Free fatty acid (FFA) compositions are examined in feedstock for biodiesel production, as source-specific markers in soil, and because of their role in cellular signaling. However, sample preparation of FFAs for gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) analysis can be time and labor intensive. Therefore, to increase sample preparation throughput, a glass microfluidic device was developed to automate derivatization of FFAs to fatty acid methyl esters (FAMEs). FFAs were delivered to one input of the device and methanolic-HCl was delivered to a second input. FAME products were produced as the reagents traversed a 29 μL reaction channel held at 55 °C. A Design of Experiment protocol was used to determine the combination of derivatization time (Tder) and ratio of methanolic-HCl:FFA (Rder) that maximized the derivatization efficiencies of tridecanoic acid and stearic acid to their methyl ester forms. The combination of Tder = 0.8 min and Rder = 4.9 that produced optimal derivatization conditions for both FFAs within a 5 min total sample preparation time was determined. This combination of Tder and Rder was used to derivatize 12 FFAs with a range of derivatization efficiencies from 18% to 93% with efficiencies of 61% for tridecanoic acid and 84% for stearic acid. As compared to a conventional macroscale derivatization of FFA to FAME, the microfluidic device decreased the volume of methanolic-HCl and FFA by 20- and 1300-fold, respectively. The developed microfluidic device can be used for automated preparation of FAMEs to analyze the FFA compositions of volume-limited samples.
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