James Cook University researchers will focus on rare earth inhibitors in a new study to fight corrosion.
JCU Professor of Chemistry Peter Junk will lead the study, which is funded by a $420,000 Australian Research Council Discovery Project grant.
He said that corrosion of steel infrastructure was a persistent and expensive problem – and only likely to get worse under projected climate change scenarios.
“Corrosion costs the world around $US4 trillion annually, more importantly it affects the safety and durability of the huge network of infrastructure assets vital for the provision of the world’s essential services,” Prof Junk said.
He said expected changes to the climate such as rising temperatures, higher sea levels, greater aerosol generation and increased levels of CO2 would enhance the environment for corrosion.
“It’s common to use chemical inhibitors to reduce corrosion’s impact and chromate salts have been excellent at this for over 80 years. But the toxic nature of the chromate ion is well known and for almost 30 years research has focussed on finding a more effective and environmentally acceptable replacement,” he said.
Potential bulk use for rare earth resources
Rare earth inhibitors are a potential solution.
The term ‘rare earth’ covers 17 chemical elements that are relatively common, but widely dispersed around the Earth’s crust.
“We’re going to make a comprehensive examination of the nature and function of the protective film formed by rare earth inhibitors on steel surfaces,” Prof Junk said.
“Then we’re going to make improved inhibitors in the expectation that we will get a better product out of it both in terms of environmental sustainability and in the practical effect of protecting material.”
He said the demand for corrosion inhibitors was so large that a successful range of rare earth inhibitors would provide a new bulk use for Australia’s extensive rare earth resources, directly aiding Australia’s existing and emerging rare earth producers and explorers.
“Our aims are at the cutting edge of corrosion science and our methods and equipment will be too. We’ll be taking the advantage of the unique capabilities of atom probe tomography in probing both structural and chemical features of metal surfaces at nano and atomic levels for the first time,” he said.