What is Titration Used For in Real Life?

by Lucy Bell-Young

Titration is an analytical quantitative method of determining the concentration of a known analyte by allowing it to gradually react with a titrant until an endpoint is reached. It has several industrial, medical, and commercial applications.

Most students who have taken chemistry subjects in high school are familiar with the basic methods of titration. No matter what type of titration is being carried out, the principles and steps involved are virtually identical. 

In a nutshell, the experiment uses a titrant of known concentration, an analyte of unknown concentration, a chemical indicator that usually changes colour, a graduated burette with a stopcock, a beaker or flask, and a burette holder with a stand.

Drip by drip, the titrant is slowly mixed with the analyte until the colour of the indicator changes, or until precipitates are formed. In some cases, indicators are not necessary. The same methods are used in the food and pharmaceutical industries in processing and developing products.

Why is Titration Important in Real Life?

Titration isn’t just an experiment you need to perform to pass chemistry in school. It has many important applications in everyday life, making it an indispensable analytical tool and quality control test.

For instance, a food processing company might use titration to calculate the precise amount of salt in a particular foodstuff. It can also be used to determine the concentration of vitamin C or vitamin E additives in foods. These factors not only determine the taste and nutritional value of the food products, but can also affect the aesthetics of them. For example, the concentration of additives directly impacts the overall colour of a food product.

Depending on the products being developed or manufactured, a food manufacturing company may use one or more of the following titration methods:

  • Acid/base titration: This is also known as a neutralisation reaction, wherein the endpoint is determined by a pH indicator. The final product doesn’t necessarily have to be completely neutralised; it all depends on the pH range of the indicator. This method of titration is useful when the product has to have a precise pH range that may affect its taste.
  • Reduction/oxidation titration (redox): This type of titration is basically a reaction between a reducing agent and an oxidising agent. This type of test is important because food preservation and shelf life may depend on how a processed food is oxidised.
  • Precipitation titration: This involves the formation of solid precipitates that are not soluble in water. The endpoint can be determined by several methods, including light scattering as the solution becomes cloudy. You can also use a potentiometer to determine the endpoint of the reaction. This type of titration is useful in water treatment processes.
  • Complexometric titration: This method is used for titrating metal ions that combine with organic compounds to form complexes. The endpoint of titration is when the metal ions irreversibly bind with a ligand.
Scientist carrying out titration experiment in laboratory

Titration in the Manufacturing Industry

The manufacturing industry is a very large sector. It’s defined by the mass production of all sorts of industrial and consumer products that are made from raw materials. It encompasses food processing, textile and apparel, wood product manufacturing, electronics, machinery, petroleum, pharmaceuticals, chemical manufacturing – the list goes on.

Food processing, chemical manufacturing, and pharmaceutical manufacturing are the three businesses in the manufacturing sector that heavily rely on titration methods. These are used in several important areas, including product research and development, quality control, and large-scale production. In these industries, high level calibrations of raw materials are necessary, and this is what titration can aid in.

For example, in the pharmaceutical sector, the following aspects require titrations:

  • Analysing purity: Typically, acid-base titrations are performed in order to analyse the purity of medicines. Many medicines use either acids or bases as ingredients or reagents. The drug ephedrine, for example, which is commonly found in many cough syrups, can be tested for purity using acid-base titration. An acid known as perchloric acid is used during this.
  • Analysing content: Oxidation-reduction titrations are often used to determine the content purity of certain raw materials, including non-pharmacologically active ingredients, like binding substances, which are used in medicine tablets.
  • Preparing pharmaceutical products: Some medicines are prepared through precipitation reactions. The endpoint of titration in these instances is also the formation of the pharmaceutical product. One good example of these is the antifungal drug clotrimazole.

Meanwhile, titration is also extensively used in the manufacture of biodiesel fuel from vegetable oil, where the acidity of waste vegetable oils from various sources, such as fast food restaurants, is determined through the experiment. Recycled vegetable oils are among the main ingredients of biodiesel. Only a small sample per batch has to be tested to get the proper balance.

Equipment for automatic titration in food
Automatic titrators are often used in food and pharmaceutical labs to increase accuracy and optimise processes

Titration in the Water Industry

When we talk about the water industry, we’re talking about a wide range of operations and various units. It includes water engineering, potable and wastewater treatment plants, equipment supply chain for water treatment, specialist water treatment chemicals, and water purification, amongst other things.

Titration is primarily used in the water industry to test water on various parameters, like the pH and chemical content, thereby allowing for more efficient water treatment. For example, precipitation titrations can be performed on samples of municipal waters to determine the endpoints of precipitation reactions, and to remove suspended solids.

Determining contaminants in wastewater is a crucial step that must be done before releasing it into the environment. While most contaminants from factories are well-accounted for, some may slip through and contaminate groundwater. This is why groundwater must also be tested.

How is Titration Used in the Dairy Industry?

Milk is a little on the acidic side because of how much lactic acid it contains. It has a pH range of 6.6 to 6.8. By comparison, other dairy products have a lower pH, like yoghurt, which has a pH range of 4.4 to 4.8.

The reason milk is more acidic is because bacteria is added to milk to turn it to other products, like cheese. The metabolic processes of the bacteria then produce lactic acid, essentially acidifying the milk. Titration is used here to determine the right amount of microbes needed to ferment milk into other products.


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