Corrosion inhibitor coating wins Materials Science Venture Prize

The team looking at steel at the atomic level in the imaging suite: (Left to right) Dr Adrian Walters, SPECIFIC; Prof Geraint Williams, Swansea University College of Engineering; Patrick Dodds, Tata Steel and Swansea University
A research team from Swansea University, led by Professor Geraint Williams, is developing a ‘smart release’ corrosion inhibitor, for use in coated steel products, and has won the Materials Science Venture Prize awarded by The Worshipful Company of Armourers and Brasiers.

The breakthrough is of particular importance because the steel industry needs an alternative to the corrosion inhibitor most widely used at present, hexavalent chromate, which will be banned across the EU from 2019. The discovery by doctorate student, Patrick Dodds, in late 2015, of a material and manufacturing process for a smart release coating which outperforms hexavalent chromate in laboratory tests could lead to the product taking a significant slice of a multi-million-pound market.The market for coiled coated steel is potentially worth £3billion per year in Europe alone.

Prof Williams said: “This is a significant breakthrough, showing a smarter and safer way of reducing corrosion.The new product is environmentally sound, economical and outperforms the market leader in laboratory tests. It illustrates that Swansea, with its close links between research and industry, remains at the heart of innovation in steel.”

Corrosion inhibitors are commonly used in a range of sectors, including: coated steel products used to construct industrial, commercial and other buildings; aerospace and aircraft; and the automotive industry.

Dodds’ discovery contains a stored reservoir of corrosion inhibitor.It works by channelling aggressive electrolyte anions into the coating, triggering the release of the inhibitor ‘on demand’, thus preventing corrosion. The product has been tested with salt spray, the standard test for corrosion, outperforming hexavalent chromate.

“The system has been shown to prevent the onset of corrosion for over 24 hours compared to less than two hours for the current market leader,” explained Dodds. “We have also been able to demonstrate that the rate of corrosion can be slowed down significantly once it has started. This is by far the best result seen in 15 years of research on this topic.”

“This is a significant discovery and shows how the UK is still a driving innovation force in industry,” said Professor Bill Bonfield, chairman of the Armourers and Brasiers Venture Prize judging panel. “Our prize looks to encourage scientific entrepreneurship in the UK and provide funding to help discoveries like this realise their potential.”

Prof Williams said the £25,000 prize will be used to purchase a Jet Mill system, which he explained is an essential tool for overcoming the remaining technical barriers preventing commercialisation for the product.

Tom Austin-Morgan

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