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FORGE: Novel coatings for sustainable industrial future

Fri, 21 August, 2020

As the world navigates the COVID-19 pandemic, concerns about climate change and carbon neutrality have not changed. In fact, the phenomenal drop in emissions and air pollution seen in the Covid-19 crisis has prompted debates about whether this would be the pivotal moment for economic policies in favour of clean energy and sustainable development goals. Reducing greenhouse emissions from energy-intensive industries, alongside reducing and replacing fossil fuels, is one of the several ways of contributing to a climate-friendly future out of the pandemic recovery.

Waste Heat Recovery, CO2 sequestration, and alternative process chemistries (e.g use of hydrogen as primary fuel) are primarily used as sustainable strategies for greenhouse gas reduction for industries such as steel, cement, aluminium and everything that requires a massive amount of energy. Despite the incentives, a recurring theme across these sustainability improvements is the restrictive competence of the common materials to withstand the damaging effects caused by the inherent corrosive, erosive, reactive and high temperature process gases. Carbon steel, for example, a widely used material of choice due to low costs, good availability and weldability, is vulnerable, exhibiting poor resistance to corrosion and erosion on contact with hot and acidic fluids circulating in components such as heat exchangers and pipe bends. Furthermore, use of hydrogen as fuel or reactant, the quintessence of zero carbon technology, gives rise to embrittlement of high strength steels, demanding a new generation of material solutions!

Building on our core expertise and knowledge in coatings, material properties and performance, TWI is now set to contribute to project FORGE (funded by European Union's H2020 programme under grant agreement number 958457) for development of novel coating materials for a sustainable industrial future. The project addresses the materials surface degradation problems found in these environments, focusing on key problems of corrosion of metallic components, hydrogen embrittlement, erosion and thermal breakdown at pyrolytic temperatures.

The concept

The FORGE project’s overarching concept is to provide a new knowledge-based framework to design tailored Compositionally Complex Materials (CCMs, both alloys and ceramics) with the required combination of hardness, smoothness, toughness, gas-impermeability, and/or corrosion resistance tailored to meet the specific future and current needs in individual energy intensive processing environment. The methodology of development of coatings as opposed to bulk material offers the advantages of 1) economical application of a resistant CCM coating onto an inexpensive metal substrate (e.g. carbon steel); 2) high reparability of a coating system than a cast component, both in cost and application and 3) provision of smart degradation detection capability by embedding phases with specific light emission footprints in a multi-layer coating. As such, the FORGE project will develop a methodology to design optimal high-performance coatings to resist a specified set of degradation mechanisms, and to define the best method to apply them. Combined with training a Machine Learning (ML) model to guide high-throughput experiments to map and optimise new systems for each target property including resistance to H2 embrittlement, CO2 corrosion, stability at high temperatures, and resistance against sliding/impact wear at relatively high temperature, the project aims to tackles the challenges of accelerated discovery of Compositionally Complex Alloys (CCAs) through computationally inexpensive techniques compared to thermodynamic modelling and molecular dynamics methods.

Socio-Economic Impacts

Due to the relatively low return on assets experienced in many energy intensive industries compared to say aerospace or even oil and gas, the cost of fabrication of components from resistant materials is capital intensive, making their use unviable. On the contrary, application of coatings at key points, leads to lifetime extension at a comparatively low cost. By being specific about the location of the applied coating treatments, (e.g. in pipework and on heat exchange components to combat erosive forces; at low pH or dew-point precipitation stages to reduce corrosion) the overall system costs can be minimised, compared to treating the whole of a system.  The project also offers the benefits of optimisation of the modes of applications of the coatings allowing users to provide retrofit options, larger modifications at major service points, as well as a priority design options for new generations of equipment. The project, therefore, contributes to improving the affordability and sustainability of European energy intensive industries via a life-cycle approach to material and system specification, allowing them to intensify production and introduce new lower CO2 processes, increasing resistance to corrosion/erosion problems and to reduce the overall through life costs. 

The consortium

The project, led by MBN Nanomaterialia (Italy) comprises of 13 partners across UK and Europe including Çimsa (Turkey), TWI Ltd (UK), TAILORUX Integrity Solutions (Germany), Empa Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (Switzerland), ASAS ALUMINYUM SANAYI VE TICARET ANONIM SIRKETI (Turkey), Max-Planck-Institut für Eisenforschung GmbH (Germany), Asociación de Investigación de las Industrias Cerámicas (Spain), OnderzoeksCentrum voor de Aanwending van Staal (Belgium), Fraunhofer-Center for High-Temperature Materials and Design HTL (Germany), AeonX AI (France), Technovative Solutions Ltd. (UK) and the University of Leicester (UK).