Corrosion in Sea Water and Offshore Environments
Sea water is highly corrosive and offshore installations are often exposed to temperature extremes. The corrosion resistance of a material is therefore equally as important as mechanical strength. The introduction of chlorine by adding hypochlorite solution to sea water to give biofouling resistance can reduce the corrosion resistance of certain stainless steels, particularly under crevice conditions. Hydrocarbon process systems often have to withstand the potentially corrosive effects of hydrogen sulphide and acid conditions associated with the dissolved carbon dioxide which is often present. Corrosion can weaken elements of an otherwise well designed ,structure or affect individual equipment components to such an extent that they cease to be serviceable. Unfortunately, the fight against corrosion itself can lead to equally damaging side effects such as the release of nascent hydrogen. This can be generated as a result of cathodic protection measures adopted to protect a structure or by dissimilar metal coupling. The presence of such hydrogen can given rise to hydrogen-induced cracking of steels and nickel base alloys.
Duplex Stainless Steels in Offshore Applications
A most significant contribution to the fight against corrosion offshore has been made by duplex stainless steels. These have often been adopted on offshore structures in preference to carbon steel or other stainless steels. The value of the duplex stainless steel is that it combines the basic toughness of the more common austenitic stainless steels with the higher strength and improved corrosion resistance of ferritic steels. The optimum chemical composition of these steels provides a high level of corrosion resistance in chloride media together with high mechanical strength and ductility. Other benefits include the ability of some duplex stainless steels to be used at quite low sub-zero temperatures and be able to resist stress corrosion cracking.
A significant feature of duplex stainless steel is that its pitting and crevice corrosion resistance is greatly superior to that of standard austenitic alloys. Pitting resistance equivalent numbers (PREN), a standard industry measure, are often in the high 30s while the latest duplex alloys exceed a PREN of 40. This is an increasingly common specification for certain offshore duties. However, PREN numbers only provide an approximate grading of alloys and do not account for the microstructure of the material. An acceptance corrosion test on material in the supply condition is so much more meaningful.
The Evolution of Duplex Stainless Steels
Ferralium alloy 255 was the world’s first commercial 25% chromium duplex stainless steel when it was introduced over 20 years ago. It pioneered the use of a deliberate nitrogen addition in order to improve ductility and corrosion resistance. Further research has demonstrated the importance of using duplex stainless steels containing both nitrogen and copper.
Super Duplex Stainless Steels for Offshore Applications
For offshore and indeed, onshore applications, the availability of a super duplex (25% chromium) stainless steel alloy in a variety of forms is important. For example, bar, forgings, castings, sheet, plate, super duplex stainless steel pipe/tube, welding consumables, super duplex stainless steel flanges, fittings, dished ends and fasteners are available. In terms of other benefits, the high allowable design stress of this alloy type in comparison with other duplex stainless steels and austenitic stainless steels, including 6% Mo type, is significant. It also offers excellent castability, weldability and machinability. These features are complemented by excellent fatigue resistance and galvanic compatibility with other high alloy stainless steels.
Twenty-two percent chromium stainless steels provide better pitting resistance and resistance to crevice corrosion than type 316 stainless steel by virtue of a more stable passive film and also have greater mechanical strength. However, for optimum corrosion resistance, a 25% chromium high alloy duplex stainless steel is required and these alloys are often referred to as super duplex stainless. Even within this category, it is important to select the correct grade of material to get versatility in handling a wide range of corrosive media and for confidence that the alloy will cope with any excursions or transient operating conditions which make the environment more aggressive.
Materials Selection for Offshore Applications
Offshore structures themselves present different requirements of materials depending upon whether their application is topside, splash zone or subsea. Topside, duplex materials are suitable for a wide range of bolting applications and material such as Ferralium alloy 255 provide up to B7 steel strength, excellent corrosion resistance and a service life equal to the life of the system, thereby contributing to reduced maintenance costs. In the splash zone, the alloy has already demonstrated its suitability for sea water resistance with over 15 years service on North Sea installations and has been widely employed for riser bolting and components on riser protection system on TLPs.
Emergence of New Super Duplex Stainless Steels
Improved materials in the super duplex stainless steel category continue to be developed by manufacturers offering better or differently combined characteristics, features and benefits. These alloys, generally with a PREN > 40, are produced to conform to a number of UNS designations which appear in ASTM product form specifications. Castings and wrought forms are available. Typical of recent developments is Ferralium alloy SD40 (conforming to UNS S 32550) with a PREN > 40.0 and providing a minimum 0.2% proof stress of 550N.mm-2 and a UTS of 760 N.mm-2. This 25% chromium super duplex material results from a carefully controlled composition and balanced austenitic/ferritic structure with a substantial content of molybdenum and nitrogen.
Applications for Super Duplex Stainless Steels
Applications which can benefit from the use of these high alloy super duplex steels involve piping systems, pumps (where the good erosion and abrasion resistance is employed), valves,super duplex stainless steel pipe fittings, heat exchangers and diverse other equipment.
Recently, the excellent corrosion resistance of the new super duplex Ferralium alloy SD40 has been exploited for subsea electrical connectors on the Saga Snorre and Total South Ellon developments. In one case the super duplex material was chosen to replace standard austenitic stainless steel which had suffered from corrosion attack.
Several types of alloys have been developed in recent years to combat the degradation of existing alloys by corrosion attack and in some cases hydrogen embrittlement in the harsh offshore environment. Super (25 Cr) duplex stainless steels and an ultra high strength cupronickel have provided the solution to many material selection dilemmas.
Source: Materials World, Vol. 2, No. 4, pp. 192-94 April 1994.
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