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Hydrogen related brittle cracking of metastable Type-304 stainless steel.


Meta-stable austenitic stainless steels are known to be susceptible to hydrogen embrittlement. Many researchers reported that strain-induced martensite suffered hydrogen embrittlement [1, 2]. Fracture type was intergranular (IG). Carpenter et al. reported that AE signals from sensitized Type-304 steel, during tensile loading in a charging solution, were produced by the IG-cracks caused by the grain boundary separation. Here the IG-cracking occurred when hydrogen charging was continued till the maximum load. They proposed a transport model by moving dislocations [3, 4]. Direct demonstration of this model is impossible at present, even if we use any kind of advanced analysis equipments. Collection of reliable data, which can or cannot support this model, is needed.

In this report, we studied the hydrogen embrittlement of Type-304 and -316 steels by monitoring AE during quasi-static loading in a charging solution at 25[degrees]C and 80[degrees]C.

Experimental procedure

We used commercially available Type-304 and -316 stainless steels. Chemical composition is shown in Table 1. Test specimens of Fig. 1 were prepared by an electro-discharge machine to produce identical specimens. Width in gage section was controlled to 15 mm. A notch with the tip radius of 0.2 mm was induced on one side. These samples were abraded by silicon carbide abrasive papers of 150, 300, 400, 600, 800, 1000 and 1500 mesh, and mirror polished by aluminum oxide powder. The specimen was sensitized at 650[degrees]C for 24 hours in low-pressure furnace after solution treatment at 1050[degrees]C for 1 hour, and quenched in water. The specimen was sealed by rubber-based coating material, except for the exposure area of 15 mm x 10 mm. Hydrogen was charged in an [H.sub.2]S[O.sub.4] solution of pH:2, at cathodic current density of 1 mA/c[m.sup.2] using a potentio-galvanostat.

We monitored AE using four small AE sensors (PAC, Type- PICO), which were mounted on the sample as they make a line. Outputs of two sensors (channels 2 and 3 in the gage section) were amplified by a pre-amplifier (Gain: 40 dB) and fed to a personal computer. Two more sensors (channels 1 and 4 on the shoulder) were used to discriminate the friction noise from the signals. We monitored the crack propagation by a CCD camera.



Experimental results

Tensile loading in charging solution

Tensile load was applied to Type-304 specimen in a charging solution using crosshead control method, in the following sequence: (1) Increase the load at constant crosshead speed. (2) When a small load drop (~0.1 kN, probably from the start of cracking) was detected, crosshead was stopped and held. (3) Then, monitor the load decrease for 3 hour.

In these tests, hydrogen charging was started with the loading. The crosshead speed was varied between 0.05 mm/min to 0.4 mm/min. Figure 2 shows the load-time diagram at crosshead speeds of 0.4, 0.2, 0.1 and 0.05 mm/min for the sensitized Type-304 specimen at 25[degrees]C. A fine smooth line indicates that of a non-charged specimen at crosshead speed of 0.1 mm/min. Five specimens show different behavior in the plastic range. The specimens hydrogen-charged during loading showed extensive load decay. Initial decay and the total load decay were larger at higher loading rates. The curve of the charged specimen at crosshead speed of 0.1 mm/min agrees fairly well that of the non-charged specimen, but deviates slightly at large loads. The maximum load reached was 5 to 6.5 kN. The maximum load increased with an increase of crosshead speeds.

Figure 3 shows changes of cumulative AE counts with time. Detected AE signals were classified by their frequency characteristics into two types (Type-A and -B) as shown in Fig. 4. Type-A was detected after the maximum load and showed broad frequency components. In contrast, Type-B was detected throughout loading. Frequency spectrum of the Type-B showed a limited frequency component and resembles the noise from hydrogen gas evolution in SCC [5]. We selected Type-A as the crack signal. We detected many signals during load increasing period, but few signals during the initial portion of the load decay. For two samples with crosshead speeds of 0.2 and 0.4 mm/min, we again detected signals during rapid load decay period after incubation times. However, we did not detect AE during load decay for two specimens with lower crosshead speeds of 0.05 and 0.1 mm/min. Detail mechanism of AE generation rate and its dependency on the crosshead speed is a future problem.


Figure 5 shows CDD images of crack progression. White spots in the image are hydrogen gas bubbles. Timing of crack progression from the notch bottom agreed roughly with the first AE timing at 1,100 s, as shown by the photo (a) at 1,800 s. We observed a crack with large opening at the maximum load (photo (c)), but after that, a fine crack during load decay (photo (d)).

Figure 6 shows post-test SEM of the sample with the crosshead speed of 0.1 mm/min. We observed a number of IG-cracks and falling-off of grains around the notch. Here the falling-off of grains was caused by the grain boundary separation. As these cracks were considered to be caused by strain-induced martensite, we measured ferrite amount near the main crack using a ferrite meter. It was measured as 7%. Figure 7 shows fracture surface of another sample loaded to final fracture in the same charging condition. We observed both dimple and cleavage fracture surfaces, and deep grooves along the elongated grains.





Effect of strain-induced martensite on hydrogen induced cracking

We studied effect of strain induced martensite on the hydrogen-induced cracking using Type-304 and -316 steels. Transition temperature (Md) of austenite to martensite of the Type304 steel is 30[degrees]C, so we then compared the crack susceptibilities of the Type-304 steel at 25 and 80[degrees]C. We deformed the sensitized Type-304 sample, with charging at 80[degrees]C (0.1 mm/min) and detected no AE. The maximum load was not reached in loading up to 6 kN, while we observed high AE activity and the maximum load of 5.3 kN for the loading at 25oC (Fig. 3). Martensite amount was measured as below 1.0%. This result implies that the martensite is a necessary factor to cause the hydrogen-induced cracking.

The [M.sub.d] temperature of the Type-316 steel is -28[degrees]C, and this steel produces no strain-induced martensite at 25[degrees]C. In order to confirm this, the sensitized Type-316 steel was tensile tested in the charging solution at 25[degrees]C, by the same method as in the previous section. This steel produced three AE during the loading to 6 kN, indicating no susceptibility to hydrogen-induced cracking, as shown in Fig. 8.

Effect of Hydrogen charging and thermal martensite

Experimental data of previous sections suggested an importance of both the martensite and gliding dislocations during plastic deformation. The test in this section intends to confirm these. We attempted AE monitoring from the sensitized, and then nitrogen quenched and pre-charged Type-304 steel during tensile loading in air. Hydrogen was charged for 144 hr at current density of 10 mA/c[m.sup.2] (charge amount of 5184 C/c[m.sup.2]) prior to the loading. This specimen possesses thermally-induced martensite of approximately 15% near the notch bottom.

Figure 9 shows load-time curves of the quenched and pre-charged specimens in air. We detected no AE and no crack. Thermally-induced martensite increased the yield load by approximately 14% over that of the sensitized Type-304 steel without hydrogen charge, but is immune from the hydrogen-induced cracking. This implies that simultaneous supply of protons and generation of dislocation are needed for hydrogen-assisted cracking.




The martensite is a necessary condition for hydrogen-induced cracking but not the sufficient condition, as demonstrated by the last section's experiment using quenched samples. Figures 2 and 3 imply that both the gliding dislocation by dynamic plastic deformation and the strain-induced martensite, and of course the diffusible protons, are necessary for hydrogen embrittlement. The grain boundary separation occurs when these three condition were simultaneously satisfied. These results agree with the results by Carpenter et al. [4]. We, however, could not explain the complicated AE behavior during load decay in Fig. 3. These must be explained based on the rate process of proton diffusion and martensite formation. Unsolved problems are

1) How the protons are transferred to the martensite at the tip of notch and growing crack, and

2) How the martensite distributes in the austenitic grains.

Diffusion coefficient of proton in the austenitic phase is as low as [10.sup.-12] [cm.sup.2]/s, million times smaller than ([10.sup.-6] [cm.sup.2]/s) in the ferritic phase. Thus the proton can not quickly diffuse through the austenitic grains. Fast and sufficient supplement of protons to the martensite will be possible by gliding dislocation accompanying the protons or self-diffusion through the martensite. No advanced analysis equipment at present can differentiate them, but we can compare the crack velocity and proton diffusion rate under controlled stress intensity. The second problem includes a contentious martensite path for proton diffusion and the grain boundary separation. The grain boundary separation can be explained by the martensite formation along the chromium depleted zone. Distribution of the martensite, and possibly the initiation of crack, will be revealed by the advance analysis equipment.

We recently observed frequent grain boundary separations in polythionic APC-SCC of sensitized Type-304 steel [5]. AE were detected when the steel suffered the grain boundary separation. Detailed mechanism is not well understood. There is a possibility of hydrogen-induced grain boundary separation in the APC-SCC.


In order to study the mechanism of hydrogen embrittlement of austenitic stainless steel, we monitored AE. Results are summarized below:

1) We detected AE and crack for the sensitized type 304 when it is exposed to both the dynamic plastic deformation and hydrogen charging simultaneously. Much AE were continuously emitted during plastic loading at higher cross head speeds.

2) Experiment suggests that hydrogen assisted cracking occurs when sufficient protons were transferred to the strain induced martensite. Diffusion path and trap site of protons have to be studied in future.


Faculty of Science and Engineering, Aoyama Gakuin University, 5-10-1 Fuchinobe, Sagamihara, Kanagawa 229-8558, Japan


[1] M. L. Holzworth, Corrosion, 25, 1968, 107.

[2] N. Otani, S. Asano. Y. Fujishima and Y Yamamasu, J. Japan Inst. Metals, 37, 1972, 746.

[3] S.H. Carpenter and D. R. Smith, Metallurgical transaction A, 21A, 1990, 1933.

[4] S.H. Carpenter, K. Ono and D. Armentrout, Progress in Acoustic Emission XIII, 2006, p. 55.

[5] A. Yonezu, H. Cho and M. Takemoto, Progress in Acoustic Emission XIII, 2006, p. 489.
Table 1 Chemical composition of austenitic stainless steel used
(mass %).

            C      Si     Mn     P       S       Ni     Cr       Fe
Type 304   0.05   0.61   1.56   0.04   0.024    8.55   18.2   balanced
Type 316   0.05   0.57   0.82   0.02   0.0006   11.3   17.5   balanced
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Article Details
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Author:Cho, Hideo; Takemoto, Mikio
Publication:Journal of Acoustic Emission
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:9JAPA
Date:Jan 1, 2007
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