A recent study looking into alternative solvents for HPLCs has discovered a rather surprising candidate -  liquor store spirits.

As far as chemical analytical tools go, HPLCs are among the most useful and widely utilized. Enabling chemists to separate mixtures, identify their components and determine their relative abundance, high-pressure liquid chromatographs are indispensable in labs around the world.

Unfortunately, these machines have their drawbacks. They require vast quantities of expensive solvents to run, which must be disposed of as hazardous waste. In 2009, the price of the most commonly-used solvent, acetonitrile, skyrocketed. Chemists seeking reprieve then turned to HPLC-grade ethanol.  Unfortunately, this too can cost as much as $120 per liter.

The machines are becoming more universally accessible due to improvements in technology and manufacturing. Naturally, the next step should be making the eluents more accessible as well. The researchers at Merck Research Laboratories combined various liquors with store-bought ammonia and white vinegar. 

Other than grain alcohol, the drinks tested included rum, vodka, cacha├ža, and aguardiente. The eluent was then used to separate a mixture of five compounds—uracil, caffeine, 1-phenylethanol, butylparaben, and anthracene—in a conventional HPLC instrument.

The low-cost mixtures performed surprisingly well. Grain alcohol performed about as well as HPLC-grade ethanol in some cases. While lower-proof spirits tended to produce poorer separation, the results were reasonable, especially with more polar analytes. 


Cooney, Catherine M. "Liquor-Store Spirits Provide Green Alternative To HPLC Solvents "Chemical & Engineering News (2015): n. pag. 17 April 2015. Web. 28 April 2015.