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Engineering Thoughts on Hydrogen Embrittlement


Hydrogen Embrittlement (HE) is a topical issue for pipelines transporting sour products. Engineers need a simple and effective approach in materials selection at design stage. In other words, they must know if a material is susceptible to cracking, to be able of:

  • selecting the right material 
  • and apply correct operational measures during the service life.
Following ASTM F2078, HE is “a permanent loss of ductility in a metal or alloy caused by hydrogen in combination with stress, either externally applied or internal residual stress”. In many cases, hydrogen can play a role in crack propagation, as for instance in Stress Corrosion Cracking (SCC) and Corrosion Fatigue (CF). Three parameters are required to cause failure: presence of hydrogen, tensile stress, and material susceptibility. The two previous ones are triggering the failure, while the root cause is usually material susceptibility. This is why material selection is the important step to safely manage engineering structural materials.
As an example, material selection for sour service pipeline is the object of well-known standards, e.g. by Nace International and EFC: they pose some limits in the sour service of steels, with reference to surface hardness. These standards have shown some weak points, namely:
  • In the definition of sour service;
  • In defining the role of crack initiation and propagation, considering that in Hydrogen embrittlement, stress state and stress variations are very important.
As for the second point, in hydrogen generation anodic processes shall be taken into account too. For instance, there is a relationship between corrosion resistance and crack susceptibility. In carbon and low alloy steels, cracking will not normally occur when there is a significant corrosion rate. If a brittle layer (or a brittle spot) is present on the metal surface, this one can initiate a crack.

Countries: Italy

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