Next-gen steel under the microscope

Eastern span of the old and new San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.The inset in the top left hand corner shows V vanadium and 2H, deuterium a hydrogen isotope (1 proton plus 1 neutron and 1 electron) as a hydrogen substitute.
Next-generation steel and metal alloys are a step closer to reality, thanks to an international research project involving a University of Queensland scientist. The work could overcome the problem of hydrogen alloy embrittlement that has led to catastrophic failures in major engineering and building projects.

UQ Centre for Microscopy and Microanalysis director professor Roger Wepf said the problem had been recognised for almost 140 years: “The current generation of these metals can suffer hydrogen embrittlement, where they become brittle and fracture due to the accidental introduction of hydrogen during manufacture and processing,” he said.

A major example of alloy embrittlement occurred in 2013, when bolts in the eastern span of the San Francisco-Oakland bridge failed tests during construction.

Prof Wepf said hydrogen was extremely volatile and diffused quickly: “We have shown that it's possible to localise hydrogen at atomic resolution - at the scale of a single atom - or at a nanometre scale by combining different technologies in a closed and protected workflow. These include state-of-the-art cryo-electron microscopy freezing techniques, low-temperature sample preparation in a cryo-focused ion beam microscope, and inert cryo-transfer.”

Author
Tom Austin-Morgan

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