Worldwide, there is an increasing demand for new reference materials for a broadening range of applications and a greater variety of analyte-matrix combinations. In striving to meet this demand, reference material producers have to handle a wider variety of less stable materials, especially those of biological origin, often running a greater risk of cross-contamination during processing.
For this reason, the JRC decided several years ago that new facilities were needed for its reference material programme, in order to be able to adapt the targeted measurement benchmarks in response to changing requirements. The result is a scientific and technical facility with specialised laboratories and a versatile pilot plant for material processing.
The new processing hall bridges the gap between laboratory and industrial scale, and it will enable JRC-IRMM to remain at the forefront of reference material development and production. The facility will be used to develop reference materials in support of EU legislation that provide laboratories around the world with benchmarks to deliver accurate, harmonised and traceable results.
The building features a material-processing hall that provides for parallel material handling, thanks to movable walls and separate air-handling systems which divide the hall into up to four separate areas. Consequently, four different reference materials can be processed at a time without any risk of cross-contamination. This facility is unique amongst the major producers of reference materials worldwide.
Moreover, a number of dedicated rooms adjacent to the processing hall allow a logical sequence of activities and equipment to support the main processing areas like washing and handling of glassware, capping and labelling of vials and a process control laboratory incorporating microscopy, particle size analysis and measurements of water content.
The building houses bio-safety laboratories (level class 3) which equip the European Commission with an in-house facility for the safe handling of potent human pathogens (bacteria and viruses). A sequence of six laboratories has been designed to host microbiology and protein chemistry using, for instance, high resolution organic mass spectrometry. Access to bio safety cabinets, a waste autoclave and a cool-cell make these labs also highly suitable for supporting the developments in the field of clinical reference materials.
The building also includes three laboratories for element analysis. Sample preparation is located in one laboratory with access to metal-free clean benches and fume hoods together with high-capacity digestion systems for mineralisation of samples. Two instrumental laboratories currently house an inductively coupled plasma massspectrometer, a solid sampling atomic absorption spectrometer and an inductively coupled plasma optical emission spectrometer, mainly for the measurement of trace elements.
Other features include a new freeze dryer and equipment for manipulating and stabilising slurries and pastes for the provision of solid but wet reference materials. The building also contains a laboratory for the processing of water reference materials, consisting of 4 x 500 litre drums which can be made into one volume of 2000 litre thanks to the inert pumps that re-circulate water in the system.