4th October 2023

GC manufacturers help labs move to hydrogen for GC carrier gas

The world of helium lab gas has had a turbulent time over the last three years. With several factors contributing to the ongoing issues - the sale of the BLM, the war in Ukraine, and numerous safety incidents at helium refineries across the globe – many instrument manufacturers have started to look at ways to move away from such a heavy reliance on helium when it comes to the gas chromatography market.

Although the issues seem to be easing up for many labs across the globe, there is a sense of "when will the next shortage strike?" considering we are just coming out of the fourth considerable helium shortage in so many years. In the wake of the global helium shortage, there seems to be pockets of the globe where shortages take hold more often than others and there doesn't seem to be any warning of when these shortages could hit. 

As is standard, when supply is tight, prices increase. This is happening across the world with helium prices going up while many labs are unable to get the allocation they need for their application. 

With this in mind, labs can start looking at alternatives to helium for their analysis before another shortage hits - taking a proactive approach to maximize the uptime they experience in their lab.

Two of the major players in gas chromatography who are making inroads to allow their customers to move away from such a heavy reliance on helium are Agilent and Thermo Fisher Scientific with the introduction of the HydroInert Source and the Helium Saver SSL respectively.

The Helium Saver SSL from Thermo Fisher Scientific doesn’t allow labs to move away completely from the use of helium but does let labs combine helium and nitrogen to supply their GC. The Helium Saver only uses helium to supply carrier gas to the capillary column, while nitrogen is used for all other injection processes including septum purge, split and sample vaporization.

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Agilent’s HydroInert Source is a GC/MS ion source that improves chromatographic performance when using hydrogen as a carrier gas in GC/MS. It helps to avoid loss of sensitivity and spectral anomalies while offering a high-boiler peak shape. The Agilent HydroInert Source reduces the need for GC/MS ion source cleaning, decreasing system downtime and maintenance and resulting in fewer interruptions to data generation.

With instrument manufacturers actively working to reduce the reliance on helium in their products, we're seeing a notable shift in their approach. When helium is becoming more scarce, supply chains are becoming more strained, and sustainability is coming to the fore, it’s important to offer suitable alternatives to the end user.

The introduction of the HydroInert Source and the Helium Saver is a swing in the right direction for labs who are wanting to maximize uptime in their lab and gain more independence from cylinder suppliers and being at the mercy of the ever-fluctuating helium market.

While Shimadzu have not introduced a new product to help with the shift from Helium to Hydrogen, there are many Application Notes which are being published by the organization promoting alternatives to Helium for GC. This is a great step in showing that Shimadzu are confident in the instruments they have in the market being ready for Hydrogen already.

PEAK Scientific's Hydrogen generatorsPEAK Scientific's Precision Hydrogen generator & Precision Hydrogen SL

PEAK Scientific has long been advocating for the move from helium to hydrogen where it is possible. For many labs that use GC, this is exactly the type of application that could see the benefits of moving from helium to hydrogen (or nitrogen) for their carrier, make-up, or detector gas (or all three). With the Precision range of gas generators, PEAK has designed a range of generators specifically for the GC market in a modular, stackable design for hydrogen, nitrogen and zero-air gases.

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Many labs worry that hydrogen will have an impact on the results they can achieve from their analysis in comparison to those achieved with helium. However, there are clear benefits to labs when they switch to hydrogen as the carrier gas of choice. Most notable are the faster analysis times when using hydrogen over helium. Hydrogen has a higher optimal linear velocity which, in many cases, increases a lab’s throughput by improving analysis speeds.

When switching to hydrogen from helium for GC methods, labs have the added benefit of a reliable, convenient, safe and environmentally friendly alternative for their analysis.

Why a hydrogen gas generator? Reliable, green, safe and independent

There are several resources available to help you convert your carrier gas from helium to hydrogen and our team of experts, as well as those from the instrument manufacturer, will be able to support labs across the world in making this shift.

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