Unilever counts on ultraWAVE to reach very low detection limits for trace metal analysis



Unilever has six Research & Development facilities around the world. The Vlaardingen R&D facility in the Netherlands is the research centre for Unilever’s foods brands, and also the development centre for Spreads and Dressings brands and Food Solutions. In addition it houses the regional development centre for Home Care and Personal Care. Employing more than 900 people, Vlaardingen is home to Unilever’s global research expertise in Structures and Structuring and Advanced Process Science; Nutrition and Health; Taste and Flavour; Microbiology and Analytical.


The number of samples they digest is between 660 and 1100 per month.
Prior to the acquisition of the first ultraWAVE in 2016, they were using a closed-vessel microwave system with a 12-position rotor. The main challenge with this instrument was the contamination in the vessels during the sample preparation step. Consequently they could not reach the very low detection limits they wanted to achieve. This was true especially for reactive samples like oil, cheese and other high fat content samples that led to a lot of problems in obtaining low blanks.
The ultraWAVE is employed to prepare difficult samples that are analyzed with ICP-MS and the conventional microwave unit remains for some easy sample dissolutions then analyzed with ICP-OES.
To date, I haven’t found any sample I cannot digest in the ultraWAVE.
Juliën Boelhouwer, Research Scientist, Unilever R&D Center, Vlaardingen
  • Unilever


With the aid of the ultraWAVE microwave digestion system, that can digest up to 22 samples with mixed acid including HNO3, HCl and HF under high temperatures (up to 260°C) and high pressure (up to 150 bar), the laboratory has been successfully digesting various geological rock samples (mantle rock, volcanic rock, sediment and metamorphic rocks), zeolite, polymers, and heavy crude oils.
The research scientists at the end were able to detect up to 57 trace elements in crude oils down to sub-ppb levels for crude oil characterization.


The ultraWAVE is based on the SRC (Single Reaction Chamber) technology, that achieves extraordinary performance capabilities combining microwave heating with a high-pressure reactor which acts simultaneously as microwave cavity and vessel.

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“Everyone in the lab now uses the ultraWAVE because of its ease of use and the possibility to use disposable vials that saves a lot of time over conventional microwave systems. Also, the overall digestion run is shorter due to the very fast cool down time of the water cooled digestion chamber.”