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J Chromatogr A. 2003 Feb 7;986(2):199-206.

Retention mechanism of fatty alcohol ethoxylates in reversed-phase liquid chromatography.

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  • 1Department of Chemistry and Polymer Research Institute, Pohang University of Science and Technology, Pohang 790-784, South Korea.


Fatty alcohol ethoxylates (FAEs) are widely used nonionic surfactants that have distributions in both alkyl and poly(ethylene oxide) (PEO) chain length. Generally, two-dimensional liquid chromatography technique is required for the complete characterization of both distributions. By selecting a proper stationary and mobile phase condition, however, we can obtain fully resolved chromatograms of a FAE sample (Brij 30) with respect to both alkyl and PEO chain length by using a single reversed-phase C18 column and aqueous acetonitrile mobile phase. FAEs show a peculiar reversed-phase liquid chromatography (RPLC) retention behavior with an aqueous-organic mobile phase, the retention mechanism of which has not been fully elucidated. For a fixed alkyl chain length, FAEs with higher-molecular-mass PEO block elutes first and the van't Hoff plot of the retention factor shows a curvature. The unique retention behavior can be understood from the opposite thermodynamic characteristics associated with RPLC retention of PEO block and alkyl chain: the sorption process of PEO to the non-polar stationary phase shows deltaH(o) > 0 and deltaS(o) > 0 while the alkyl chain shows deltaH(o) < 0 and deltaS(o) < 0 in contrast. The relative magnitude of the two contributions can change the elution order of the FAE. Therefore the often found, inverted elution order of FAEs (the early elution of FAEs with longer PEO block) is due to the positive enthalpic interaction of PEO blocks, which is a characteristic of the hydrophobic interaction. And the curvature of the van't Hoff plots was analyzed assuming the temperature dependent thermodynamic variables.

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