ISO 15901-1:2016 describes a method for the evaluation of the pore size distribution and the specific surface area of pores in solids by mercury porosimetry according to the method of Ritter and Drake. It is a comparative test, usually destructive due to mercury contamination, in which the volume of mercury penetrating a pore or void is determined as a function of an applied hydrostatic pressure, which can be related to a pore diameter.
Practical considerations presently limit the maximum applied absolute pressure to about 400 MPa (60 000 psi) corresponding to a minimum equivalent pore diameter of approximately 4 nm. The maximum diameter is limited for samples having a significant depth due to the difference in hydrostatic head of mercury from the top to the bottom of the sample. For the most purposes, this limit can be regarded as 400 µm. The measurements cover inter-particle and intra-particle porosity. In general, without additional information from other methods it is difficult to distinguish between these porosities where they co-exist. The method is suitable for the study of most porous materials non-wettable by mercury. Samples that amalgamate with mercury, such as certain metals, e.g. gold, aluminium, copper, nickel and silver, can be unsuitable with this technique or can require a preliminary passivation. Under the applied pressure some materials are deformed, compacted or destroyed, whereby open pores may be collapsed and closed pores opened. In some cases it may be possible to apply sample compressibility corrections and useful comparative data may still be obtainable. For these reasons, the mercury porosimetry technique is considered to be comparative.