Corroded pipelinesA new device has given scientists a nanoscale glimpse of crevice and pitting corrosion as it happens.

Corrosion affects almost everything made of metal—cars, boats, underground pipes, and even the fillings in your teeth.

It carries a steep price tag—trillions of dollars annually—not mention, the potential safety, environmental, and health hazards it poses.

“Corrosion has been a major problem for a very long time,” says Jacob Israelachvili, a chemical engineering professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Confined spaces

Particularly in confined spaces—thin gaps between machine parts, the contact area between hardware and metal plate, behind seals and under gaskets, seams where two surfaces meet—close observation of such electrochemical dissolution had been an enormous challenge. But, not any more.

Using a device called the Surface Forces Apparatus (SFA), Israelachvili and colleagues were able to get a real-time look at the process of corrosion on confined surfaces.

“With the SFA, we can accurately determine the thickness of our metal film of interest and follow the development over time as corrosion proceeds,” says project scientist Kai Kristiansen.

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In May 2017, we sat down with Gerald Frankel at the 231st ECS Meeting in New Orleans. Frankel is a technical editor of the Journal of The Electrochemical Society, corrosion expert, and open access advocate. Currently, he is a professor of materials science and engineering at The Ohio State University.

Since joining ECS, Jerry has served as chair of the Society’s Corrosion Division and was named ECS fellow in 2006. His research efforts focus on topics ranging from degradation of materials to atmospheric corrosion. In 2012, he was appointed by President Obama to the Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board.

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Corroded pipelinesFor many centuries, lead was the favored material for water pipes due to its malleability. However, the health hazards associated with ingesting lead were not fully understood until the late 1900s. Now, with a massive water infrastructure that utilizes lead pipes and instances of corrosion and leaching causing development and neurological effects in young children consuming tainted water, researchers from Washington University in St. Louis are researching the potential impact of replacing lead pipes.

According to the research team, digging up lead pipes to replace them with copper piping would not only be extremely expensive, but potentially dangerous. The team developed a new way to model and track where dislodged lead particles might be transported during the replacement process.

“We all know lead is not safe, it needs to go,” says Pratim Biswas, past ECS member and chair of Energy, Environmental and Chemical Engineering at the School of Engineering & Applied Science. “This is the first comprehensive model that works as a tool to help drinking-water utility companies and others to predict the outcome of an action. If they have the necessary information of a potential action, they can run this model and it can advise them on how best to proceed with a pipe replacement to ensure there are no adverse effects.”

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Corroded pipelinesCorrosion is a dangerous and extremely costly problem. Because of it, buildings and bridges can collapse, oil pipelines break, and water sources become contaminated. Currently, the global cost estimated to repair corrosive effects comes in around $2.5 trillion per year.

But researchers in the field of corrosion science and technology like Robert Kelly, the 2016 winner of ECS’s Corrosion Division H. H. Uhlig Award, are looking to change the way we deal with the effects of corrosion from reactive to predictive.

“One of the sayings about corrosion is that we can explain everything and predict nothing,” Kelly says. “We’re looking to turn that around.”

Corrosion time machine

Kelly, AT&T Professor of Engineering in the University of Virginia’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering, is working with his team to better understand what’s controlling the localized corrosion process with a newly designed accelerated test that can predict the corrosive effects on certain materials when they’re put into their natural environment.

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Corrosion DivisionThe Corrosion Division is currently accepting nominations for the following two awards:

Corrosion Division Morris Cohen Graduate Student Award: established in 1991 to recognize and reward outstanding graduate research in the field of corrosion science and/or engineering. The award consists of a framed scroll and $1,000 prize. The award, for outstanding Masters or PhD work, is open to graduate students who have successfully completed all the requirements for their degrees as testified to by the student’s advisor, within a period of two years prior to the nomination submission deadline.


Herbert H. UhligHerbert H. Uhlig Award: established in 1972 to recognize excellence in corrosion research and outstanding technical contributions to the field of corrosion science and technology. The Award consists of $1500 and a framed scroll. The recipient is eligible for travel reimbursement in order to attend the Society meeting at which the Award is presented.

About H. H. Uhlig
Professor Herbert H. Uhlig was head of the Corrosion Laboratory, teacher, and graduate advisor at MIT for over thirty years. He authored hundreds of publications on the subjects of passivity, pitting, stress corrosion cracking, corrosion fatigue, and the oxidation of metals. Through the application of basic first principles to his research on corrosion phenomena, he is widely recognized as being one of the leaders responsible for establishing the field of corrosion science on a firm fundamental basis. Uhlig was an active ECS member and served as President from 1955-1956.

Application Deadline: December 15, 2016

CorrosionCorrosion costs the U.S. economy over $450 billion per year. In an effort to better predict the effects of corrosion, ECS Fellow Robert Kelly has built something akin to a time machine at the University of Virginia.

Kelly, who has recently been awarded ECS’s Corrosion Division H. H. Uhlig Award, is launching pieces of metal into the future to accelerate corrosion rates and observe how they will degrade over time. Being able to see the degradation of materials prior to application could be key to drastically cutting funds used to repair infrastructure when corrosion takes its toll.

Recently, Kelly applied his testing technique to Rolls-Royce’s small jet engine compressor blades to see how they would inevitably hold up in an airplane turbine. By aggressively spraying salt on the parts, Kelly could effectively predict how it will react when jet engines take in salt water in the form of sea salt aerosols. Rolls-Royce currently coats the blades with ceramic material – which if used in too small a quantity could lead to corrosion, but if used in too excessive a quantity could lead to slow, heavy blades. The tests conducted by Kelly and his team could help the company create a blade with the perfect balance of ceramic coating.

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ECS will be offering five short courses at the 229th ECS Meeting this year in San Diego.

What are short courses? Taught by academic and industry experts in intimate learning settings, short courses offer students and professionals alike the opportunity to greatly expand their knowledge and technical expertise. 

Short Course #1: Basic Corrosion for Electrochemists

Luis F. Garfias-Mesias, Instructor

This course covers the basics of corrosion science and corrosion engineering. It is targeted toward people with a physical sciences or engineering background who have not been trained as corrosionists, but who want to understand the basic concepts of corrosion, learn to select the appropriate materials an know which will be the typical techniques and methodologies to test and qualify materials (resistant to corrosion).

The course will begin with a general, basic foundation of electrochemistry and corrosion. It will cover the typical engineering materials (metals, non-metals, composites, etc.) and their interaction with their environment (temperature, pressure, gasses, liquids, etc.) and the common methodologies to prevent and control their degradation (material selection, adding inhibitors, applying a protective coating, using cathodic or anodic protection, etc.). Basic knowledge of corrosion monitoring and inspection as well as field and laboratory testing will be covered.

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Researchers have found a way to use rust to build a solar-powered battery.Image: Flickr

Researchers have found a way to use rust to build a solar-powered battery.
Image: Diego Torres Silvestre

What happens when corrosion meets energy? For researchers at Stanford University, the marriage of those two uniquely electrochemical topics could yield an answer to large-scale solar power storage.

The question of how to store solar power when the sun goes down has been on the forefront of scientific discussion. While electrochemical energy storage devices exist, they are typically either too expensive to work on a large-scale or not efficient enough.

Building a solar-powered battery

New research shows that metal oxides, such as rust, can be fashioned into solar cells capable of splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen. The research could be looked at revelatory, especially when considering large-scale storage solutions, because of its novel heat attributes.

While we knew the promising solar power potential of metal oxides before, we believed that the efficiency of cells crafted from these materials would be very low. The new study, however, disproves that theory.

The team showed that as the cells grow hotter, efficiency levels increase. This is a huge benefit when it comes to large-scale, solar energy conversion and it the polar opposite of the traditional silicon solar cell.

“We’ve shown that inexpensive, abundant, and readily processed metal oxides could become better producers of electricity than was previously supposed,” says William Chueh, an assistant professor of materials science and engineering.

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Understanding Corrosion from Nano to Macro

From oil pipeline breaks to leaks in chemical plants, corrosion is one of the most damaging and costly naturally occurring events seen today. In order to better understand and prevent to corrosion process, John Scully, ECS member since and 2016 winner of the Society’s Linford Award, has teamed up with a multidisciplinary team to understand corrosion from the nano to the macroscale.

A new Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (MURI) has emerged with the mission of preventing corrosion. Sponsored by the Office of Naval Research, the ultimate goal of the project is to understand, predict, and control the role of minor elements on the early stages of corrosion in metal alloys.

At its core, corrosion is the degradation of materials due to electrochemical reactions with the environment. In addition to yielding safety issues, corrosion costs an expected $23 billion annually, according to the Department of Defense.

Not only can corrosion cause buildings and bridges to collapse, but corrosion o electrical outlets and medical implants can cause fires and blood poisoning.

In order to address this complex problems, Scully and others are creating a team comprised of those versed in electrochemistry, microscopy, tomography, and simulations.

uhligThe Corrosion Division is currently accepting nominations for the following two awards:

Corrosion Division Morris Cohen Graduate Student Award: established in 1991 to recognize and reward outstanding graduate research in the field of corrosion science and/or engineering. The award consists of a framed scroll and $1,000 prize. The award, for outstanding Masters or PhD work, is open to graduate students who have successfully completed all the requirements for their degrees as testified to by the student’s advisor, within a period of two years prior to the nomination submission deadline. Read the rules and submit a nomination form today!

Herbert H. Uhlig Award: established in 1972 to recognize excellence in corrosion research and outstanding technical contributions to the field of corrosion science and technology. The Award consists of $1500 and a framed scroll. The recipient is eligible for travel reimbursement in order to attend the Society meeting at which the Award is presented. Read the rules and submit a nomination form today!

About H. H. Uhlig
Professor Herbert H. Uhlig was head of the Corrosion Laboratory, teacher, and graduate advisor at MIT for over thirty years. He authored hundreds of publications on the subjects of passivity, pitting, stress corrosion cracking, corrosion fatigue, and the oxidation of metals. Through the application of basic first principles to his research on corrosion phenomena, he is widely recognized as being one of the leaders responsible for establishing the field of corrosion science on a firm fundamental basis. Uhlig was an active ECS member and served as President from 1955-1956.

Application Deadline: December 15, 2015

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