Mobile Phase (eluent) In Column Chromatography

The mobile phase or eluent is either a pure solvent or a mixture of different solvents. It is chosen so that the retention factor value of the compound of interest is roughly around 0.2 - 0.3 in order to minimize the time and the amount of eluent to run the chromatography. The eluent has also been chosen so that the different compounds can be separated effectively. The eluent is optimized in small scale pretests, often using thin layer chromatography (TLC) with the same stationary phase.

There is an optimum flow rate for each particular separation. A faster flow rate of the eluent minimizes the time required to run a column and thereby minimizes diffusion, resulting in a better separation. However, the maximum flow rate is limited because a finite time is required for the analyte to equilibrate between the stationary phase and mobile phase, see Van Deemter's equation. A simple laboratory column runs by gravity flow. The flow rate of such a column can be increased by extending the fresh eluent filled column above the top of the stationary phase or decreased by the tap controls. Faster flow rates can be achieved by using a pump or by using compressed gas (e.g. air, nitrogen, or argon) to push the solvent through the column (flash column chromatography).

The particle size of the stationary phase is generally finer in flash column chromatography than in gravity column chromatography. For example, one of the most widely used silica gel grades in the former technique is mesh 230 – 400 (40 – 63 µm), while the latter technique typically requires mesh 70 – 230 (63 – 200 µm) silica gel.

A spreadsheet that assists in the successful development of flash columns has been developed. The spreadsheet estimates the retention volume and band volume of analytes, the fraction numbers expected to contain each analyte, and the resolution between adjacent peaks. This information allows users to select optimal parameters for preparative-scale separations before the flash column itself is attempted.