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Hydrogen and Brittleness in Steel

Many commentators have been extolling the virtues of using hydrogen powered vehicles and vessels. In Orkney converting excess generation of renewable electricity into hydrogen is now well established on a small scale.

There are problems, however, with hydrogen and scientists have been researching how it affects metals in transportation and in mechanisms.

Hydrogen can cause brittleness in several metals including ferritic steel — a type of steel used in structural components of buildings, automobile gears and axles, and industrial equipment. Recent advancements in experimental tools and multiscale modeling are starting to provide insight into the embrittlement process.

Developing safe and cost-effective storage and transportation methods for hydrogen is essential but complicated given the interaction of hydrogen with structural materials.

Recently researchers have been looking at what happens with hydrogen reaction on ferritic steel, a cheaper steel that is used in the construction of pipelines and other large structures.

Perhaps the biggest unanswered question is the location of hydrogen in the host metal. Hydrogen embrittlement in ferritic steels

To move forward with the production, storage and use of hydrogen in vehicles and vessels much more research will also be needed on its interaction with steel.

there remains work to be done to understand the mechanisms by which hydrogen influences the mechanical response of susceptible metals, and from that understanding, to be able to successfully design against failures by this phenomenon. Hydrogen embrittlement in ferritic steels

Developing new materials for future use will be essential if hydrogen is to become a more widely used source of fuel.

Hydrogen can cause brittleness in several metals including ferritic steel, but recent advancements provide insight into the embrittlement process. a) The arrowhead-shaped delaminations in stainless steel reveal cracks with significantly higher deuterium concentrations b) Secondary ion cross-sectional profile for one such delamination. Credit: O. Sobol, G. Holzlechner, G. Nolze, T. Wirth, D. Eliezer, T. Boellinghaus, and W.E.S. Unger

The research paper can be accessed here: Hydrogen embrittlement in ferritic steels

Reporter: Fiona Grahame

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