What is the Difference Between FID and TCD Detector

FID (Flame Ionization Detector) and TCD (Thermal Conductivity Detector) are both types of detectors used in gas chromatography. However, there is a distinct difference between FID and TCD detectors based on different principles.

What is the difference between FID and TCD detectors? FID works by measuring ions produced when organic compounds are burned in a hydrogen-air flame, whereas TCD works by measuring changes in the thermal conductivity of the carrier gas caused by the presence of analyte molecules.

Key Areas Covered

1. What is FID  
      – Definition, Features, Applications
2. What is TCD 
      – Definition, Features, Applications 
3. Similarities Between FID and TCD Detector
      – Outline of Common Features
4. Difference Between FID and TCD Detector
      – Comparison of Key Differences
5. FAQ: FID and TCD Detector
      – Frequently Asked Questions

Key Terms

FID, Flame Ionization Detector, TCD, Thermal Conductivity Detector, Gas Chromatography

Difference Between FID and TCD - Comparison Summary

What is FID

The Flame Ionization Detector (FID) is a widely used analytical instrument in gas chromatography (GC) for detecting and quantifying organic compounds. Its principle relies on the combustion of organic compounds in a hydrogen flame, generating ions that are then detected.

Operating based on flame ionization, FID consists of several key components. A carrier gas, typically hydrogen, carries the sample through a heated column where separation of compounds occurs based on their chemical properties. As the compounds exit the column, they enter the flame, usually composed of hydrogen and air. In the flame, carbon atoms from the organic compounds undergo combustion, forming ions and electrons.

Flame Ionization Detector (FID)

The ions and electrons generated in the flame move towards a collector electrode, producing a small electrical current. This current is proportional to the concentration of the organic compounds present in the sample. An amplifier then magnifies this signal, which is subsequently recorded and analyzed by a data acquisition system.

One of the primary advantages of FID is its high sensitivity, which makes it capable of detecting organic compounds at low concentrations, typically in the parts per billion (ppb) range. Additionally, it offers a wide linear dynamic range, allowing for accurate quantification across a broad concentration range.

Furthermore, FID exhibits excellent selectivity for organic compounds, making it suitable for a diverse range of applications, including environmental monitoring, pharmaceutical analysis, petrochemical analysis, and forensic science.

Despite its widespread use and advantages, FID does have limitations. It is primarily applicable to organic compounds that can be vaporized and efficiently combusted in the flame. Additionally, it requires a continuous supply of hydrogen and air for the flame, which can be a safety concern due to the flammability of hydrogen gas.

What is TCD

A Thermal Conductivity Detector (TCD) is a widely used analytical instrument in gas chromatography (GC) that measures changes in thermal conductivity caused by a sample as it passes through a heated column. It is particularly effective for detecting compounds that have low or no inherent thermal conductivity, such as gases or compounds lacking functional groups. TCD consists of a heated filament, usually made of platinum or tungsten, which serves as both the sample detector and a temperature sensor.

When a sample enters the detector, it disrupts the flow of the carrier gas, altering the rate at which heat is transferred from the filament to the surrounding gas. This change in thermal conductivity is measured and converted into an electrical signal, which is then amplified and recorded as a chromatogram.

Thermal Conductivity Detector (TCD)

One of the key advantages of TCD is its sensitivity to a wide range of compounds, making it suitable for detecting trace levels of analytes. It also offers a linear response over a broad concentration range, allowing for accurate quantification of compounds. Additionally,  TCD is highly stable and robust, requiring minimal maintenance.

Despite its many advantages, TCD does have limitations. It is not as sensitive as some other detectors, such as FID, which can detect compounds at lower concentrations. Additionally, TCD is limited to non-destructive detection, meaning that it cannot provide information about the chemical structure of the compounds being analyzed.

Similarities Between FID and TCD

  1. FID and TCD are universal detectors, meaning they can detect a wide range of compounds, making them versatile in various analytical applications.
  2.  Moreover, they are highly sensitive detectors capable of detecting trace amounts of analytes in a sample.

Difference Between FID and TCD


  • FID is an analytical instrument in gas chromatography that measures ions generated from burning organic compounds in a hydrogen-air flame, while TCD is an analytical instrument in gas chromatography that measures changes in the thermal conductivity of carrier gas due to analyte molecules.


  • FID detects compounds by measuring the ionization of carbon atoms in a flame, while TCD detects compounds based on changes in thermal conductivity as the sample passes through a heated filament.


  • TCD has lower sensitivity compared to FID, particularly for compounds with low thermal conductivity.


  • FID is relatively non-selective, detecting most organic compounds with carbon-hydrogen bonds, while TCD is more selective as it responds to changes in thermal conductivity, making it suitable for detecting non-organic compounds as well.


In conclusion, while both FID and TCD detectors play vital roles in gas chromatography, their operational principles and applications diverge. FID relies on flame ionization to detect organic compounds with high sensitivity and broad selectivity, while TCD measures changes in thermal conductivity, offering versatility in detecting various compounds but with lower sensitivity. Despite their differences, both detectors serve as universal tools, capable of detecting a wide range of compounds.


1. What is the use of a TCD detector?

The TCD detector is commonly used in gas chromatography to detect permanent gases, light hydrocarbons, and compounds that exhibit poor responsiveness to the Flame Ionization Detector (FID). Its sensitivity and selectivity make it particularly useful for analyzing samples with low molecular weight components.

2. What does FID detect?

FID is primarily used to detect and quantify hydrocarbon compounds in gas chromatography. It is highly sensitive to the presence of hydrocarbons, including methane, as well as other organic compounds that can be converted to ions in a hydrogen-air flame.

3. What is the main advantage of a FID over a TCD?

The main advantage of a FID over a TCD is its high sensitivity to hydrocarbons. FIDs are specifically designed to detect and quantify hydrocarbon compounds with exceptional sensitivity, often surpassing that of TCDs. This heightened sensitivity makes FIDs particularly advantageous for analyzing complex mixtures containing a wide range of hydrocarbons.

4. Is TCD a universal detector?

TCD is a universal detector for gas chromatography because it responds to virtually any compound except the carrier gas. This means it can detect a wide range of analytes, making it suitable for various applications.


1. “Flame Ionization Detector.” Science Direct.
2. “Thermal Conductivity Detector.” Science Direct.

Image Courtesy:

1. “Flame ionization detector schematic” By Kkmurray – Own work (CC BY-SA 3.0) via Commons Wikimedia
2. “Thermal Conductivity Detector 1” By Mattj63 – Own work (Public Domain) via Commons Wikimedia

About the Author: Hasini A

Hasini is a graduate of Applied Science with a strong background in forestry, environmental science, chemistry, and management science. She is an amateur photographer with a keen interest in exploring the wonders of nature and science.

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