U.S. Senators View Demonstrations, Models on Localized Steel Corrosion

U.S. senators and staff members viewed demonstrations and models on how corrosion impacts infrastructure in each state. Photo courtesy of Saudi Aramco.

Researchers at the Aramco Research Center (Boston, Massachusetts, USA) have teamed up with scientists from the U.S. Center for Integrated Nanotechnologies (CINT) at Sandia National Laboratories (Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA) to investigate the nanoscale mechanisms responsible for corrosion initiation and progression in steel.

Recently, this team’s work was brought to the attention of the U.S. Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee at a user science exhibition. “Each national lab selected their most successful and impactful user collaboration,” says Andreas Roelofs, director of CINT. 

Out of thousands of candidates, the team’s proposal was one of 15 chosen for an interactive display at the exhibition. As part of the event, the team interacted with U.S. senators and staff members, using demonstrations and models to explain scientific investigations and important findings. The team’s booth highlighted estimated corrosion costs in each senator’s state and their effect on bridges there, including a percentage that are structurally compromised or functionally obsolete because of corrosion. Visitors then interacted with a sifting sand demonstration that explained the difference between uniformed and localized corrosion.

One of the big challenges in avoiding corrosion-related disasters stems from the difference between uniform and localized corrosion, says Rachael Grudt, a lab scientist at Aramco Services Co., the U.S. subsidiary of state-owned petroleum company Saudi Aramco (Dhahran, Saudi Arabia). She explains that uniform corrosion progresses at a predictable rate based on conditions. However, localized corrosion, which can progress much faster than uniform corrosion, is very poorly understood, and therefore, much more challenging to predict. It is localized corrosion that often leads to infrastructure and pipeline failures sooner than expected, with varying degrees of catastrophe resulting.

The next step for the senators was to use a light board and puzzle combined with various graphical data sets that the team had three-dimensionally printed from the Boston center.

The final technique allowed the senators to observe results of the team’s most recent advancement—flowing a liquid solution over a steel sample about the size of a bacterium inside an electron microscope and watching in real time as corrosion initiated at the nanoscale level.

“Our collaboration with CINT allows us to apply highly scientific, cutting-edge technologies to understand corrosion of real-world pipeline steel,” says Steven C. Hayden, senior research scientist at the research center. “We aren’t the first to use these technologies, but we are the first to look at these field-relevant materials, and that’s what makes this work so exciting. Our recent observations have identified a weakest link in the steel structure, which has potentially huge repercussions for how steels are processed and for the advancement of the corrosion prediction models that are ubiquitous in industry.”

The research is still in its early stages, according to Saudi Aramco. Future steps include looking at various coatings and processes in which steel can be made less susceptible to corrosion. “As carbon steel is used all over the world, the impact of this research could be profound,” the company explains.

According to the research team, other industries that could be interested in the research and technology include steel manufacturing; utilities such as electric, drinking water, and sewage; construction of bridges, ships, and vehicles; hazardous waste; and world governments.

Source: Saudi Aramco, www.saudiaramco.com.