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Journal of Failure Analysis and Prevention

, Volume 8, Issue 3, pp 289–307 | Cite as

Hydrogen Embrittlement of Metals: A Primer for the Failure Analyst

  • M. R. LouthanJr.
Technical Article---Peer-Reviewed

Abstract

Hydrogen reduces the service life of many metallic components. Such reductions may be manifested as blisters, as a decrease in fatigue resistance, as enhanced creep, as the precipitation of a hydride phase, and, most commonly, as unexpected, macroscopically brittle failure. This unexpected brittle fracture is commonly termed hydrogen embrittlement. Frequently, hydrogen embrittlement occurs after the component has been in service for a period of time and much of the resulting fracture surface is distinctly intergranular. Many failures, particularly of high-strength steels, are attributed to hydrogen embrittlement simply because the failure analyst sees intergranular fracture in a component that served adequately for a significant period of time. Unfortunately, simply determining that a failure is due to hydrogen embrittlement or some other form of hydrogen-induced damage is of no particular help to the customer unless that determination is coupled with recommendations that provide pathways to avoid such damage in future applications. This article presents qualitative and phenomenological descriptions of the hydrogen damage processes and outlines several metallurgical recommendations that may help reduce the susceptibility of a particular alloy, component, or system to the various forms of hydrogen damage.

Keywords

Hydrogen embrittlement Blistering Hydrogen attack Hydride embrittlement Fisheyes 

Notes

Acknowledgments

This article summarizes knowledge gained through approximately 50 years of studying the effects of hydrogen on metals and alloys. The primary place of study has been at the Savannah River National Laboratory during a total of 30+ years of work at that facility. I was first introduced to hydrogen embrittlement in 1958 when an undergraduate student at Virginia Polytechnic Institute. My first opportunity to publish in the hydrogen in metals arena came in 1961, and since that time I have been privileged to work on hydrogen-induced damage problems at the University of Notre Dame, Sandia National Laboratory, Virginia Polytechnic Institute, and State University, as well as at SRNL. My colleagues and my students have been extraordinarily knowledgeable and supportive. My employers have provided wonderful working environments, excellent facilities, and technical libraries and allowed for the travel, conference attendance, and networking necessary to participate in the evolution of our understanding of hydrogen embrittlement processes. My wife, Fran, has put up with my late night interest hydrogen embrittlement, accompanied my travels, and provides support far beyond a normal call to duty. This article lacks the appropriate references because I lack the organizational skills necessary to catalogue and retrieve papers, manuscripts, and proceedings. Many of the ideas presented were not mine but were heard, read, or seen when others were presenting their work. I apologize for the lack of references; however, the reports used to obtain many of the figures in this manuscript are referenced and the books that contain those papers discuss most of the ideas presented and a few excellent ideas that I did not discuss. When confronted, I will willingly admit that the good ideas in this manuscript may be yours and that the mistakes are all mine.

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Copyright information

© ASM International 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Materials Science and TechnologySavannah River National LaboratoryAikenUSA

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