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The Many Applications of FTIR Spectroscopy

The Many Applications of FTIR Spectroscopy

Fourier Transform Infrared (FTIR) Spectroscopy is one of a handful of techniques commonly used to analyse the molecular structure of different materials. While its adoption may be more recent than other, similar techniques, its use has quickly become more widespread. 

This is largely due to the unique benefits that this type of analysis can provide.

Here we take a closer look at the applications of FTIR spectroscopy across several key industries. As part of this, we also explore why FTIR is the preferred technique for such a wide range of analysis activities.

How does FTIR spectroscopy work?

Every material interacts with different wavelengths of light in its own unique way.

Acknowledging this, FTIR spectroscopy works by applying mid-infrared light (approximately 4000-400 cm^-1) to a sample. The absorption of different wavelengths is then measured and interpreted to provide a detailed analysis of the molecular composition.

As part of the interpretation, the Fourier transform mathematical function is used to convert the detector signal from a time domain to a frequency domain. This allows the entire spectrum to be analysed simultaneously, rather than on an individual wavelength basis.

Strengths of FTIR spectroscopy

When compared to other, similar techniques, FTIR spectroscopy offers a few unique benefits.

Most significantly, being able to analyse the full spectra simultaneously increases the speed and efficiency of testing. As most other techniques analyse individual wavelengths, multiple readings are needed to collect the same data as a single test using FTIR spectroscopy. FTIR testing has been made even easier by the introduction of handheld tools, which allow analysis to be quickly completed on-site.

The breadth of analysis also means FTIR spectroscopy generally provides more accurate results than other similar techniques. It can also provide a more detailed breakdown of the composition of a sample. This includes the identification of both the nature and concentration of trace elements and potential contaminants.

Applications of FTIR Spectroscopy

Acknowledging the accuracy of results and level of detail provided, the applications of Fourier Transform spectroscopy have grown quickly, as new industries embrace this technique. This has been spurred on by the introduction of handheld FTIR tools, which have revolutionised many different types of testing.

Some of the most common applications of Fourier Transform Infrared spectroscopy include:

Identification of valuable minerals

In the high-risk, high-reward mining industry, reliable data on the mineral composition of a site is invaluable. From exploration and operational design to extraction and ongoing management, mineral analysis plays a crucial role throughout the mining process. 

FTIR spectroscopy is one of a few tools that is widely used to inform both exploration and operational activities.

During the exploration phase, it can help assess both the quality and quantity of valuable minerals present in an area. By providing a detailed analysis of the overall site composition, it also supports accurate calculation of the potential value of a deposit and planning of optimal extraction methods.

Once mining activity has begun, regular FTIR testing can help provide important insight into operational performance. By analysing mineral concentration and purity in mined materials, it helps track output against projections and informs decisions on future mine activities.

Monitoring of quality in agricultural environments

Soil quality is a major consideration for agricultural businesses, with quality improvements linked to increased yields and more efficient farming operations. FTIR spectroscopy provides an accurate assessment of the nutrient profile of soil, allowing producers to optimise their activities and plan effective land management interventions.

The accuracy of FTIR testing means it can also identify contaminants, even at low levels. This limits the risk of harmful substances, like heavy metals and toxic chemicals, transferring to produce and posing a threat to human health.

Testing of polymers and surface coatings

In Australia, the categorisation of polymers is a key component of their regulation and management. As part of this, testing is required to understand their chemical composition and the potential impact on human health.

More than just meeting regulatory requirements, the detailed analysis provided by FTIR spectroscopy also supports quality assurance in polymer manufacturing. Once a clear profile of the required chemical composition has been established, regular testing can be used to ensure this standard is maintained.

It also supports the early identification of potentially harmful contaminants, both in polymers and surface coatings. Understanding the chemical makeup can also help you determine important properties of these materials, like their thermal stability.

Detection of degradation

As some materials age, their chemical structure begins to break down and produce new materials, known as degradation products. 

For example, many paints are made up of inorganic pigments and oil-based binding agents, which degrade into metal soaps over time. FTIR spectroscopy can be used to analyse these soaps, providing important details about the paint’s history and informing conservation plans.

Similarly, as many metals and polymers age, their density decreases, and degradation products (like rust) can form. This impacts the performance of these materials and, depending on how they are being used, can pose safety risks. FTIR testing can help identify early signs of degradation and support planning of proactive maintenance and repair works.

Authenticating artworks and artefacts

Some experts claim that up to 40% of “big name” artworks for sale at any given time are fakes

Given the significant sums of money involved in these sales, there is a lot of interest in weeding out the forgeries. FTIR spectroscopy can assist with this, helping to confirm the age of different objects and identifying the scope and nature of any restoration works.

By analysing the chemical makeup, FTIR testing allows art experts to match the materials used with the alleged age of a piece. For metallic artefacts, the level of degradation can also be measured to determine its likely history. 

Importantly, because FTIR is non-destructive, this testing can be done without damaging the potentially priceless object.

Choosing the best FTIR device for your needs

The Many Applications of FTIR Spectroscopy 2

Whatever application of FTIR spectroscopy you require, the Agilent 4300 Handheld FTIR is the tool for the job. 

With its lightweight design and point-and-shoot functionality, it is easy to see why this is the most popular portable FTIR device on the market. It is also highly versatile, with an interchangeable interface that allows you to easily switch between applications.

For more information on how FTIR spectroscopy could help you, or to purchase your own Agilent 4300, contact us today.