Dry ashing is normally carried out in a muffle furnace. Large numbers of silica basins or crucibles take up a considerable amount of floor area within the furnace, therefore the larger the capacity the better. It may be advantageous to have two furnaces. Typical specifications would be:
amino acid in protein interior dimensions (depth x width x height) volume maximum power rating
Suitable furnaces are available from:
Stuart Scientific (Bibby): http://www.bibby-sterilin.com/cat/stuart/ furnaces.htm#muffle
Carbolite Furnaces Ltd: Aston Lane, Hope, Hope Valley, Sheffield S30 2RR, UK. Tel. +44 (0) 1433 620011 Fax. +44 (0) 1433 621198
See also the following websites:
Ashing in a furnace is a compromise between total oxidation of carbon and some vaporization of the element of interest. When this is for trace metals, such losses only become significant with the more volatile metals such as cadmium and lead. Even some iron may be lost if chlorides are present, as ferric chloride is appreciably volatile at 450°C. A useful review of ashing biological material for the determination of trace metals was provided by Middleton and Stuckey (1953, 1954). They recommended an ashing temperature of 500-550°C (dull red heat) as the lowest temperature at which combustion can be completed in a reasonable time when the trace metal is volatile. Sometimes the sample is first moistened with sulphuric acid when lead is being determined, to convert it to lead sulphate, which is involatile below 550°C.
When ashing for trace element determination, we prefer to err on the side of caution, and recommend ashing overnight at 450°C . Sometimes an additional treatment is required such as for manganese solubilization. Ashing converts manganese salts to manganese dioxide, which is virtually insoluble in dilute acids. The ash is therefore moistened with concentrated HCl and heated carefully on a hotplate until it has fumed dry. This converts the manganese dioxide to manganous chloride:
The residue is then dissolved in 0.1 M HCl in the normal way for the subsequent determination of elements by atomic absorption spectrophotometry.
It is usually best to avoid the production of flames from the sample while ashing (deflagration) as this can result in some loss of analyte. The sample should therefore be placed in the muffle at room temperature, with the chimney vent open, allowing the combustible gases to evolve without ignition as it heats up to the final ashing temperature. The vent is then closed to prevent a downdraught blowing the light ash out of the crucibles, and ashing is continued for the stated time. Dry ashing of animal tissues is problematic, and the above authors suggest using a mixture of nitric and sulphuric acids for the purpose (Middleton and Stuckey, 1954). This would be safer than mixtures involving perchloric acid, which may be explosive.
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