for fertilizers).
There are different techniques to assess the elemental composition of a material. In many cases, a combustion technique is used to vaporize the sample, and subsequently perform an elemental analysis by either emission or absorption spectroscopy. Heating can be performed in a crucible or by sputtering a sample.
ST Instruments provides equipment for four different types of elemental analysis. In Glow Discharge Optical Emission Spectroscopy, a plasma is formed by passing an electric current through a gas. This can eject material from the cathode, which is then analyzed using spectroscopy. Inductively Coupled Plasma – Optical Emission Spectroscopy (ICP-OES) also works with an argon plasma, produced by a quartz torch. Liquid samples are nebulized in a chamber, where the plasma atomizes and ionizes the material. Thermic energy produces excited states in the electrons of the atoms. When the electrons fall back to their ground level they emit photons which provide element-specific spectra.
Carbon/Sulfur & Oxygen/Nitrogen/Hydrogen Analysis is used to measure these elements in organic and inorganic compounds. Samples are atomized in a furnace and the elements are transported by a gas flow to an analyzer (Thermal conductivity detector or Non-dispersive infrared analyzer). In X-ray fluorescence, the emission of fluorescent electrons is induced by irradiating the sample with x-rays. The fluorescent electrons provide a ‘fingerprint’ of the elements. This is a non-destructive technique.
Knowing the elemental composition of a material is vital in many types of industry or research. It can be used for quality control in pharmaceuticals or food, to assess the composition of batteries or solar cells, or measure the amount of sulfur in oil. Some techniques will detect elements in minute quantities, down to nanograms per liter. Most techniques require little or no sample preparations, and results can be acquired rapidly.
ST Instruments provides a range of instruments for elemental analysis from Horiba Scientific, which cover a wide range of applications.