Quadrupole Mass Spectrometer
About the Instrument:
The mass spectrometer makes high sensitivity measurements of the composition and relative amounts of gases released in chemical reactions. It works by sucking tiny volumes of gas through a fine glass capillary from the reaction flask into a vacuum chamber where gas particles are spread out according to their mass and detected. Mass spectrometers have been an important part of the Callaghan Innovation suite of equipment for a number of years but the new machine has 3 major advantages. Firstly it is sensitive to a larger range of masses which is useful for detecting higher molecular weight gases and gas fragments. Secondly it has a device for heating the glass capillary to prevent it clogging with condensation, which has been a major problem in the past. The third advantage is that it’s portable. “Many mass spectrometers in the past are about the size of two refrigerators and sit in the corner of the room for ever more,” says Ian. “This thing’s on a trolley so we can wheel it around to wherever the action is!”
Almost every kind of chemical process produces gas. The mass spectrometer tells you exactly which gases are being released and therefore which chemical processes are taking place at a particular time. The new machine has both broadened capability and boosted research productivity. “You need more than one of these instruments when you have the breadth of project activity as we have so it’s helped us carry on research across a broader range of activities.” says Mark Bowden, who does a lot of the experimental work in Ian’s group. The machine’s main task is to test the group’s new hydrogen storage and purification materials which they are developing for use in fuel cells. “We chemically synthesise materials with hydrogen in them” explains Mark, “and the idea is that the hydrogen comes out at modest temperatures like maybe 100 degrees. That would be for fuel storage and especially for vehicles, cars and trucks.” They are also developing nano-porous structures for filtering the hydrogen gas to remove contaminants once it has been released from their storage materials. By using the spectrometer to measure the gas stream before and afterwards they can gauge the extent to which the hydrogen has been purified. Having the ability to detect larger gas molecules means they can tailor their technologies to a wider range of commercial applications. “We’ve got a collaboration going with CRL Energy where they’re manufacturing hydrogen from coal gases,” explains Mark. “We want to put our hydrogen purifying filter into that system and so we want to be able to detect those higher molecular weight gases.”
The new spectrometer has helped Ian and his group to forge a relationship with the US Department of Energy labs who have taken an interest in the group’s hydrogen technologies. “It stamped our name in a field where we’ve been able to dialogue internationally with a number of key players.” The instrument has also spurred new collaborations within the Institute. Ian’s group has been working with Victoria University chemist Richard Tilley, for example, looking at the composition of gases involved in the synthesis of nano-particles. The instrument is already in heavy use but the group is very happy to accommodate new users – commercial or academic. Being portable, you can even take it on site.