Vacuum-outlet GC with atmospheric-pressure air as the carrier gas is implemented at outlet pressures up to 0.8 atm using a low-dead-volume polymer-coated surface acoustic wave (SAW) detector. Increases in the system outlet pressure from 0.1 to 0.8 atm lead to proportional increases in detector sensitivity and significant increases in column efficiency. The latter effect arises from the fact that optimal carrier gas velocities are lower in air than in more conventional carrier gases such as helium or hydrogen due to the smaller binary diffusion coefficients of vapors in air. A 12-m-long, 0.25-mm-i.d. tandem column ensemble consisting of 4.5-m dimethyl polysiloxane and 7.5-m trifluoropropylmethyl polysiloxane operated at an outlet pressure of 0.5 atm provides up to 4×104 theoretical plates and a peak capacity of 65 (resolution, 1.5) for a 3-min isothermal analysis. At 30°C, mixtures of vapors ranging in vapor pressure from 8.6 to 76 Torr are separated in this time frame. The SAW detector cell has an internal volume of <2 μL, which allows the use of higher column outlet pressures with minimal dead time. The sensor response is linear with solute mass over at least 2-3 decades and provides detection limits of 20-50 ng for the vapors tested. The combination of atmospheric-pressure air as carrier gas, modest operating pressures, and SAW sensor detection is well-suited for field instrumentation since it eliminates the need for support gases, permits smaller, low-power pumps to be used, and provides sensitivity to a wide range of vapor analytes.
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