New hobby chromatographer

Basic questions from students; resources for projects and reports.

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Hi Good folks,

My third post here, my earlier went unanswered so I post here in the student section in case it was too frivolous for the formal GC forum. Sorry for the double post.

I have learnt a lot from reading but hope to gain more ideas from those more skilled in the art. I am a potential hobby user of GC and there is little activity in Finland that I have found. Below a long writeup to save you the good reader from having to ask too many questions.

I have recently acquired a used, not working, PerkinElmer PHOTOVAC Voyager PID Portable Gas Chromatorgraph first launched between 1997 and 2001 I believe. The division was sold off and is now at Inficon and this unit was renamed the Explorer before it was discontinued in August 2015.

The unit came with nothing else but there is a user manual for the final Inficon Explorer version and the nearly identical earlier PerkinElmer Voyager model on-line as well.

It is a pretty neat explosive atmosphere rated unit that looks pretty low mileage. It has a sample loop and syringe port and 3 parallel columns and a UV Photo Ionisation detector. It has place for an optional ECD detector that is not fitted. It has an internal 8 hour gas cylinder for Nitrogen or Air Zero. It has a 9 hour smart battery pack with internal (faulty) charger circuit that has 6 x 5500mAh Ni-Cd D-cells with 0.0V across the cells.

It does not have any protection over the sample port which is a pity and the gas as expected reads 0 PSI. I have no injectors, no gas or filling rig, no spare septums, no communications cables, no software (PerkinElmer supplied something elusive called SiteChart), no reference standards. If the burnt PCB track (and perhaps a couple of nearby components and the cells) is all that ails the battery pack I think I can repair it. I have pinouts for the MiniDIN 8 serial connector from an older PHOTOVAC (pre PerkinElmer) model that I will assume is compatible unless I read otherwise and can make a cable if required to log printer output or dump data files or upload firmware, assays or compound libraries if I can get suitable files and software. I will find a suitable mains adapter (10 to 18V DC under 2A by my calculations) if the bench PSU tests out ok.

It is intended to measure volatile organic chemicals in air, gases and head-spaces. It is a simple to operate unit and I saw mention somewhere that operating costs with consumables was around US$25 per day. That would be gas and septums mostly with the periodic UV lamp cleaning and occasional replacement. I do want to play with a GC one day.

I have a number of questions that will help me determine the future of the unit.

Firstly it has a DA15 female connector near the sampling port, is this perhaps for an auto-sampler of some sort, I did not see it mentioned in the manual?

I already looked in the battery pack and found an obvious fault. I am itching to look inside the main EX sealed unit, if I take great care and do not open any gas fittings is it safe for me to explore inside?

I am interested mostly for fun in testing the make up of commercial volatile solvents, denatured alcohols and consumer spirits. I am not sure if the columns and detector are ideal but could it be used for such applications?

If I wanted to transport samples collected in the field what sort of vials would make sense for manual head-space sample injection?

If I were to sell it what might be the value of such a unit if it were to wake up?

Could I hope to trade it for something more classic like an old HP setup that would be working and cheaper to run (software, consumables, columns, detectors)?

Should I delay my exploration and battery pack repair until I have found out if it has a tempting resale/exchange value that I don't compromise by poking around inside?

Would anyone be interested in seeing pictures of the insides? (I opened the front cover and there is little to see, IC's on the PCB show 1997, 1999, 2000 dates so this is an early unit).


Here is a list of some of the standard assay options. I see methyl and ethyl alcohol and industrial solvents are listed so I suppose it should work for me. Being able to determine the solvents in glues and paints is also of interest to me.

I see listed indoor air quality, this could even be a revenue generating sideline if the listed chemicals are common. While this is a big topic in Finland these days the primary suspect is usually fungal toxins that they sniff out with trained dogs.

It does look like a very capable universal instrument.

Environmental (Assay #1)
Forty VOCs, including those listed in U.S. EPA Methods 8240 and TO-14

Petrochemical/Refining (Assay #2)
Methanol, ethanol, methyl t-butyl ether (MTBE), t-amyl methyl ether (TAME), benzene, toluene, ethyl benzene, m-xylene, o-xylene

? (Assay #3)

ABS Rubber (Assay #4)
Acrylonitrile, styrene, 1,3-butadiene

Pulp and Paper (Assay #5)
Hydrogen sulfide, methyl mercaptan, ethyl mercaptan, methyl ethyl ketone (MEK), dimethyl sulfide (DMS), dimethyl disulfide (DMDS), alpha-pinene, methanol, acetone, surfactants and sterilants

(Assay #6)
Ethylene oxide, propylene oxide

Latex Polymers (Assay #7)
Methyl acrylate, ethyl acrylate, isobutyl acrylate, nbutyl acrylate, methyl methacrylate, acrylic acid, vinyl acetate, ethylene, styrene.

Various volatile organic compounds (VOCs), chlorinated solvents

Methylene chloride, acetonitrile, chloroform, acetone, toluene, hexane, methyl ethyl ketone, isopropanol, xylene, methanol

Agricultural Fumigants
Phosphine, bromomethane, sulfuryl fluoride

Indoor Air Quality
Acetone, benzene, chloromethane, ethanol, n-hexane, m-xylene, p-xylene, 2-propanol, toluene,1,1,1-trichloroethane

Toluene, acrylate esters, industrial solvents

Many thanks for your time taken to read this long essay.
Kalle Pihlajasaari
Lahti, Finland
Sadly, no experience on that kind of machines. However, it sounds very cool that someone bought a GC for personal entertainment! I wanted to do that for a long time. Now that I service HPLCs for a living, I might as well put an old unit in my basement! Good luck
Hi Kalle

Please don't worry about serious "frivolous" questions. Nice to see somebody experimenting.

Your proposed analyses would require different column phases. What column do you have?

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