There are two types of columns in common use in GC and they are the conventional packed column and the open tubular column. The former are usually 2 to 4 mm I.D. and 1 to 4 meters long and, packed with a suitable adsorbent, are mostly used for gas analysis. As a result of the simpler injection procedure and the more precise sampling method, the packed column tends to give greater quantitative accuracy and precision. However, despite its problems with sample injection, the open tubular column is seen as the 'state of the art' column and is by far the most popular column system in general use. The length of open tubular columns range from about 10 m to 100 m and can have internal diameters from 100 mm to 500 mm. The stationary phase is coated on the internal wall of the column as a film 0.2 mm to 1 mm thick.
The Packed GC Column
Packed columns are usually constructed from stainless steel or Pyrex glass. Pyrex glass is favored when thermally labile materials are being separated such as essential oils and flavor components. However, glass has pressure limitations and for long packed columns, stainless steel columns are used as they can easily tolerate the necessary elevated pressures. The sample must, of course, be amenable to contact with hot metal surfaces. Short columns can be straight, and installed vertically in the chromatograph. Longer columns can be U-shaped but columns more than a meter long are usually coiled. Such columns can be constructed of any practical length and relatively easily installed. Pyrex glass columns are formed to the desired shape by coiling at about 700˚C and metal columns by bending at room temperature. Glass columns are sometimes treated with an appropriate silanizing reagent to eliminate the surface hydroxyl groups which can be catalytically active or produce asymmetric peaks. Stainless steel columns are usually washed with dilute hydrochloric acid, then extensively with water followed by methanol, acetone, methylene dichloride and n-hexane. This washing procedure removes any corrosion products and traces of lubricating agents used in the tube drawing process. The columns are then ready for packing.