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Unveiling the Power of HILIC Columns in Liquid Chromatography


Today we're delving into the fascinating realm of HILIC (Hydrophilic Interaction Liquid Chromatography) columns. Have you ever wondered why you should consider using a HILIC column over non-polar or reverse-phase columns? What advantages does HILIC chemistry offer? Today, we'll explore the incredible potential of HILIC columns and the chemistry behind them.

The Need for HILIC:

In liquid chromatography, non-polar columns are typically chosen for retaining polar compounds. These columns have polar stationary phases while using non-polar or hydrophobic mobile phases. However, if your compound is polar and struggles to dissolve in the non-polar mobile phase, you face a challenge. Additionally, normal-phase chromatography can be costly to operate and maintain. So, how can we design a stationary phase that addresses solubility issues for polar compounds and reduces operational costs? That's where HILIC chemistry comes into play.

The Birth of HILIC:

HILIC, which stands for Hydrophilic Interaction Liquid Chromatography, was introduced by Mr. Andrew Alpert in the 1990s. Alpert demonstrated how this stationary phase could effectively separate polar analytes. In HILIC, the stationary phase is more hydrophilic than the mobile phase, resembling the situation in normal-phase liquid chromatography. However, the key difference lies in the elution behavior.

Elution in HILIC:

In normal-phase chromatography, you often encounter mobile phases containing immiscible water solvents like dichloromethane, hexane, ethyl acetate, or chloroform. In contrast, HILIC allows you to use water-miscible organic solvents in the mobile phase. This means you can incorporate water directly into the mobile phase, a feature not common in traditional normal-phase chromatography.

In HILIC, the retention of analytes decreases with an increase in the aqueous mobile phase (e.g., water). Water is the strongest solvent in HILIC. Conversely, elution of analytes increases with a rise in the less polar organic solvent content in the mobile phase. This means that increasing the concentration of water in the mobile phase reduces retention time, while increasing the amount of non-polar organic solvent, such as ACN or methanol, increases retention time.

Advantages of HILIC:

1. Retention of Polar Compounds: HILIC's ability to retain polar compounds in aqueous organic mobile phases is its primary advantage. This makes it an excellent choice for separating polar analytes effectively.

2. Use of Aqueous Organic Mobile Phases: HILIC allows the use of mobile phases that contain both water and organic solvents like ACN or methanol. This flexibility is not commonly found in traditional normal-phase liquid chromatography.

3. Increased Popularity: HILIC has gained popularity for separating polar samples using polar columns in aqueous organic mobile phases rich in organic solvent.

Stationary Phases for HILIC:

Several stationary phases are suitable for HILIC chromatography:

1. Non-modified Bare Silica: This stationary phase features silanol groups as active sites, which can interact with basic compounds through cation exchange, especially at higher pH levels.

2. Diol Stationary Phase: Diol columns are made of high-purity silica with chemically bonded dihydroxy propane groups. These columns can form hydrogen bond interactions with analytes.

3. Amino Stationary Phase: Amino-propyl columns have basic properties, making them suitable for acidic compounds.

4. Amide Stationary Phase: Amide-bonded phases are known for their weak basicity and less pH dependence.

5. Mixed-Mode Stationary Phases: Some columns feature a combination of different functional groups bonded to silica gel, providing a versatile platform for various interactions.

6. Zwitterionic Sulfobetaine Stationary Phase: These columns contain both strongly acidic sulfonic groups and strongly basic quaternary ammonium groups, offering unique ion-exchange properties.


HILIC chromatography, with its hydrophilic stationary phase and compatibility with water-miscible organic mobile phases, is a powerful tool for separating polar compounds effectively. It addresses challenges related to solubility, offers cost-effective operation, and has gained popularity for its ability to retain polar samples. Understanding the principles behind HILIC chemistry and the variety of stationary phases available can empower chromatographers to make informed choices in their analytical work. Thank you for joining us in exploring the world of HILIC columns in liquid chromatography.


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