In physical gas adsorption, an inert gas, mostly nitrogen, is adsorbed on the surface of a solid material. This occurs on the outer surface and, in case of porous materials, also on the surface of pores. Most widely known is the determination of the BET surface area by gas adsorption. Adsorption of nitrogen at a temperature of 77 K leads to a so-called adsorption isotherm, sometimes referred to as BET analysis or BET isotherm, which is mostly measured over porous materials. In specific cases, like for zeolites or activated carbons, the use of argon adsorption or carbon dioxide adsorption is often preferred over nitrogen adsorption to accurately probe the small micropores. Samples with low surface area can adequately be characterized by krypton gas adsorption. In those cases, only a part of the BET isotherm can be measured, but this still provides a BET surface area area with high accuracy.
Monolayer formation of gas molecules on the surface is used to determine the specific surface area, while the principle of capillary condensation can be applied to assess the presence of pores, pore volume and pore size distribution. Prior to the measurement, the sample is pre-treated at elevated temperature in vacuum or flowing gas in order to remove any contaminants.
In general, two different techniques can be distinguished:
>> The flow technique uses a TCD detector to obtain information on the amount of adsorbed gas resulting in a specific BET surface area and/or total pore volume.
>> The volumetric technique provides more information, since many adsorption and/or desorption points are measured providing a full isotherm with information on BET surface area, pore volume and pore size distribution.
The flow measurements are performed on a Qsurf M3 analyzer and the report consists of a single value for the BET area or total pore volume. The volumetric adsorption measurements can be performed on a variety of instruments, such as Quantachrome Autosorb-6B (N2 or CO2), Micromeritics TriStar 3000 (N2), Micromeritics Gemini or Micromeritics ASAP 2020 (Ar or Kr) and the report can be a single value for the BET surface area up to a full report on isotherm, specific surface area, total pore volume and pore size distribution.