March 25, 2024

Predicting and preventing degradation

Glenn Fox

It can be frustrating when the water pipes in your home leak as they age and corrode, or when the reinforcing steel in bridges and roadways starts to degrade. Repairs can be expensive, and they can interrupt everything from taking a shower to arriving at an important event on time. Similarly, the long-term performance of our nation’s defense capabilities and energy infrastructure can be impacted by material corrosion. With this in mind, research teams at LLNL are studying ways to stop corrosion before it starts.

Our materials science experts take a multidisciplinary approach to studying complex degradation processes and analyzing how a material will perform at scale, in relevant conditions, over its service lifetime. They leverage LLNL’s supercomputers, machine-learning tools, and experimental characterization to pinpoint key factors that initiate corrosion and other failure modes and to predict how the material’s composition and processing techniques will affect how it ages.

For example, our researchers have explored how additive manufacturing can be used to shield stainless steel from corrosion in salt water and other harsh conditions. After accelerating the material aging process from years to just a few hours, they used high-speed atomic force microscopy to observe how corrosion started and progressed. Coupling experimental analysis with computer simulations, they uncovered the mechanisms behind their observations, providing insight regarding changes at the molecular and microstructural scales.

Other examples of our research regarding material degradation include:

  • Collaborating with experts at universities and other national labs to develop corrosion-resistant, high-performing materials for geothermal wells, such as cement composites.
  • Studying how hydrogen-based fuels impact the metal systems where the fuel is stored and transported.
  • Developing a 3D microstructure mapping technique to study how cracks travel through metals and how special processing techniques can improve the material’s tolerance when regularly exposed to water or acid.
  • Predicting the performance of alloys that are tailored to be thermally stable and corrosion-resistant when used in applications such as hypersonic vehicles, space science, high-power lasers, and nuclear reactors.
  • Adapting advanced multiscale simulations to understand how batteries and other energy devices degrade during periods of repeated use or extended dormancy.

It’s exciting to witness these advances, which directly benefit our nation’s ability to maintain a reliable and robust energy delivery infrastructure, as well as the long-term performance of our nation’s defense capabilities.

– Glenn Fox, PLS Principal Associate Director