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Reference materials for materials science

Reference materials for materials science underpin many industrial processes and give companies as well as regulators the confidence in these measurements that strengthen assessments of legal as well as company and customer-specific specifications.

Reference materials for materials science

Maintaining and enhancing competitiveness of European companies is a prerequisite for increasing the level of employment in the European Union and to ensure sustained wealth of its citizens. The European Green Deal is the EU’s new growth strategy, aiming to transform the EU into a fairer and more prosperous society, with a modern, resource-efficient and competitive economy. Better product design critically relies on reliable knowledge of material properties, as only this allows reduction of unnecessary slack. This precise knowledge is achieved by standardised measurements of high accuracy, as demonstrated by e.g. Directive 97/23/EC (pressure equipment) and Directive 89/106/EC (construction materials), which prescribe the use of standardised tests (e.g. ISO-148, EN10045) to ensure the quality of raw materials (steel etc.) while maintaining competition within the European Union. These standards, and hence implementation of this legislation, prescribe the use of certified reference materials.

Moreover, the rapid economic development of, inter alia, India and China resulted in bottlenecks in the markets for raw materials. For this reason, the Flagship Strategy "An industrial policy for the globalisation era" calls for measures to tackle the challenge in commodity markets and to promote liberalisation of trade to create a level playing field for industry on a global scale. One important prerequisite for liberalised trade and free markets is comparability of measurements, as this ensures that specifications can be compared globally. This comparability of measurements is underpinned by certified reference materials. The JRC supports these initiatives by providing certified reference materials for the testing of fossil fuels, to allow laboratories within the Union and also worldwide, ensuring correctness of their measurements and effective control of specifications.

The JRC produces a wide range of materials; an exhaustive list can be retrieved via the online catalogue for reference materials. 

Composition of metals

The impurities of alloys and pure metals often determine the price on the world market and accurate measurements are therefore crucial to ensure competition and access to world markets. To meet this demand, the JRC offers various alloys and pure metals (Cu, Ti, Pb, Zn, Zn alloys) certified for the mass fraction of various impurities. While development of some of these materials was funded by different European Commission initiatives in the past, the JRC had taken over sole responsibility for quality control of the finished materials and replacement of exhausted materials.

Morphological properties of particles

Particle size, surface area and pore-size volume are important parameters for many industrial processes. For example, concrete requires the components to have a clearly defined particle size. In addition, many industrial processes require transport of materials in a granular form, which also requires constant particle sizes.

The JRC supports quality control and technical development in this field by offering CRMs for particle size distributions and shear testing, pore size volume and specific surface area of (nano)particles. This reference material work is complemented by intensive involvement in the development of documentary standards.

Composition of polymers


European Legislation limits the mass fractions of elements and polybrominated flame retardants in electrical and electronic equipment (Directive 2002/95/EC), end of life vehicles (Directive 2000/53/EC) and on packaging and packaging waste (1994/62/EC). The importance of such regulation became clear when the Netherlands seized 1.3 million game consoles destined for the Christmas season because one cable contained too much cadmium. Reliable methods and common measurement standards are necessary for the industry to ensure that their supplies are in compliance with legislation as well as for regulators to ensure that no illegal material enters the European market.

The JRC is supporting laboratories in this field by developing certified reference materials for elements in plastics. 

All reference materials available at JRC can be found in the Reference materials catalogue

To find out more about the JRC's work on similar topics, explore the related JRC portfolios:

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