Following up on his recent podcast with Phil discussing extraction of botanicals for gin production, Simon Osborne gives us the lowdown on how green chemistry with microwaves can resolve bottlenecks in sample preparation in the modern laboratory
Laboratory managers will often look to see how to speed up various processes in the workplace and the obvious place to start is by removing any bottlenecks. Sometimes it’s not that easy as other considerations have to be taken into account, such as; “Am I costing the Company more money?” or “What about environmental impacts of my new process – dare I go ‘green’?”
So, if you can reduce the amount of solvent, reduce the amount of time to complete the sample preparation, and reduce the energy consumption, that surely counts as ‘green’ doesn’t it?
Many new product launches over the recent past have emphasised ‘green this’ and ‘green that’. However, adding the word ‘green’ to a process is no different to adding an ‘i’ to the front of a product name to make it Apple friendly. Unless it actually means something. It is important that a ‘green’ tagged product lives up to the hype.
So, where are these bottlenecks in the laboratory? Analytical systems can certainly hold their heads high. For example, an ICP-MS can spit out a result every minute. LIMS systems with instrument connection can make data available to all laboratory staff in an instant, so there is certainly no hold up whilst waiting for printouts and then inputting results. The main bottleneck culprit appears to be the actual sample preparation and it has been estimated that this can account for up to 80% of the total time to complete an analysis. So how do we reduce this?
Consider your standard home kitchen. The introduction of which device has reduced cooking times? Come on, you’re all shouting it… Yes; the microwave! 10/10 ?
Back in the standard laboratory, where analytical instrumentation has continually developed to meet the demands of the analyst, sample preparation has somehow failed to keep up with these evolutions. It’s not looking good for sample preparation. It is slow and apparently behind the times.
During the past few decades however, microwave enhanced technology for laboratories has moved from an academic curiosity to widespread acceptance across many common application areas. These include digestion, ashing, extraction, and synthesis. Microwave systems not only offer increased sample throughput and reduced operating costs; they also reduce solvent usage. Whether that be acids for digestion or solvents for extraction. Everything a ‘green’ tagged system demands.
Manufacturers have now extended the possibilities for laboratory microwaves and moved into different application areas, such as fast high throughput FAME preparation, total fat determination for the food industry, and even extraction of botanicals for bespoke gin production. Of course, the development of all these application areas takes place under the ‘green’ canopy.
So, if you can reduce the amount of solvent, reduce the amount of time to complete the sample preparation, and reduce the energy consumption, that surely counts as ‘green’ doesn’t it? Well, it does in my book!