GC-FID: 5 Must-Know Tactics For Optimal Performance

by | Apr 4, 2024

Go beyond the basics and uncover insider secrets to achieve top performance and troubleshoot common GC-FID issues.

Since its inception in the 1950s and 1960s, gas chromatography with flame ionization detection (GC-FID) has been prized for its robustness, sensitivity, and broad applicability in analytical chemistry. Known for its responsiveness to virtually all organic molecules, resistance to minor gas flow variations, and extensive linear dynamic range, FID continues to find critical applications today, from helium-free residual solvent analysis to assessing volatile species for cancer signatures

Navigating the intricacies of GC-FID requires more than just theoretical knowledge—it demands practical wisdom gained through experience. In the following sections, we explore common GC-FID troubleshooting issues with the technique, sharing five insider secrets gleaned from discussions on Chromatography Forum, a comprehensive knowledge-sharing site dedicated to chromatography and related techniques. 

Deciding Between GC-FID and GC-MS

The debate about using GC-FID vs GC-MS often boils down to the specifics of the application at hand. Despite its broad detection capabilities, FID falls short in delivering structural insights into the compounds it identifies, relying solely on retention time comparisons with known standards—a method that cannot unequivocally pinpoint unknown substances. Mass spectrometry (MS), despite its higher cost and operational complexity, complements FID by offering definitive compound identification through fragmentation patterns.

Leveraging approaches that combine both platforms—using GC-MS for identifying components, followed by GC-FID for their quantification—is a common and effective analytical strategy. However, despite this method's popularity, forum user Rachel G was apprehensive about potential shortcomings including reliability and robustness.

Experienced users responded, highlighting the practicality and advantages of combining GC-FID with GC-MS approach. Using a T connector for split connections between the detectors and employing techniques including a Dean’s switch for heartcutting allows for the sophisticated analysis of complex samples. Other users highlighted the importance of balancing column flows and managing temperature ramps and gave practical tips on sample preparation.

Acidifying Samples

Headspace gas chromatography, a sampling technique used to analyze volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in liquid or solid samples, relies on GC-FID for sensitive and quantitative analysis. The process often involves acidifying volatile substances including ethanol, butanol, and organic acids prior to analysis, a step that piqued the curiosity of forum participants.

User chromatographer1 explained the reasoning behind acidifying samples, noting the use of strong mineral acids such as sulfuric acid to remove cations. This is crucial to avoid forming non-volatile salts when the sample is heated, thus ensuring the precise volatilization and analysis of volatile organic acids. Despite potential concerns, chromatographer1 assured that sulfuric acid's low volatility at the operational temperatures of GC-FID would not harm internal components. They recommended checking the pH of the sample after adding acid to ensure the procedure doesn’t neutralize the acids meant for analysis.

The discussion about the best acid for sample acidification acknowledged that formic and nitric acids are also suitable choices. User Peter Apps expressed a preference for using phosphoric acid in headspace sample preparation, attributing his choice to its low likelihood of transitioning to the vapor phase.

Optimizing Peak Parameters

Forum user Bellyup working with headspace GC turned to Chromatography Forum for advice on pinpointing settings for a singular sample. Focusing solely on altering the HS oven temperature, they questioned whether the peak displaying the greatest area should guide their parameter selection. This query specifically involves comparing overlaid peaks from a single solvent.

User James_Ball recommends considering not just the size of the peak area but also its shape to circumvent fronting or tailing issues, which suggest overloaded conditions or other problems. They highlighted the importance of altering only one parameter at a time to refine the method effectively.

Bellyup's satisfactory peak shapes but inconsistent peak area and height suggested possible detector overload or method issues. Experimenting with different split ratios led to improvements, yet concerns about overloading remained. James_Ball suggested adjusting split ratios to balance sensitivity and column longevity, highlighting that finding the right balance enhances method performance and extends column life.

Navigating Signal Fade

In the forum thread Troubleshooting an FID, user karwaldo shares an issue with an Agilent 7890B used to analyze alcohols in gasoline. The discussion centers on fading FID output signals, leading to repeated attempts to relight the FID flame during column backflush periods. Low recoveries in ethanol quality control checks further compound the problem, prompting speculation about a potential carrier leak or incorrect flow settings. The transition from Agilent block-style gas filters to in-line filters is also highlighted as a variable change.

Several experienced forum contributors offer a variety of troubleshooting suggestions. Recommendations include verifying hydrogen tank pressure, comparing actual support gas flows against expected control settings, checking for clogs in the FID jet, and ensuring the column's secure connection to the detector. Techniques to stabilize the flame by adjusting hydrogen and air flows, maintaining a 10:1 air-to-hydrogen ratio, and tweaking carrier gas flow rates based on the carrier type and column specifications were also advised. 

Finally, karwaldo confirmed that adjusting the Air/H2 flow to 450:45 mL/min significantly improved the FID performance, indicating that the problem may have been due to incomplete combustion rather than a failing column. 

Considering the Impact of the Make-Up Gas

The make-up gas, used to increase the total flow rate entering the FID detector, can impact result consistency and detector performance. In discussions among users, cjm recommends nitrogen for its cost efficiency and effective baseline maintenance, maintaining a constant flow rate of 30 mL/min for both column and make-up gas to ensure optimal results. This suggests a strategic preference towards nitrogen over helium, not just for economic reasons but also for its reliability in achieving consistent outcomes.

Peter Apps highlights another advantage of nitrogen over helium—its ability to improve the signal-to-noise ratio through its higher molecular weight, aiding analyte ionization and fragmentation.


By demystifying forum discussions and insider secrets, this guide equips you to transform your GC-FID from a workhorse to a finely tuned analytical race car. While tackling your toughest chromatographic challenges, remember, the wealth of knowledge on ChromForum is only just a click away.

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