In situ Nanoscale Quantification of Corrosion Kinetics by Quantitative Phase  Microscopy

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Virginia Tech


Corrosion-related degradation incurs a significant cost to infrastructure and society. In 2016, the direct corrosion cost was estimated at $276 billion, which is 3.1% of the U.S. gross domestic product. Despite the known consequences of corrosion damage, many unknowns still exist, such as the mechanisms and rates of chloride-induced corrosion initiation and propagation. There is also a lack of high-quality quantitative kinetic data and analysis that can obtain the fundamental micro- and nanostructural mechanisms and initiation of metal corrosion. The corrosion initiation in metals is considered to be governed by dynamic processes that take place at the nanoscale. Thus, the measurement of nanoscale surface structures correlated with electrochemical properties in metals is critical in the understanding of corrosion initiation, and microstructure-corrosion relationship, as well as efforts toward materials design for corrosion mitigation. As a fundamental approach to this study, a systematic review of different surface characterization techniques was initially discussed. This entailed their principles, applications, and perspectives for surface corrosion monitoring, enabling the development of next-generation inhibition technologies, and improving corrosion predictive models.
Unprecedented, this research study presented a novel application of a quantitative phase microscopy technique, spectral modulation interferometry (SMI), for in situ nanoscale characterization of corrosion of different alloys in real-time. SMI offers high sensitivity, rapid image acquisition, and speckle-free images; thus, real-time quantification of surface topography evolution during corrosion can be obtained accurately to evaluate the temporally- and spatially-dependent corrosion rates. With an innovative additive-manufactured fluid cell, experiments were performed under flowing solution conditions. Electrochemical tests via stepwise polarization and solution chemistry through collected aliquots of outflow solution were also performed alongside the nanoscale SMI experiment to simultaneously provide corroborating corrosion rate measurements. This innovative approach to measuring dissolution rates of metal at three levels can provide highly quantitative kinetic data of reacting surfaces that are rarely explored in the literature. First, the in situ SMI combined with the stepwise potentiostatic tests and the solution chemistry analysis was used to investigate the nanoscale characterization of corrosion of an AA6111-T4 aluminum alloy in real-time. The corrosion experiment was conducted in a 0.5 wt.% NaCl flowing solution acidified to pH ⁓2.9 by acetic acid. Based on the quantitative 3D height profiles across the corroded surface, pit formation resulting from rapid local corrosion was predominant, which is heterogeneously distributed and was appearing at different times. The computed time-dependent dissolution rates of aluminum also varied as the experiment proceeded, with the combination of linear and nonlinear surface normal distributions. An initial mean linear dissolution rate of (0.40 ± 0.007) μmol m−2 s−1 transitioned to a more rapid mean rate of (1.95 ± 0.035) μmol m−2 s−1, driven by the anodic polarization. Dissolution rates from the three performed methods follow similar trends and there is the visibility of linking the nanoscale in situ SMI data to the electrochemical corrosion measurements and ex situ chemical solution analysis. At the end of the corrosion period, rates of 118, 71, and 2.45 μmol m−2 s−1 were obtained from electrochemical measurements, ex situ solution analyses, and in situ SMI corrosion measurements, respectively. In addition, SMI–electrochemical experiments were performed to evaluate the effect of thermal history on corrosion modes and rates of AA6111. Quantitative estimates of the corrosion initiation and propagation in the alloy were also assessed. A single coil of AA6111 alloy that was solution heat treated at a temperature above 500°C and quenched with 2 different water quench rates (i.e., slow-quenched at 131ºC/s and fast-quenched at 506ºC/s) with each in T4 and T82 temper condition was investigated in this study. Irrespective of the quenched and/or temper conditions, the electrochemical potential-current (E-i) results showed a similar pattern in the polarization curve and similar current response over the immersed time, and a small difference in their corrosion behavior will be difficult to detect due to the dissolution kinetics that takes place on the nanoscale. As revealed from the SMI topography map, the corrosion modes at the nanoscale were very distinct despite having similar electrochemical responses and chemical compositions. Primarily, heterogeneous dissolution of intergranular corrosion (IGC) and crystallographic pitting was observed in the tested alloy substrates, with the slow-quenched samples susceptible to IGC and the fast-quenched samples susceptible to crystallographic pitting. The nucleation of IGC sites is triggered by the increased coarsening and formation of precipitates in the grain boundary, while the pitting corrosion is attributed to the coarsening of the precipitates in the grain bodies. The quantitative analysis of topography evolution from the SMI data revealed a non-uniform (i.e., heterogenous) surface dissolution, as is typical for aluminum alloys. Notably, the fast-quenched material resisted corrosion initiation for a longer time and showed great resistance even at higher anodic polarization. However, an instant breakdown then occurred after 60mV of polarization and corrosion accelerated faster, relative to the slow-quenched material which initiated sooner (i.e. with less overpotential). In this setup, it is now possible to detect and evaluate these differences quantitatively through a quick corrosion test with the combined electrochemical-SMI technique. Therefore, this work showed that the corrosion susceptibility of AA6111 alloy is influenced by the thermal history, which can be controlled with a proper quench rate and further tempering. Additionally, this research also utilized the novel SMI techniques to investigate in situ chloride-induced corrosion of A615 low-carbon steel at the nanoscale. Along with surface topography monitoring, a potentiostat was connected to simultaneously monitor the bulk electrochemical activity of the carbon steel. Experiments were conducted in chloride-free and chloride-enriched solutions at pH 5 to investigate the role of chloride on topography evolution, dissolution mode, and corrosion kinetics. The 3D topography map acquired from the SMI showed an early formation of localized shallow pits on the surface subjected to the chloride free-solution. A more detrimental form of corrosion was obtained on the samples in chloride-enriched solution, which revealed early-age microcracks or intergranular defective sites associated with the heterogeneous roughening of the sample surface. The presence of chloride ions also influenced the initiation period of corrosion. Indeed, higher grain defects were obtained in samples immersed in 5.0 wt.% NaCl solution than the sample in 1.0 wt.% NaCl solution. The quantitative analysis of the height profile data (acquired from SMI) verified the heterogeneity of the corrosion process of both samples either susceptible to pitting corrosion and/or intergranular corrosion behavior. A faster dissolution rate was acquired on the sample immersed in 5.0 wt.% NaCl solution, with the rate of (3.53 ± 0.103) μmol m−2 s−1 and (5.64 ± 0.0225) μmol m−2 s−1 computed at the initiation and propagation stages, respectively. Likewise, the estimated volume loss followed a similar trend to the 3D surface topography data, but a distinct behavior in the volume loss was observed when compared to the void volume obtained from the electrochemical monitoring. This confirmed that the electrochemical measurement overestimates metal loss and does not present a good representation of material dissolution on the nanoscale. Finally, a different perspective of corrosion mitigation in the metallic alloy was presented. The extensive application of deicing salts has led to significant deterioration in many transportation infrastructures and automobiles due to corrosion. In this regard, the work investigated the corrosion inhibition performance of 2 corn-derived polyols, namely: sorbitol, and mannitol, on reinforced steel rebar. The results demonstrated that the incorporation of polyols in the deicing solution reduced the corrosion initiation while the inhibition rate increased as the polyol content increased from 0% to 5wt.%. The outcome of this study contributed to the search for mitigation strategies to minimize the impact of deicing chemicals on steel infrastructures. Overall, it is evident that corrosion is a huge durability problem and requires significant consideration when designing metals or alloys that are usually exposed to hostile environments. Understanding the nanostructural and kinetics of corrosion at both the initiation and propagation periods, as well as its thermodynamics, is important for designing a suitable protection strategy. This dissertation is expected to present the application of the surface technique to directly quantify the dynamic evolution of site-specific local corrosion of metals during early initiation stages at the nanoscale.



Quantitative phase imaging, Spectral modulation interferometry, In situ, Corrosion kinetics, Corrosion rate, Corrosion Initiation