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Comparison between peristaltic, syringe and pressure pumps for microfluidic applications

how to select the right microfuidic pump?

next generation core V2

In microfluidics, different types of flow delivery are used starting from the capillary forces, passing from the mechanical pumping and terminating by the new innovative techniques for fluid actuation such as the patented Fastab and LineUp. The use of the capillary forces to deliver fluids in microfluidics is limited to small amounts of fluid and depends on the microfluidic geometry. However, external pumps (such as syringe pump, peristaltic pump or pressure driven pump) provide better control of the fluid delivery.

This pump selection guide shows the advantages as well as the disadvantages for each method of fluid delivery in Microfluidics so it will help you to choose the proper one for your microfluidic application.

Overview of microfluidic pumps

Microfluidic peristaltic pumps:

Peristaltic pumping is based on the compression and the relaxation of flexible tubing. Rotating rollers pass along the tubing fitted inside the pump and compress it so a vacuum is created in the tubing, pulling the fluid (figure 1).  This method of fluid actuation may be used in microfluidic laboratories and is rather inexpensive.

Peristaltic pumping is a good option for large volumes and high flow rates as well as for fluid recirculation. However, the compression of the tubing induces pulses in the flow which is not suitable for most microfluidic applications where the flow precision is important.  Moreover the flexible tubing should be changed regularly to prevent tube damaging.

volumetric control peristaltic pump

Figure 1

volumetric control syringe pump

Figure 2: mode of operation of a syringe pump.

Syringe pumps in microfluidics:

A moving piston is pushed (or pulled) by a motor allowing for fluid delivery as presented on figure 2. Syringe pumps are good for the injection of small volume however they are less precise than pressure pumps in particularly at very low flow rates (see comparison below). A wide range of quality and  prices exist in the market.

The rotation of the motor induces pulses in the flow rate but pulse-less motors are proposed by some syringe pump providers. However, it still a volumetric control method and pulses, coming from the stiffness of tubing and/or microfluidic chip material, are not avoidable Additionally, pressure is not controlled on syringe pumps and could reach high values.

Pressure driven pumps (pressure controllers):

Fluid actuation by pressure driven pump consists of pressurizing reservoirs containing the sample so it is then rapidly injected into a microfluidic device. This size of the reservoir is very flexible ranging from 1.5/2ml Eppendorf tubes, to 15/50ml Falcon vials and even bigger bottles of several hundred milliliters (See Fluigent reservoir solutions). The controlled gas pressure pushes the fluid which then flows through the reservoir outlet as shown in figure 3. Due to the excellent regulation of the gas pressure controllers, one may achieve flow rates with high stability from sub-nanoliter/min to tens of milliliter/min (for example Fluigent MFCS-EZ™ and LineUp™ have resolution down to 7×10-3 mBar). Moreover, you can control directly the flow rates if a flow sensor (See Fluigent flow sensor solutions) is coupled with the pressure controller. The pressure will be adjusted thanks to powerful algorithms such a Fluigent FRCM and FDC (learn more). In addition,  fluid recirculation is possible with valves (see Fluigent valve solutions) coupled to the pressure controller.

A main advantage of  pressure pumps is that one can pressurize several reservoirs with only one pressure channel. This is a significant cost reduction to the setup if you want to inject sequentially different solutions (see an exemple).

pressure-driven flow technology

Figure 3: principal of pressure driven pump (Fluigent MFCS pressure controller (link)).

Advantages/disadvantages of each type of microfluidics pumps

Peristaltic pumpSyringe pumpPressure driven pump
  • Flow stability
BadMediumExcellent
  • Response time
HighLowExcellent
  • Precision
BadMediumExcellent
  • Volume limitation (for the liquid to be injected)
No (you can use open reservoirs)Yes (depends on the syringe volume)No (you can use big bottles)
  • Fluid recirculation
PossibleNot possibleNot possible (But you can use a special switch (link to L-switch,))
  • Injection of small volume sample
BadGood (use very small volume syringe)Medium (Difficult for less than 100µL)
  • Gas injection
NoNoYes
  • Sample agitation
Possible (as the sample is in separated reservoir)Not possiblePossible (as the sample is in separated reservoir)
  • Sample T°C control
Possible (you can put the reservoir in thermal bath)Not possiblePossible (you can put the reservoir in thermal bath
  • Possibility to create (program) complex flow profile
NoYesYes (www.fluigent.com/lineupseries)
  • Flow pressure control
NoNoYes
  • Flow rate control
Yes (but need calibration)YesNo (but it is possible if a flow sensor is added)
  • High flow rates
YesNot suitable as it is difficult to refill the syringeYes
  • Forward and back flow
YesYes (depends on the model)Yes (but needs to pressurize the outlet too)
  • Hydrostatic pressure influence
NoNoYes (but there is a lot of tips and tricks to avoid it)

COMPARATIVE DATA OF MICROFLUIDICS PUMPS

higher stability EX graph
flow-rate solution

HOW TO CHOOSE THE RIGHT MATERIALS FOR MICROFLUIDIC CHIPS?

Since its introduction, microfluidics keeps advancing along with technology, and expanding its fields of application. Biological and medical applications are a major focus of current research along with other areas. In terms of materials and functions, while glass and silicon have important uses, polymeric materials have become the material of choice in this field. As described above, they each have their own advantages and disadvantages. Though PDMS is still the more commonly used microfluidic material substrate, new materials and composites presenting interesting features are created in ordermake them more adapted to mass production with lower-price and greater adaptability.

Full chip comparison »

REFERENCES

  •  [1] Beebe, D. J., Mensing, G. A., & Walker, G. M. (2002). Physics and applications of microfluidics in biology. Annual review of biomedical engineering, 4(1), 261-286.
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