Zirconium alloys for improving the ductility of steel structures

Zirconium alloys for improving the ductility of steel structures

27 January 2020
 Categories: , Blog

Steel structures are needed to function in many different environments. From the interior of nuclear reactors to lining fuel tanks, steel is often exposed to tough conditions that may cause corrosion, lower ductility and degradation.

Ductility is often one of the most important characteristics of steel. Whether you're fabricating vehicle parts or aeroplane materials, you need highly ductile steel to get the job done. Zirconium alloys are increasingly used to add this ductility to your structures.

Zirconium is essentially a layer that forms on the steel surface and prevents the entry of hydrogen. In this way, the metal can last longer before it becomes susceptible to cracks and deformation.

Understanding the Zirconium oxide layer

Zirconium alloys were initially used in the nuclear industry to limit steel damage from high temperatures, hydrogen and radiation. The working principle is that upon the release of hydrogen (mainly from water molecules), a layer of zirconium oxide forms on the steel surface. This oxide layer prevents hydrogen from further penetrating the metallic surface.

The hydrogen is either oxidized to other forms or released as gas. Therefore, adding a layer of zirconium oxide on steel in many different environments could limit the damage that is often caused by exterior elements. By carefully introducing elements that can react to form zirconium oxide, substances such as hydrogen can be prevented from dissolving on the metal surface and affecting ductility.  

Developing zirconium alloys to reduce oxidation

Zirconium alloys are carefully developed metallic products that can be used to improve steel ductility over time. Metal fabricators can incorporate these alloys into their fabrication process to develop more durable steel products. The first step toward developing zirconium alloys is understanding exactly how hydrogen (and other elements that affect ductility) actually penetrate the metallic surface. Then, modifications can be made on the metal surface to improve the zirconium oxide layer while expelling hydrogen.

Researchers have developed various doping elements that achieve both functions. Not only do they speed up oxidation, but they also minimize the solubility of hydrogen and keep the surface intact for longer. The unique components that keep your steel ductile are then introduced into a zirconium alloy during the fabrication process.  

Zirconium alloys are revolutionary for the metal fabrication sector because they can be used to extend the life of pipelines, plumbing products, fuel tanks, ship components, and much more. Over the past 5 years, significant advancements have been made in ductility improvement via zirconium alloys, and their uses continue to expand by the day.

To learn more, contact a steel fabrication plant.

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