National Physical Laboratory

2016 EMPIR projects

NPL-led projects

Harmonising measurements of black carbon

Black carbon, emitted from sources such as diesel engines and wood burning, is a major contributor to climate change, second only in importance to carbon dioxide, and a primary component and key indicator of particulate matter, known to cause hundreds of thousands of premature deaths across Europe each year. However, the different instruments in use for measuring the amount of black carbon in the atmosphere give results that differ by up to 30%, and there is currently no way to link measurements to the SI and define the correct result.

This project will provide a workable solution to this problem by putting traceability and calibration mechanisms in place for black carbon measurements for the first time, improving their accuracy and comparability. The improved measurements resulting from this work will be used to refine climate change models and mitigation proposals, and improve the quality of conclusions from population studies investigating the health effects of air pollution.

Find out more about NPL's Chemical Metrology research

Improving climate observations from space

The full extent of the impact of climate change on society and the most effective strategies to mitigate it remain uncertain. A key limitation is the performance of forecast models and the quality of the data that drives them. Remote sensing from space is the major means of obtaining climate data on a global scale, but the challenging conditions faced during launch and in space severely limit the accuracy of measurements made there.

This project will improve pre- and post-launch calibration and validation of remote climate sensors, by improving the usability of standards in space and enhancing the capabilities of ground-based test sites, and establish a method for assigning quality metrics to climate data. This will further improve the reliability of evidence concerning the scale and timescale of climate change for policy makers, and provide essential support to the implementation of mitigation and adaptation strategies that ensure a sustainable environment and quality of life for European citizens.

Find out more about NPL's Earth Observation and Climate research


Future-proof emissions monitoring

Air pollution is responsible for around 400,000 premature deaths and €330-€949 billion in health-related costs each year in Europe. In an effort to protect citizens' quality of life, limits on air pollutants are continually becoming more stringent, and limits continue to be introduced for previously unregulated pollutants. However, the necessary framework of standardised measurement methods to meet these requirements is not fully in place.

This project will address this measurement gap by developing measurement methods for newly measured pollutants, such as ammonia and hydrogen fluoride, address the lack of uncertainty characterisation in flow measurements and develop next-generation techniques for increasingly-stringent pollution limits. The results will enable regulators, process plant operators, manufacturers and measurement service providers to comply with emission limits and monitoring requirements, supporting efforts to ensure cleaner air across Europe for the benefit of public health and the environment.

Find out more about NPL's Environmental Measurement research

Direct measurements of nitrogen dioxide for cleaner air

Nitrogen dioxide (NO22) is produced when fuels are burned - for example, in car engines and power stations - and has one of the greatest impacts on human health of all air pollutants. Levels of NO2 in the atmosphere must be reduced if we are to improve quality of life for European citizens and reduce the economic burden of health problems caused by NO2 exposure. However, NO2 is the only regulated air pollutant that is not directly measured, resulting in more uncertain and less accurate measurements.

This project will develop capabilities for the direct measurement of NO2 using newly-available techniques and direct calibration with more accurate and stable primary reference standards. More accurate measurements of NO2 will bring greater confidence in identified trends in emissions and air quality, and support the development and implementation of effective, evidence-based mitigation policies needed to reduce pollution levels.

Find out more about NPL's Chemical Metrology research

London air pollution

Identifying the source of greenhouse gas emissions

Immediate action is required to prevent irreversible changes to the Earth's climate due to greenhouse gas emissions. Researchers need to be able to discriminate man-made from natural emissions in the atmosphere, to provide governments with accurate emissions inventory data and support the verification of progress towards emissions reduction targets. However, this cannot be achieved with the existing measurement infrastructure.

This project will provide a new infrastructure including methods and instrumentation to underpin measurements of stable isotopes of carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide, two major greenhouse gases, which infer their origin. This will be instrumental in providing more accurate, comparable data to separate various man-made sources of greenhouse gas emissions from each other, as well as from natural sources. This will enable governments to develop accurate emissions inventories and models to comply with legislation, and inform new policy and better abatement strategies to help prevent dangerous climate change.

Find out more about NPL's Chemical Metrology research

Accelerating development of innovative energy technologies

Two key challenges facing developers of innovative energy technologies are ensuring their long-term durability and accelerating time-to-market. One area in which this is particularly challenging is the development of thin films, used in a range of energy applications from photovoltaics to batteries. The complexity of thin films means that device performance and degradation are affected by a combination of characteristics, and their assessment requires a new analytical approach to combined data analysis.

This project will develop a European hybrid metrology capability for the characterisation of thin film performance and durability in energy applications, merging areas of metrology previously developed in isolation to deliver better support for the energy sector. This will include the development of new methods to enable datasets from multiple measurements to be combined. The new capabilities will aid the development of new, innovative energy technologies based on thin films, in turn supporting progress towards energy efficiency and renewable energy targets.

Find out more about NPL's Electrochemistry research

Photovoltaic solar panel

Driving uptake of hydrogen vehicles

Hydrogen is one of the most promising alternative fuels for future energy and transport applications, offering to increase energy security and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. To support its use as a low carbon transport fuel, an extensive infrastructure for hydrogen-powered vehicles is currently in development across Europe. However, the hydrogen industry cannot yet meet the measurement requirements of legislation surrounding the use of hydrogen fuel, due to a lack of methods and standards.

This project is the first of its kind to tackle these measurement challenges. The project will develop methods, standards and calibration facilities to ensure accurate flow metering and fair pricing for customers at refuelling stations, and methods, reference gases and online analysers to provide quality assurance and control of the hydrogen dispensed. These results will support the uptake of low-emission hydrogen vehicles and the growth of Europe's hydrogen economy by increasing confidence among both manufacturers and consumers.

Find out more about NPL's Chemical Metrology research

Safe and cost-effective disposal of nuclear waste

One of the most significant environmental challenges facing Europe is ensuring the safe disposal of radioactive waste from decommissioning nuclear sites, the cost of which is estimated to be in excess of €150 billion. The key to safe and cost-effective disposal of this waste is accurate quantification of its radioactivity content, so that decommissioning can be most effectively planned and implemented, minimising the risk of exposure to the public and the environment.

This project will enable nuclear site operators to characterise waste material rapidly and accurately, throughout all stages of the disposal process, by providing validated techniques for measuring radioactivity on site, and segregating and monitoring waste. The results will better allow waste to be consigned to the most cost-effective disposal option, improve staff safety through the use of remote and automated measurements, and prevent costly delays to decommissioning projects with more rapid turnaround of results.

Find out more about NPL's Radioactivity research

Nuclear power station

NPL-partnered projects

  • Mobile detection of ionising radiation
  • Aerosol metrology for atmospheric science and air quality
  • Advanced photovoltaic energy rating
  • Smart energy management in electric railway systems
  • Metrology for biogas
  • Advanced energy-saving technology in next-generation electronics
  • Inductive charging of electric vehicles
  • Metrological support for alternative transport fuels

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2016 EMPIR projects



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