Choice of Model for Estimation of Adsorption Isotherm Parameters in Gradient Elution Preparative Liquid Chromatography
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The inverse method is a numerical method for fast estimation of adsorption isotherm parameters directly from a few overloaded elution profiles and it was recently extended to adsorption isotherm acquisition in gradient elution conditions. However, the inverse method in gradient elution is cumbersome due to the complex adsorption isotherm models found in gradient elution. In this case, physicochemically correct adsorption models have very long calculation times. The aim of this study is to investigate the possibility of using a less complex adsorption isotherm model, with fewer adjustable parameters, but with preserved/acceptable predictive abilities. We found that equal or better agreement between experimental and predicted elution profiles could be achieved with less complex models. By being able to select a model with fewer adjustable parameters, the calculation times can be reduced by at least a factor of 10.
KeywordsAdsorption isotherm Gradient elution Inverse method Overloaded profiles
Preparative liquid chromatography (LC) is an important separation technique that allows separation and purification of compounds from a few milligrams to many tons of pure substances per year . Gradient elution is the most important programming technique and is used for separating compounds which have a wide range of retention times . Gradient elution can save time and reduce solvent consumption by decreasing the run time [3, 4].
To take full advantage of gradient elution, the separation needs to be optimized. However, there are many factors which have to be considered when optimizing a process in gradient elution such as sample concentration, flow rate, amount of injected sample and gradient profile . Empirical optimizing of one parameter at a time is time consuming and numerical optimization is therefore preferred. In numerical optimization, the adsorption isotherm for each component needs to be known . Therefore, determination of the competitive adsorption isotherm model is essential .
The inverse method of chromatography [8, 9] is a method to acquire adsorption isotherms especially suited for process optimization, where calculated overloaded elution profiles are fitted to experimental ones. Recently, we extended the inverse method to acquisition of single component adsorption isotherms [10, 11] and competitive  in gradient elution. The extended inverse method only requires gradient elution experiments—i.e., no isocratic experiments are needed.
In previous studies [10, 11, 12], the adsorption isotherm model which was deemed most thermodynamically correct was used in the inverse method. This led to tedious and not straightforward calculations due to the complexity of the adsorption isotherms. The aim of this study is to evaluate the possibility of using a less complex adsorption isotherm model with fewer adjustable parameters, but with acceptable predictive abilities. Being able to use a model with fewer adjustable parameters will speed up the computations which is important when optimizing the separation process.
Materials and Method
The simulated chromatographic elution profiles were obtained with a 150 × 4.6 mm column having a hold-up volume of 1.38 mL and the flow rate was 1 mL/min, while the column efficiency was 2000 plates. The competitive bi-Langmuir isotherm, Eq. (3), was used to generate the simulated data. Four different linear gradients were used with slopes 1, 2, 3 and 4 %/min and run from 24 to 56 % (v/v) methanol in the mobile phase. The sample concentration was 0.4 M of each of the two components and the injection volume was 400 μL.
In the first step, the analytical version of the adsorption isotherm was considered, i.e., the b-parameters were equal to 0. Estimation was done separately for cyclohexanone and cycloheptanone from the retention times of analytical peaks obtained in gradient elution. This was done by minimizing the difference between the calculated and experimental retention times.
In the second step, initial guesses for b and S b or q s or ν were determined by solving the ED model with the fast, but less accurate Rouchon algorithm . Two experimental peaks were used: the one obtained for highest sample concentration and steepest gradient slope (0.4 M, 4 %/min), and the one obtained for lowest sample concentration and lowest slope of gradient (0.1 M, 1 %/min).
In the last step, all parameters were estimated on the basis of the same concentration profiles as in step 2 with the OCFE method.
For the simulated data, the procedure described above could be simplified. Step 1 was the same as that described above, but steps 2 and 3 were combined and parameters b and S b or q s or ν were estimated based on the four overloaded peaks with concentration 400 mM obtained for gradient 1 and 4 %/min. The parameters obtained in the first step were kept constant with the OCFE method.
Result and Discussion
The aim of this study is to investigate the possibility of applying different adsorption isotherm models to the same set of experimental data and comparing the model’s ability to predict overloaded elution profiles.
Proof of Concept Using Simulated Data
The bi-Langmuir adsorption isotherm, Eq. (5), was chosen to generate a set of simulated elution profiles. This model was selected because it had the largest number of adjustable parameters among the investigated models and we were interested in evaluating if a less complex model could be used to describe the elution profiles generated by this model. The Tóth model, the Langmuir model, and the thermodynamically consistent Langmuir model were fitted to the simulated data. The estimated elution profiles from all three models were found to be in good agreement with the ones used as a basis for the estimation. The best agreement was obtained with the Tóth model with the average area overlaps  97 and 99 % for components 1 and 2, respectively. The average area overlaps for the Langmuir model were equal to 97 and 94 % and for the thermodynamically consistent Langmuir model 96 and 93 % which were slightly worse, but still very good.
From these results, we can conclude that elution profiles generated with the bi-Langmuir model can be described by a less complex adsorption isotherm models. One must, however, stress that the simulated data did not contain any noise and therefore similar calculations are needed to be done using real experimental data instead.
Calculations Using Experimental Data
Average area overlaps in % between the experimental and calculated elution profiles for cyclohexanone (C6) and cycloheptanone (C7) for the four investigated adsorption isotherm models
Therm. consistent Langmuir
If the complexity of the model and the number of adjustable parameters are also considered, the Langmuir model is probably the best choice for process optimization because the area overlap is “good enough” for subsequent numerical optimization and, due to its simplicity, the calculation times will be much lower than for the other models.
The choice of adsorption isotherm model in the inverse method when applied to gradient elution was investigated using both synthetic and experimental data. Comparing the results from the different adsorption isotherm models indicates that the most complex model may not always lead to the best fit between experimental and calculated elution profiles. We believe that this is due to the difficulties of estimating such a large number of parameters that models like the bi-Langmuir have. The Langmuir model and thermodynamically consistent Langmuir model have 8 parameters, while the Tóth model and bi-Langmuir model have 9 and 16 parameters, respectively. Estimation of a smaller number of parameters is easier and faster. Therefore, rather counterintuitively, our results suggest selecting a model with fewer adjustable parameters in order to get the model with the best overall predictive power.
Two practical consequences are that (1) the inverse method used in gradient elution does not allow for the determination of a unique, unambiguous adsorption isotherm model and (2) a model with more adjustable parameters does not give a better agreement with the experimental data with the presented methodology. The first point is not a problem from an engineering point of view, because the only reasonable goal for using the inverse method is correct prediction of elution profiles for subsequent use in process optimization. The second point is probably due to the difficulties of estimating functions with a large number of adjustable parameters from chromatographic elution profiles.
This work was partly supported (DÅ, ME, JS, TF) by the Swedish Research Council (VR) in the project “Fundamental Studies on Molecular Interactions aimed at Preparative Separations and Biospecific Measurements” (grant number 621-2012-3978).
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