DIFFNAL – Element separation for chemical speciation from biological and environmental samples

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In recent years, we have developed a greater understanding of what makes certain elements toxic. In an environmental or biological setting, the speciation of an element directly influences its toxicity and bioavailability. Current routine analytical methods to determine the quantity of toxic elements in a given sample cannot account for the speciation of those elements. DIFFNAL offers an alternative solution, which separates elements based on their speciation, giving a more accurate analysis of the amounts of toxic chemicals in the sample. The DIFFNAL device is affordable, reusable, and can be incorporated into existing analysis devices such as ICP-MS.

Origin of the species

Speciation, in the context of elemental contaminants, refers to the different chemical and physical states in which an element can exist. This includes electronic or oxidation states, metal complexes or isotopic composition depending on the environment. Knowledge of speciation is crucial in assessing the reactivity, mobility, bioavailability, and toxicity of trace elements in environmental systems. Therefore, chemical speciation analysis forms a key part of monitoring environmental health, industrial effluents, and food contaminants, to ensure compliance with stringent legislation.

Detection limits

Current methods for quantifying the amount of potentially harmful, labile metallic species within a given environment largely rely on computational predictions. “Hands-on” measurements have proven inaccurate, as the methods for separating the different species, prior to analysis, are complex and ineffective. Cost effective and easy-to-use separation methods are sorely needed to sit alongside the already well-developed spectroscopy and chromatography techniques such as ICP-MS and DIONEX™.

DIFFNAL – Integrating separation

DIFFNAL is a sample separation system, which can be easily integrated into existing analysis methodologies, such as mass spectrometry. The system enables efficient separation of different pools of elements while retaining the chemical character (e.g., oxidation state and the equilibrium distribution of species) of the original sample. The Oxford system is cost-efficient and more environmentally friendly than chromatography based solutions, as organic solvents are not required.

We believe the key benefits of DIFFNAL to be:

  • User-friendly and efficient separation
  • Easily integrated into existing infrastructure
  • Preserves chemical speciation of native sample
  • Readily separates reactive nanocolloids or nanoparticles (5-100 nm)

Patent protection

This technology is subject to a patent application. Oxford University Innovation is interested in hearing from companies that would like to license this technology.

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