Erosion corrosion is an acceleration in the rate of corrosion attack in metal due to the relative motion of a corrosive fluid and a metal surface. The increased turbulence caused by pitting on the internal surfaces of a tube can result in rapidly increasing erosion rates and eventually a leak. Erosion corrosion can also be aggravated by faulty workmanship. For example, burrs left at cut tube ends can upset smooth water flow, cause localized turbulence and high flow velocities, resulting in erosion corrosion. A combination of erosion and corrosion can lead to extremely high pitting rates.
Erosion-corrosion is most prevalent in soft alloys (i.e. copper, aluminum and lead alloys). Alloys which form a surface film in a corrosive environment commonly show a limiting velocity above which corrosion rapidly accelerates. With the exception of cavitation, flow induced corrosion problems are generally termed erosion-corrosion, encompassing flow enhanced dissolution and impingement attack. The fluid can be aqueous or gaseous, single or multiphase. There are several mechanisms described by the conjoint action of flow and corrosion that result in flow-influenced corrosion: (reference)
Mass transport-control: Mass transport-controlled corrosion implies that the rate of corrosion is dependent on the convective mass transfer processes at the metal/fluid interface. When steel is exposed to oxygenated water, the initial corrosion rate will be closely related to the convective flux of dissolved oxygen towards the surface, and later by the oxygen diffusion through the iron oxide layer. Corrosion by mass transport will often be streamlined and smooth.
Phase transport-control: Phase transport-controlled corrosion suggests that the wetting of the metal surface by a corrosive phase is flow dependent. This may occur because one liquid phase separates from another or because a second phase forms from a liquid. An example of the second mechanism is the formation of discrete bubbles or a vapor phase from boiler water in horizontal or inclined tubes in high heat-flux areas under low flow conditions. The corroded sites will frequently display rough, irregular surfaces and be coated with or contain thick, porous corrosion deposits.
Erosion-corrosion: Erosion-corrosion is associated with a flow-induced mechanical removal of the protective surface film that results in a subsequent corrosion rate increase via either electrochemical or chemical processes. It is often accepted that a critical fluid velocity must be exceeded for a given material. The mechanical damage by the impacting fluid imposes disruptive shear stresses or pressure variations on the material surface and/or the protective surface film. Erosion-corrosion may be enhanced by particles (solids or gas bubbles) and impacted by multi-phase flows. The morphology of surfaces affected by erosion-corrosion may be in the form of shallow pits or horseshoes or other local phenomena related to the flow direction.
Cavitation: Cavitation sometimes is considered a special case of erosion-corrosion and is caused by the formation and collapse of vapor bubbles in a liquid near a metal surface. Cavitation removes protective surface scales by the implosion of gas bubbles in a fluid. Calculations have shown that the implosions produce shock waves with pressures approaching 415 MPa. The subsequent corrosion attack is the result of hydro-mechanical effects from liquids in regions of low pressure where flow velocity changes, disruptions, or alterations in flow direction have occurred. Cavitation damage often appears as a collection of closely spaced, sharp-edged pits or craters on the surface.
In offshore well systems, the process industry in which components come into contact with sand-bearing liquids, this is an important problem. Materials selection plays an important role in minimizing erosion corrosion damage. Caution is in order when predicting erosion corrosion behavior on the basis of hardness. High hardness in a material does not necessarily guarantee a high degree of resistance to erosion corrosion. Design features are also particularly important.
It is generally desirable to reduce the fluid velocity and promote laminar flow; increased pipe diameters are useful in this context. Rough surfaces are generally undesirable. Designs creating turbulence, flow restrictions and obstructions are undesirable. Abrupt changes in flow direction should be avoided. Tank inlet pipes should be directed away from the tank walls, towards the center. Welded and flanged pipe sections should always be carefully aligned. Impingement plates of baffles designed to bear the brunt of the damage should be easily replaceable.
The thickness of vulnerable areas should be increased. Replaceable ferrules, with a tapered end, can be inserted into the inlet side of heat exchanger tubes, to prevent damage to the actual tubes. Several environmental modifications can be implemented to minimize the risk of erosion corrosion. Abrasive particles in fluids can be removed by filtration or settling, while water traps can be used in steam and compressed air systems to decrease the risk of impingement by droplets. De-aeration and corrosion inhibitors are additional measures that can be taken. Cathodic protection and the application of protective coatings may also reduce the rate of attack.
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Additional resources: Corrosion Testing Made Easy: Erosion-Corrosion
Some examples: Erosion corrosion failure in the Arabian Gulf, Tuberculation & erosion