Fusion-Bonded Epoxy Coating Protects Water Pipeline from Corrosion

Thermoplastic powder is electrostatically sprayed onto a heated substrate during the FBE and ARO application process. Photo courtesy of William Spickelmire, RUSTNOT Corrosion Control Services.

Although the anticorrosion coating combination of fusion-bonded epoxy (FBE) with abrasion-resistant overcoat (ARO) is well known within the oil and gas industry, ARO coating systems are not typically chosen by specifiers in the municipal water industry.1 However, a recent water pipeline project was successfully lined internally with cement mortar after applying both FBE and ARO, and showed the advantages of using the FBE and ARO combination to protect municipal water piping from corrosion.

FBE is an epoxy-based thermosetting powder coating2 widely applied to steel pipe, steel reinforcing bars for concrete, tanks, and a wide variety of piping connections (valves and fittings). The “fusion-bonded” designation comes from the chemical cross-linking that occurs during the application process, which differs from the application of standard paints and coatings. FBE is applied by preheating the substrate, typically over 205 °C (401 °F), and spraying the coating powder onto the surface. Small parts and fittings can be dipped into FBE powder that has been fluidized by air. When applied as a base layer in a multi-coating system, FBE is typically referred to as the primary corrosion protection layer.

ARO is a thermosetting powder coating applied over a compatible FBE during the initial coating application process to protect the FBE coating during storage, handling, and installation. The FBE layer is first applied electrostatically to the pipe surface and then the ARO is applied in the same fashion in a second spray booth immediately afterward. The dual coating is then water quenched to cool and set. When applied, the ARO becomes integrally bonded to the corrosion-resistant FBE base layer and forms a tough outer layer that is resistant to gouging, impact, abrasion, and penetration. ARO enhances the overall coating system’s adhesion performance and is useful in situations where pipe must be pulled through a bore hole, and where handling, installation, and rocky soils during backfill can damage the primary coating.

Specifiers choosing a coating system to protect water pipes, valves, and tanks from corrosion must consider many issues, starting with the coatings’ applicability for use with drinking water. FBE and ARO coatings contain no solvents and are based on 100% solids technology. When designed for contact with potable water, FBE and ARO coatings meet or exceed many applicable standards for potable water from the American Water Works Association (AWWA), International Organization for Standardization (ISO), American National Standards Institute (ANSI), and NSF, including NSF/ANSI 61.3

Over the last 50-plus years, FBE applicators have developed efficient methods that make FBE and ARO very cost competitive with other popular coating choices. Since becoming commercially available as pipe coatings in the 1960s, FBE/ARO coating systems have been used on many large oil and gas transmission and distribution projects around the world.4 However, a recent water project demonstrates that a FBE/ARO system can have more applications than just oil and gas, such as water transmission pipelines, says NACE International member Dustin Traylor, global functional product manager/technical services manager with Axalta Coating Systems (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA).

An ARO was applied over an FBE coating on a cement mortar-lined pipeline for a new water project. Photo courtesy of Jarod Larson, Banner Associates.Typically, water transmission pipelines are internally lined first, and then externally coated to minimize handling damage to the external coating. The most common lining used for water transmission pipelines is cement mortar. The centrifugal cement lining process distributes the mortar throughout the length of the pipe through a retractable lance while the pipe is spinning at a relatively low speed. After the mortar is applied, the cement lining is smoothed and compacted by spinning the pipe at a higher speed (typically 550 to 650 rpm) and vibrating the pipe to expel the water and produce a dense cement mortar lining that is in intimate contact with the pipe surface. Historically, the major obstacle to externally coating cement mortar-lined water pipelines with FBE was that the pipe had to be lined first. The concern was that handling and heating of the pipe during the FBE application may damage the cement mortar lining.

For this project, the technical staff for Axalta and the pipe manufacturer Jindal Tubular USA (Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, USA) carefully reviewed the coating process and proposed coating the external pipe surface with a dual layer of FBE/ARO first, then lining the pipe with cement mortar. This plan would only work, however, if the ARO protected the FBE during the cement lining process. The lining process plus the pipe-handling equipment, Traylor says, could damage the FBE and lead to excessive repairs.

Traylor notes that his company’s functional coatings team could not find a case study of ARO being used in a drinking water application. The pipe and coating manufacturers then proposed a plant demonstration to the pipeline owner and design engineering team to prove that the ARO coating could withstand the effects of the centrifugal cement lining process and protect the FBE layer beneath. NSF granted certification of the coating manufacturer’s Nap-Gard7-2610 and Nap-Rock Grey ARO coatings, which were used on this project.

The water pipeline owner, Mni Waste’ Water Co. (Eagle Butte, South Dakota, USA), and the project’s engineering team—Banner Associates (Sioux Falls, South Dakota, USA); RUSTNOT Corrosion Control Services, Inc. (Boise, Idaho, USA); and Accurate Inspections (Thornton, Colorado, USA)—were interested in this innovative approach for their Treated Water Pipeline Segment 1 project because of the proven success of FBE coatings in the oil and gas market, plus their low cathodic protection current requirements, high adhesion, abrasion resistance, physical strength, and non-shielding characteristics. An intact, well-bonded coating with good corrosion protection properties was critical as the pipeline route was located in extremely corrosive soil conditions, with very low soil resistivity (<500 Ω-cm) and high chloride content (>4,500 ppm). Water pipelines normally are buried deeper than oil and gas pipelines (a minimum depth of 6 ft [1.8 m]), and bedded in a select backfill (which may be angular and have a compacted density up to 95%). The external coating needed to be robust to meet these installation challenges.

While several standards cover FBE pipeline coatings,5-7 none of them were directly applicable to the proposed dual layer FBE/ARO coating. The pipe plant’s quality control department proposed, and the engineering team utilized, an evaluation of the FBE/ARO coating per the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) criteria for FBE,7 which was much more rigorous than evaluations normally used in the water industry for other types of coatings in terms of the number and types of quality control and performance testing required and the testing acceptance criteria.

Pipe plant quality control testing included salt contamination and surface profile tests, visual inspection, and a clear tape test to determine the cleanliness of the pipe surface. Visual and physical inspection of the applied coating included a high-voltage holiday test, dry film thickness test, durometer (hardness) test, weight drop test, bend test, 24-h water soak test, 24-h cathodic disbondment test, backside contamination test, and backside and side porosity test. The results showed the FBE/ARO coating met the minimum CSA testing criteria, and remained in excellent, undamaged condition during the cement mortar lining and handling processes. When pull-off adhesion was tested per ASTM 4541,8 no substrate-type failures, intercoat delamination, or separation of the FBE from the ARO layer were observed. Some of the adhesion tests went to almost 6,000 psi (41 MPa) before the glue failed, which confirmed that the FBE/ARO coating system was tightly bonded to the pipe surface and to itself.

Once the application trial proved to be successful, the remaining 12 mi (19 km) of 24-in (610-mm) diameter steel pipe was coated by the pipe manufacturer in its plant. The nominal applied thickness of the FBE was 16 to 20 mils (405 to 510 μm), while the nominal thickness of the ARO was 20 to 25 mils (510 to 635 μm). NACE member William S. Spickelmire, with RUSTNOT, reported minimal to no damage on the coated pipe during transportation and installation, except for the few times when the pipe was mishandled. 

Trade name.


1 D.L. Traylor, “Corrosion Protection of NSF Drinking Water Pipe Using a Dual Layer FBE System,” 2017 Pipeline Coating Conference (Houston, TX: AMI, 2017).

2 “Fusion Bonded Epoxy Coating,” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fusion_bonded_epoxy_coating (March 22, 2018).

3 NSF/ANSI 61, “Drinking Water System Components—Health Effects” (Ann Arbor, MI: NSF International, 2016).

4 J.G. Dickerson, “FBE Evolves to Meet Industry Need for Pipeline Protection,” Pipe Line and Gas Ind. 3, 67 (2001): p. 6.

5 NACE Standard SPO394-2013, “Application, Performance, and Quality Control of Plant-Applied Single-Layer Fusion-Bonded Epoxy External Pipe Coating” (Houston, Texas: NACE International, 2013).

6 AWWA C213-15, “Fusion-Bonded Epoxy Coatings and Linings for Steel Water Pipe and Fittings” (Denver, Colorado: AWWA, 2015).

7 CSA Standard Z245.20 “Plant-applied external coatings for steel pipe” (Mississauga, Canada: CSA, 2012).

8 ASTM 4541-09, “Standard Test Method for Pull-Off Strength of Coatings Using Portable Adhesion Testers” (West Conshohocken, PA: ASTM International).

Source: Dustin Traylor, Axalta Coating Systems, email: dustin.traylor@axaltacs.com, web site: www.axaltacs.com; and William S. Spickelmire, RUSTNOT Corrosion Control Services, email: bspickelmire@rustnotconsulting.com. Special thanks to Mni Waste’ Water Co. and Banner Associates for permission to summarize this FBE/ARO-coated water pipeline project.

Related Articles