ICP-OES Analysis

Inductively Coupled Plasma-Optical Emission Spectroscopy (ICP-OES) is a versatile analytical technique that provides an effective way to determine which elements are present in a sample and the quantities they appear in. ICP-OES analysis is used across a variety of industries, ranging from food and drink to petrochemicals, pharmaceuticals, and forensic science.

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What is ICP-OES used for?

ICP-OES is used across a range of industries and research areas. It is often applied in the petrochemical industry to analyze various types of oil samples and determine their chemical contents, which can be used as a measure of quality. The method is also used to screen food and water samples to ensure that they are safe for consumption and free from toxic metals and other unwanted compounds. 

In environmental analysis, ICP-OES is used to monitor pollution and determine the quality of natural environments. The technique can also be used in the pharmaceutical industry for quality control to ensure that products are made to the appropriate standard. ICP-OES may even be used to determine the age and origin of various natural substrates, such as rocks and soils, which is useful for both archaeological and forensic analysis.

How does ICP-OES work?

ICP-OES analysis begins by creating a plasma; a high-energy form of a gas, such as argon, which has been excited with electromagnetic radiation. A sample, in the form of an aerosol, is then passed through the plasma, causing it to be broken down into its individual atoms. The atoms interact with the plasma, causing them to emit various wavelengths of light. These wavelengths are separated and detected by the spectrometer, which records the data. 

The specific wavelengths that are detected with the ICP-OES apparatus correspond to specific elements within the sample and, by analyzing the amount of each wavelength present, it is possible to determine the concentration of each element. This can then be used to determine the overall elemental composition of the sample.

Sample requirements and preparation

Samples to be analyzed with ICP-OES must be in an easily vaporizable form so that they can interact with the plasma. Analysis of liquids and solutions is most straightforward, as they can be passed through a diffuser that sprays them as an aerosol.

Solid samples will either need to be dissolved into a solution or, if this is not possible, vaporized through other means, such as electrothermal or laser ablation. This breaks down the solid sample directly into a vapor that can then be analyzed.

Advantages of ICP-OES analysis

The main advantage of ICP-OES is its versatility. The technique can detect and quantify a wide range of elements, giving it boundless potential applications. It can even detect a variety of non-metals, which is a limitation of other similar techniques, including AAS and AFS. In addition, ICP-OES can be used to identify multiple elements simultaneously. This is another major advantage compared to AAS and AFS, both of which can only detect one element at a time.

Limitations of ICP-OES analysis

ICP-OES samples are atomized by plasma and destroyed, which means they cannot be recovered post-analysis. The detection limit for ICP-OES is not as low as some comparable techniques, most notably ICP-MS, meaning that it may not be able to detect certain elements in particularly low concentrations. Furthermore, some specific elements, such as O, N, and H, are very difficult to detect with ICP-OES in general, which can lead to incomplete results in their presence.

ICP-OES vs ICP-AES – is there a difference?

Inductively Coupled Plasma Atomic Emission Spectroscopy (ICP-AES) is another term used to refer to the process of ICP-OES. Therefore, there is no difference and the two terms are often used interchangeably to describe the same analytical technique.

Suitable sample matrices

  • Solutions
  • Water samples
  • Oil samples
  • Dissolved soil and rock samples

Ideal uses of ICP-OES

  • Environmental analysis
  • Quality control
  • Food analysis
  • Water testing
  • Petrochemical analysis

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Frequently asked questions

What is ICP-OES commonly used for?

Common applications of ICP-OES include heavy metal quantification of soil or sediment, identification of pollutants in water, and petrochemical analysis.

What are the limitations of ICP-OES?

The detection limit of ICP-OES is not as low as that of the ICP-MS method. The analysis of solids is also complicated by the need to aerosolize samples.

What is Measurlabs?

Measurlabs offers a variety of laboratory analyses for product developers and quality managers. We perform some of the analyses in our own lab, but mostly we outsource them to carefully selected partner laboratories. This way we can send each sample to the lab that is best suited for the purpose, and offer high-quality analyses with more than a thousand different methods to our clients.

How does the service work?

When you contact us through our contact form or by email, one of our specialists will take ownership of your case and answer your query. You get an offer with all the necessary details about the analysis, and can send your samples to the indicated address. We will then take care of sending your samples to the correct laboratories and write a clear report on the results for you.

How do I send my samples?

Samples are usually delivered to our laboratory via courier. Contact us for further details before sending samples.