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Unlocking the Power of Hydrophilic Interaction Liquid Chromatography (HILIC)



Today, we're about to embark on a journey to discover the fascinating world of Hydrophilic Interaction Liquid Chromatography, or HILIC. In the realm of liquid chromatography, where you might have heard of normal phase, reverse phase, and ion-pair chromatography, HILIC stands out as a powerful and increasingly popular technique. But why is HILIC gaining traction despite the multitude of chromatographic methods available? Let's delve into the reasons behind its rising popularity.

Understanding HILIC:

First things first, let's unravel the acronym. HILIC stands for Hydrophilic Interaction Liquid Chromatography. The key term here is "hydrophilic," which refers to the stationary phase used in HILIC. Now, you might wonder why we need another type of liquid chromatography when normal phase chromatography also employs a hydrophilic stationary phase like diol or silica. Well, there's a crucial distinction we'll get into.

HILIC finds its niche in separating polar and hydrophilic compounds. Given its hydrophilic stationary phase, HILIC follows the age-old adage "like attracts like." This means that polar or hydrophilic compounds are strongly retained in HILIC liquid chromatography. This characteristic is the primary driver behind the existence of HILIC.

Another interesting aspect of HILIC is that it combines the properties of both normal phase and reverse phase chromatography. While HILIC utilizes a hydrophilic stationary phase (hence the "hydrophilic interaction"), it also employs a reversed-phase (RP) type mobile phase. The mobile phase in HILIC is akin to that used in reverse phase chromatography, comprising water plus acetonitrile (ACN) or buffer plus ACN. This unique combination of a hydrophilic stationary phase and an RP-type mobile phase sets HILIC apart from other chromatographic methods.

Distinguishing Features: HILIC vs. Reverse Phase

One of the most striking differences between HILIC and reverse phase liquid chromatography (RPLC) is their elution order. HILIC provides a reversed elution order compared to RPLC. This discrepancy arises from the fundamental distinction in their stationary phases. While RPLC employs a hydrophobic stationary phase, HILIC uses a hydrophilic one. As a result, the elution order of compounds in HILIC is the reverse of what you'd expect in RPLC.

To illustrate this difference, consider an example. In HILIC, compounds may elute in the order of 1, 2, 3, whereas in RPLC, you'd see the opposite: 3, 2, 1

Retention Time

Variety in Stationary Phases:

One of HILIC's strengths is the wide range of bonded stationary phases it offers. This flexibility allows you to select the most suitable stationary phase for your specific hydrophilic or highly polar compounds. HILIC stationary phases can be categorized into three main types:

1. Neutral Stationary Phases: These phases lack charged functional groups, resulting in no electrostatic interactions like hydrogen bonding or dipole-dipole interactions. Examples include diol phases and amide phases.

2. Charged Stationary Phases: This category features stationary phases with charged functional groups, such as negative (e.g., sulfonate) or positive (e.g., quaternary ammonium) groups. These charged phases enable strong electrostatic interactions, facilitating cation or anion exchange processes. Examples include plain silica phases and amino-propyl stationary phases.

3. Zwitterionic Stationary Phases: These phases boast both positive and negative charges. With opposing charges, they balance each other out, resulting in weaker electrostatic interactions. A common example is the zwitterionic Sulfobetaine bonded stationary phase.

Why Choose HILIC:

Now that we've explored what HILIC is and its distinguishing features let's delve into why you should consider using HILIC over other chromatographic methods like RPLC, normal phase LC, ion chromatography, or ion-pair chromatography.

1. Polar Compound Retention: Simple RPLC isn't ideal for retaining polar or hydrophilic compounds. HILIC, with its hydrophilic stationary phase, excels at retaining such compounds, ensuring reliable separation.

2. Solubility Handling: Polar compounds may not dissolve well in normal phase LC due to the hydrophobic nature of its mobile phase. HILIC uses a polar mobile phase (with water), ensuring superior solubility for polar analytes.

3. Mass Spectrometry Compatibility: HILIC is mass spectrometry-friendly when volatile buffers like formic acid are used. This makes it a great choice for mass spectrometry detection.

4. Similarity to RPLC: The mobile phase composition in HILIC is almost identical to RPLC, making it an easy transition for chromatographers.

5. Stability and Reproducibility: HILIC offers bonded stationary phases known for their stability and reproducibility, enhancing the reliability of your separations.

6. Versatile Detection Techniques: HILIC can be used with various detection techniques, including UV, fluorescence, refractive index (RI), charged aerosol detection (CAD), and mass spectrometry


In conclusion, Hydrophilic Interaction Liquid Chromatography (HILIC) is a powerful tool that should not be overlooked when dealing with polar and hydrophilic compounds. Its ability to retain these compounds effectively, handle solubility challenges, and integrate seamlessly with mass spectrometry, among other benefits, make it a valuable addition to the chromatographer's toolkit. So, the next time you encounter polar analytes, consider HILIC for your separation needs. Thank you for joining us on this journey through the world of HILIC chromatography.


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