Gas Chromatography - Gas Supplies > Flow Controllers > Page 8

Flow Controllers

A constant pressure applied to a column does not ensure a constant flow of mobile phase though the chromatographic system, particularly if the column is being temperature programmed. Raising the temperature of a gas causes the viscosity to increase, and at a constant inlet pressure, the flow rate will fall. The reduction in flow rate will be related to the temperature program limits and to a certain extent on the temperature gradient. To obviate the flow rate change, mass controllers are used which ensure a constant mass of mobile passes through the column in unit time irrespective of the system temperature. A diagram of a mass flow controller is shown in figure 3.

 

Courtesy of Porter Instrumentation Company Inc.

 

Figure 3 The Mass Flow Controller

The sensing system consists of a bypass tube with a heater situated at the center. Precision temperature sensors are placed equidistant up stream and down stream of the heater. A proprietary set of baffles situated in the main conduit creates a pressure drop that causes a fixed proportion of the flow to be diverted through the sensor tube. At zero flow rate both sensors are at the same temperature. At a finite flow rate, the down stream sensor is heated, producing a differential temperature across the sensors. The temperature of the gas will be proportional to the product of mass flowing and its specific heat and so the differential temperature that will be proportional to the mass flow rate. The differential voltage from the two sensors is compared to a set voltage and the difference used to generate a signal that actuates a valve controlling the flow. Thus, a closed loop control system is formed that maintains the mass flow rate set by the reference voltage. The device can be made extremely compact, is highly reliable and affords accurate control of the carrier gas flow rate irrespective of gas viscosity changes due to temperature programming.