Metallurgical Transactions A

, Volume 13, Issue 11, pp 1939–1950 | Cite as

The role of nitrogen in the embrittlement of steel

  • C. L. Briant
  • S. K. Banerji
  • A. M. Ritter
Mechanical Behavior


Nitrogen is one of the most common impurity elements to be found in steels. Previous work has shown that it is a potential grain boundary embrittler. In this paper we examine its role in both tempered martensite embrittlement and temper embrittlement. The basic composition of the steel used for this study was, in wt pct, 3.5 Ni, 1.7 Cr, 0.3 C, and 0.01 N. It was found that nitrogen could be very detrimental to mechanical properties but not as a grain boundary embrittler in the typical sense that P, Sn, and Sb are. Rather, nitrogen is almost always precipitated as nitrides and these second phase particles can induce low energy ductile fracture. The distribution of nitrides in the solid and the type of nitride present is dependent on the heat treatment. If a low austenitizing temperature is used, the nitrides in the steel dissolve and considerable nitrogen segregates to the grain boundaries. During an oil quench it reprecipitates at the boundaries, primarily as Cr2N. These nitrides cause low energy, ductile intergranular fracture. If a high austenitizing temperature is used, much less nitrogen segregrates so fewer nitrides precipitate during the quench. However, upon tempering the nitrogen does reprecipitate. At low tempering temperatures, small nitrides form both within the grains and along the grain boundaries. When these nitrides become sufficiently large, voids form around them as well as around the carbides during fracture. These small voids help link the large voids that form around oxide and sulfide particles and lower the energy for ductile fracture. After high temperature tempering treatments large nitrides and carbides form at the grain boundaries. These produce low energy, intergranular ductile fracture. These large grain boundary precipitates can also aid in brittle intergranular fracture by providing many more sites for nucleation of intergranular cracks when the boundary is weakened by another impurity element.


Metallurgical Transaction Fracture Energy Ductile Fracture Intergranular Fracture Peak Height Ratio 
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Copyright information

© American Society for metals and the metallurgical society of AIME 1982

Authors and Affiliations

  • C. L. Briant
    • 1
  • S. K. Banerji
    • 2
  • A. M. Ritter
    • 1
  1. 1.Corporate Research and DevelopmentGeneral Electric CompanySchenectady
  2. 2.Foote Mineral CompanyExton

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