Traceable gas samples lead to more reliable breathalyser tests


EMPIR project enables reference material expertise and measurement capabilities to be transferred across National Measurement Institutes

More widespread alcohol testing for drivers is seen as a key measure in reducing road deaths. Access to breathalysers of agreed standards across Europe is key to this. To accurately calibrate these breathalysers, there is a need for standardised test gases similar to human breath with defined concentrations of alcohol. Such gases can be produced from aqueous ethanol solutions.

Prior to the work of this project, only two European National Measurement Institutes (NMIs) could produce certified ethanol solutions suitable for breath analyser calibration.

Completed EMPIR project Certified forensic alcohol reference materials (16RPT02, ALCOREF) has built production capabilities for ethanol/water reference materials and analytical methods for quantifying ethanol in water at NMIs/DIs across Europe, allowing them to reproducibly create alcohol reference materials traceable to the International System of Units (SI). Each NMI has developed a strategy for the long-term development of their measurement and production capabilities, aligned with a European wide approach.

Specific project achievements include:

  • GUM (Poland) delivered 47 units of their new Certified Reference Materials to 3 customers.
  • Three Calibration and Measurement Capabilities (CMC) claims submitted by LNE (France), IAPR (Greece) and TUBITAK (Turkey) passed the inter-regional review process and were published in the BIPM Key Comparison database. This database contains information on the internationally recognised CMCs for services available from the participating institutes, and the key and supplementary comparisons supporting these.
  • A training course on the production of ethanol in water Certified Reference Materials for researchers from the Bureau of Metrology BOM, North Macedonia, was organised at DMDM (Serbia).

Wider access to certified reference materials will allow manufacturers of breathalysers and calibration authorities to meet common standards and so support better enforcement of drink driving laws across Europe.

The achievements of this Capacity Building project illustrate the aim of this special kind of Joint Research Project – to transfer knowledge from an NMI with strong expertise in a particular technical area to other NMIs and DIs in order to improve their research and operational capabilities.

Project Coordinator Rosemarie Philipp from BAM said

‘The main impact of this project has been achieved through new certified ethanol in water reference materials in countries where they were not available before. These materials are now ready for the type approval and regular calibration of evidential breath alcohol analysers. Furthermore, the project helped to reduce the gap between experienced and developing European National Metrology Institutes. Project partners are now able to provide new services to customers in the long-term.’

This EMPIR project is co-funded by the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme and the EMPIR Participating States.

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