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Production and analysis methods for pristine and degraded microplastic and nanoplastic reference materials


As most microplastic (MP) and nanoplastic (NP) environmental fate and hazard assessments utilise spherical, monodisperse polymer particles that do not represent the continuum of partially degraded, irregular-shaped MPs in the natural environment, there is a strong need for environmentally relevant test and reference materials (TRMs). Cryomilling approaches can readily generate bulk amounts of MP TRMs >100 μm, but only negligible amounts of TRMs below this size and into the nanoscale (<<0.1% by mass). Here, pristine polypropylene (PP), polyethylene (PE, HDPE and LDPE), polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polystyrene (PS) and Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) pellets were cryomilled to produce TRM stocks <100 μm. Characterisation showed all TRMs had a mean particle size of ~100 μm by volume and 0.5-2 μm by particle number, indicating high numbers of sMP and NP, but representing a very low mass. Cryomilled PET, PE and PS were used to develop a secondary TRM production step that combined UVC ozonation and probe sonication to promote further fragmentation. A hyphenated field flow fractionation and pyrolysis GC-MS workflow was developed for the mass-based quantification of sMP and NPs of defined size fractions. The approach was able to extract ~100% of sMP and ~80% of NP from aqueous dispersion and quantification limits were identified as ~0.1 ng, ~1 ng and ~1 μg for PET, PE and PS respectively. Morphology G3 was used to quantify the number of sMP, while nanotracking analysis was used to quantify the size distribution and number of NPs. Results suggested that the UVC ozonation and probe sonication strongly increased the quantity of sMP and NP, with mass fraction increases of 30x (PS), 15x (PET) and 6x (PE), respectively. The results suggest that environmentally relevant sMP and NP TRMs can be produced, but the method requires optimisation to generate quantities suitable for use in environmental fate and effects studies.


Academic lecture


  • Research Council of Norway (RCN) / 312262
  • EU / 21GRD07
  • Research Council of Norway (RCN) / 301157





  • SINTEF Ocean / Climate and Environment
  • Unknown
  • SINTEF Industry / Sustainable Energy Technology
  • Norwegian University of Science and Technology

Presented at

2nd International Symposium on Plastics in the Arctic and Sub-Arctic Region




22.11.2023 - 23.11.2023



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