At this year’s Pittcon, IBO sat down with Andrew James, marketing director for Ellutia Chromatography Solutions, to discuss the company’s recent projects, its growth in various industries and the future of GC.
In the past year since IBO last caught up with the company, Ellutia has continued its custom work collaboration with a cork manufacturing company in Portugal for cork testing, which it has been working on for the past 6–7 years, according to Mr. James. “If you get a bottle of wine that is corked, it’s because it has a chemical cork TCA [trichloroanisole] in it,” said Mr. James. “[For testing], it’d have to be soaked in a water-ethanol mix for 24 hours. Then you do an extraction and inject it into a GC. So it took [about] a day to analyze a cork,” he explained. “We’ve now got systems with [the Portugal-based company] that will analyze a cork every 18 seconds.” The cork company is now conducting online testing of each and every cork, allowing it to offer a guaranteed non-detectable TCA cork.
This project has proven itself to be a great opportunity for Ellutia and its custom offerings. “It’s kind of an all-encompassing project,” shared Mr. James. “[The cork company has] now got 60 instruments there, [and] they’re taking another 30 instruments. It’s taken a lot of development work to get down to the limits of detection they need and the cycle time that they need.”
The development work, which took up approximately 80% of the company’s development team, according to Mr. James, paid off for Ellutia—the project contributed to the income required to facilitate Ellutia’s move of headquarters and new facilities in February 2017 and will help expand the company’s development team.
Cannabis Testing and GC
Last year, the company also assessed how it could revamp its existing product lines for new applications, such as the cannabis market. Ellutia has many clients in the cannabis market, and has installed systems in the Netherlands, Canada and the UK (as Mr. James explained, although cannabis is illegal in the UK, hemp is not). In researching and attending conferences, Mr. James explained that Ellutia determined an opening in the market. “There’s a lot of people out there that now, more and more, are looking to bring [cannabis] testing in-house, but a lot of them don’t have a clue where to even start,” he said. In some cases, cannabis companies were leasing instruments for testing for $5,000 per month; in contrast, Ellutia’s GC has a purchase price of $8,000. In an attempt to provide support and education to these companies, one of the projects Ellutia took on is the establishment of its GC Academy, launched in September 2017 in the company’s new headquarters and facilities building (see IBO 9/30/17). “We run training days where people can come in and actually have a go with running the analysis, so they can see that it’s not impossible,” explained Mr. James. “The benefit this brings to companies is quite huge—the changes it has had for them, to have the ability to see what they’re actually working with, has been massive.”
Companies such as Peak Scientific and Shimadzu Scientific Instruments have entered the cannabis testing market with GC products, and while Ellutia’s products are comparable in terms of abilities, its GCs are generally smaller and, therefore, more cost effective, according to Mr. James. Ellutia’s 200 Series GC was originally designed with academia in mind. “We originally designed it because we felt that at universities, they’re always having either secondhand [instruments] or really cheap mini GC systems that produce awful results,” Mr. James said. “So we wanted to make a system that was affordable, simple to use and compact, so they could put it away when they were finished with it.” The education sector remains a strong client for Ellutia, in both the UK and other regions. And the original education-targeted design works perfectly for the cannabis market. “The same requirements that we specified for education now fit really nicely into cannabis, because it’s the first touch point for GC, basically,” Mr. James explained. “It’s for the people that want to bring testing in-house and don’t want to wait 2 to 3 weeks for results. I think as more and more testing becomes prevalent in the industry, it’s going to drive better standards and more adoption of it.”
Ellutia’s 500 Series GC, released at Pittcon last year, has the capability to run samples 5–10 times quicker than other GCs on the market, according to Mr. James, making it ideal for labs that run high levels of samples, such as environmental testing labs and potentially even cannabis applications. Although Ellutia does not currently sell an MS, the company is developing a TOF-MS system to go with the 500 Series GC, which will also increase its effectiveness for cannabis testing. “One of the areas that we can see Ultra-Fast GC [has] potential for advances in detection is faster detectors that can keep up with MS-TOF or other types of detectors,” said Mr. James. In addition, Ellutia is working with another company for the development of an FT-IR detector for GC, which will provide structural confirmation and meet legislative requirements.
The Future of GC
Ellutia’s reach is broad, as it participates in many different markets, which could be due to the vast amount of customization projects the company takes on. “As a company, we do a lot of customization work, so we’ll take our instruments and modify them to build a system a bit more bespoke,” said Mr. James. “We find ourselves in lots of different industries where customers are coming up with problems that some of the bigger manufacturers don’t necessarily want to tackle or haven’t tackled.”
One sector Ellutia also recently entered is the booming petrochemicals end-market, where oil giants such as Exxon Mobil have made investments due to its growing prevalence. The company is working in petrochemicals with BP in the UK. “We’re just starting out in petrochemicals—one of the limiting factors [of the small GC] that we put in with it in order to keep it [small] is upper temperature; the temperature limit of the small GC was 300° centigrade,” explained Mr. James. “So that kind of limited it in the petrochemical field, where you’ve got a lot more high-volume compounds. The new 500 GC has much higher temperature limits; if you’re using a conventional mode, you can go up to 380°C, so it can do all the petrochemical applications.” Although any gas can be used on it, the ultra-fast GC can also use hydrogen as opposed to helium, making it cost effective as well. “When you use hydrogen with ultra-fast [GC], you actually get comparable performance to helium,” Mr. James said. “With hydrogen, the very rapid temperature ramping enables you to get more interactions.”
“We find ourselves in lots of different industries where customers are coming up with problems that some of the bigger manufacturers don’t necessarily want to tackle or haven’t tackled.”
Compared to genomics research, regenerative medicine and immunotherapy, GC tends to be perceived as a mature market, a dry technology that has generally peaked, in some ways; however, Ellutia continues to focus on new ways to innovate in the field. “We do see what we’re doing with this Ultra-Fast GC as something that has the potential to move [the technology] forward and, potentially with this, we’ve got a number of ideas and things that we’re looking at and developing that work in conjunction with the principles that we’ve [established] here,” said Mr. James. This includes developing different column technologies to work with GC and integrating growing computing capabilities. “With the advent of computing getting faster and faster, it allows you to analyze data so much quicker and creates the possibilities of different detection options,” he continued. “Similarly, the advent of manufacturing techniques, such as 3D printing, means that we can now make things that were impossible to make before.”
Mr. James also predicts that creating smaller carbon dioxide footprints for samples may also become an issue to work on in the future. “There’s more testing and more regulation coming into almost everything you can think of,” he said. “Consequently, there are more samples being run. GCs are quite energy consuming, whereas with Ultra-Fast GC, you’re just heating the column, so the energy consumption is quite less than heating a whole oven. You’re using it for a fraction of the time, and the reduction in energy consumption per sample is massive,” he continued. “I think some of that may start to creep into legislation of energy requirements for scientific instruments.”