Home / Shipping News / International Shipping News / International Shippers Tap New Technology For Improved Moisture Analysis of Ethanol and Methanol

International Shippers Tap New Technology For Improved Moisture Analysis of Ethanol and Methanol

It is nothing new to anyone in the international shipping business that testing moisture levels in ethanol and methanol is a complicated, tedious and extremely costly process – for many, unnecessarily so. The existing process is fraught with problems that can cause shipping delays and increased expenses – worse is all these problems are all due to existing technologies that haven’t changed in nearly 85 years.

The first major problem is the inability to monitor moisture levels in transit, potentially causing long-term harm and worse, engine failure. Water contamination in fuel can cause engine non-starting and corrosion issues. Even though ten percent ethanol blends can hold small amounts of water in solution, anything above this level can cause a phase separation of water and ethanol mix, separating from the gasoline. While many fuel additives claim to solve this phase separation issue or claim to dry the gasoline or remove water, the only truly safe method is en-route moisture analysis. Unfortunately, legacy processes do not allow for such portable testing. Second, and directly tied to the first problem, legacy analysis methods necessitate a central lab for proper and accurate moisture analysis. This operational bottleneck caused extreme delays during busy times and can even shut operations down if lab work requires outsourced testing at a separate facility. Third, further delaying operations is the overly complicated nature of the analysis technologies that require highly trained staff to perform tests. Not only does this aspect increased delays in shipping, but also greatly increases the cost associated with moisture analysis testing – and a lack of highly trained staff can lead to significant reductions in accuracy of any testing performed. Finally, due to the complicated nature of the legacy testing equipment, maintenance and calibration of the equipment is a lengthy and cumbersome process. All these issues point to a direct and immediate need for new and more advanced technologies for cheaper, faster, easier and more portable testing options. Finally. as mentioned above, and further complicating the existing process is the fact that the equipment most used is based on an 85-year-old technology – the Karl Fischer titrator. Basically, the limitations of the equipment exceptionally compound the problems inherent in the existing system.

“One company we interviewed showed the problem with the testing process quite clearly. In order to ensure the integrity of the chemical being loaded into the tanker, the supervisor will load only a few tanks and test the chemical – this ensures the chemical isn’t contaminated by improper washing and cleaning of the tanks. Only after the tests are processed at a third-party lab and come back with satisfactory results will the remaining 20+ tanks be loaded. The problem is the testing process can take several hours – even up to 48 hours for additional testing and root cause analysis if contaminants are found.”

• Rob Toker, CEO of LanthaSensors

Not only is a new technology needed, but an entirely new method is needed to help solve the major issues prevalent today. This new system needs to increase availability by lowering testing costs and allow anyone (not just highly trained experts) to perform tests. This new system also needs to increase the quality of monitoring at various points (vs only checking for quality at departure and arrival ports) by allowing for ease of testing outside the confines of the lab, like the bowels of a ship in mid-transit. It also needed is the ability for easy and quick confirmation of certificate of analysis for chemicals. Finally, it needs to enhance safety protocols by eliminating the creation of hazardous materials/byproducts from each test.

Not to worry, this isn’t an article about another reason 2020 is the worst – there is hope. Just as the digital camera made great photography easy and inexpensive for anyone, technology always brings new options for existing problems – even if it does take 85 years.


Enter a new technology – the hyper-portable platform built on metal organic frameworks or MOFs. This new technology has significant benefits over legacy Karl Fischer methods, while keeping the analytical integrity and accuracy of the tests intact. MOFs are hybrid materials that contain metal centers coordinated to organic ligands, that form infinite multi-functional polymers. Given the intrinsically high surface area and metal centers density in MOFs, these materials have the ability to generate a large analytical response from a small amount of sample, especially compared to conventional polymers and other porous materials.

If the above paragraph goes over your head, don’t worry – it’s just means this new technological breakthrough has the capability to solve all the problems listed at the start of this article, starting with cost. Indeed, the biggest issue most people have with existing technology is the cost, as Karl Fischer titration kits can range from $12,000 to $20,000 and this does not include the cost of solvents and reagents. Solvents are critical in the analysis of samples to determine the amount of water present in the system. By constantly doing tests, the cost of the solvents or titrants can add up quickly, in the range of $1500 per order. The additional costs and short shelf life of these solvents makes it difficult to get a good return on your investment.

Additionally, one of the issues that relate to the Karl Fischer titration procedure is the generation of hazardous halogenated waste during analysis. With thousands of samples being tested on a daily basis in the US alone, the application of Karl Fischer titration can have detrimental effects on the environment and also on the personnel that operate the chemical analysis equipment, and that have to handle the halogenated reagents as well as the generated waste. The halogenated waste produced by processes such as Karl Fischer titration for water content determination can ultimately pose corrosion risks to equipment, significant health risks to people, and damage to the ozone layer. Given the chemical reaction on which the Karl Fischer titration method relies on, both the volumetric Karl Fischer titration procedure and the coulometric procedure, represent sources of hazardous halogenated waste.


So, what does the promised answer from the new technology look like? Simply put, it’s small and portable, has a single-button operation for extreme ease-of-use and requires a simple test strip. This isn’t just a new technology, it’s a complete evolution in analysis methodology.

Because the analysis process simply uses the light emitted by the lanthanide ions to detect and quantify water in a sample, the entire testing procedure gains a significant advantage in reduction of complexity and cost, with a drastic boost in speed (to near instant results). This new technology boils down the process to something akin to testing the pH balance of water with a litmus strip – while providing the same level of accuracy as a Karl Fischer titrator.

MOFs also facilitate water detection in many solvents that can be challenging to analyze using conventional chemical composition testing. For example, it allows for moisture analysis at the ppm scale in acetone, ethanol, and acetonitrile (among many others), all of which are solvents that face significant interferences when analyzed by Karl Fischer titration procedures. This capability highlights the scope of applications this new technology can provide solutions for, including water content in fats and oils.


Quite literally, the use of MOFs in analytical testing specific to ethanol and methanol moisture detection has made a revolutionary leap forward allowing anyone to conduct tests that completely replace Karl Fischer titration. For the first time ever, this technology allows for easy, accurate and inexpensive testing of moisture levels anywhere – at a terminal, in a tank farm/field or on a tanker in transit.
Source: By Stephany McClements, VP of business development for Lantha Sensors

Recent Videos

Hellenic Shipping News Worldwide Online Daily Newspaper on Hellenic and International Shipping