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AU J.T. 10(3):165-170 (Jan.

2007)

Stress Corrosion Cracking Susceptibility of Medium Carbon Steel


in Caustic and Potash Media
A.S. Afolabi*, and J.O. Borode**
School of Chemical and Metallurgical Engineering, Faculty of Engineering and the Built
Environment, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa

Abstract
The stress corrosion cracking (SCC) behaviour of medium carbon steel (MCS) in
caustic soda, potash and a mixture of these reagents was studied by fracturing this
material on a tensometer after every seven days of immersion in these media. Percentage
elongation and reduction in cross-sectional area were used to investigate the SCC of the
steel. The results obtained showed that MCS is susceptible to SCC in both caustic soda
and potash media. Carbon cracking caused intergranular SCC in both media due to
retained internal stresses in the steel while hydrogen cracking also occurred in caustic
soda medium, hence MCS is more susceptible to SCC in caustic soda medium than potash
solution.
Keywords: SCC, MCS, caustic soda, potash, hydrogen cracking,, carbon cracking.

Introduction
Stress corrosion cracking, SCC, refers to
cracking caused by the simultaneous action of
tensile stress and a specific corrosive medium
[Uhlig and Revie (1991); Jones (1996) and
Saxena et al. 2006)]. Many investigations have
classified all cracking failures occurring in
corrosive media as SCC including failures due
to hydrogen embrittlement. However, these
two types of cracking failures respond
differently to environmental variables (Kedzier
and Rizzo 1992).
Medium Carbon Steel (MCS) is widely
used in the construction of machine parts that
are employed in manufacturing, processing and
production industries. The best approach to
militate corrosion of these structures is to study
the corrosive behaviour of this metallic
material in an environment concerned to
proffer appropriate method of protection.
The research works of Jacobs (1985); Oni
and Ashaolu (1991); Oni (1997), Singh-Raman
and Muddle (2004); Chen et al. (2006) and
Rogante et al. (2006) had discussed the various

variables affecting SCC behaviours in several


aqueous media. Several data had also been
obtained on the effect of extraneous ions Hg++
and Sn++ on corrosion of medium carbon steel in
agro-fluids (Odeshi and Adepoju 1997), while
recent research effort (Afolabi 2006) has shown
that these extraneous ions delay the onset of
cracking of this steel in acidic medium.
Caustic soda and potash are important
chemicals that are used in the manufacture of
soap. The mixing of these reagents with other
additives takes place in a tank with the aid of
propellers.
This equipment is made of
structural steel such as MCS. For the country
to be industrially self-reliant in this
millennium, several small and medium scale
industries are being embarked on.
Soap
making is definitely one of these industries.
Therefore, the main objective of this
research is to investigate the SCC behaviour of
MCS in caustic soda and potash media with the
aim of studying the cracking mechanism of this
steel within these media. The information
obtained from this research is expected to be
useful to soap making manufacturers particularly

*Correspondence to: Afolabi A. S., Tel: +27 11 717 7539, Fax: +27 11 403 1471, E-mail:
afolabisammy@yahoo.com
**Metallurgical and Materials Engineering Department. School of Engineering & Engineering
Technology, Federal University of Technology, Akure, Nigeria.
169

AU J.T. 10(3):165-170 (Jan. 2007)

for an optimum material/ environment design


criteria for excellent corrosion performance of
soap mixing machines.

A = Cross sectional area after deformation


This formula [i.e. (ii)] could not be used
in this work due to the fact that most of the
specimens did not fracture along the
diametrical planes hence it was difficult to
obtain accurate measurement of the cross
sectional area at fracture. Therefore, using
volume constancy formula, i.e.
AoLo = AL ....(iii)
But change in area A = Ao - A.....(iv)
From (iii) A = AoLo.(v)
L
Substituting ..(v) into (iv) we get
A = Ao A =
Ao AoLo = Ao (1 Lo)......................(vi)
L
L
From (ii) Therefore
%RA = (Ao A) x 100 = (1 Lo) x 100
Ao
L
Hence,
%RA = (1 Lo) x 100...(vii)
L
Thus formula (vii) was used to calculate
the percentage reduction in area for all the
samples.

Material and Method


The medium carbon steel used in this
work had the following composition by weight:
0.38%C, 0.22%Si, 0.9%Mn, 0.04%S, 0.01%N,
and 0.22%Cu the rest being Fe. Many tensile
test specimens were made from the 12mm
diameter steel sample using the specification
described by Adewuyi (1999) and Kim et al.
(2005). These specimens were austenised at a
temperature of 900oC for fifteen minutes and
oil-quenched to obtain a fully martensitic
structure. They were later tempered at 350oC
for one hour to relieve the internal stresses.
Excessive oxide layers on these samples were
removed by immersion in 10% HCl and rinsed
in water and alcohol respectively. These
samples were totally immersed in the following
media:
(i) Standard concentration of NaOH
(ii) Standard concentration of K2CO3
(iii) 50% K2CO3 + 50% NaOH
(iv) 70% K2CO3 + 30% NaOH
(v) 70% NaOH + 30% K2CO3
The test specimens were removed one
every seven days and fitted into the wedge
grips of a tensometer which was operated
automatically.
The time to fracture was
recorded with the aid of a stopwatch (Rondelli
et al. 1997 and SinghRaman et al. 2004).

Discussion
Figs. 1 and 2 show the SCC of MCS in
100% NaOH and 100% K2CO3 expressed in
terms of percentage reduction in cross sectional
area and percentage elongation to fracture
respectively. These two parameters are known
to be useful indexes for evaluating the SCC
behaviour of steel in a given medium. These
parameters were derived as stated in 3.1
following the procedures and precautions of
McIntyre and Dillon (1985) and Beaver and
Koch (1994). From the Figures, it could be
observed that both the percentage elongation
and reduction in cross sectional area decrease
with exposure time in the two media. This
behaviour, according to Kim and Wilde (1979)
is a characteristic of hydrogen induced
cracking in steels. A close look at the Figures
reveals that lower percentage reduction in cross
sectional area and percentage elongation to
fracture are observed in 100% NaOH which
indicates higher susceptibility of SCC as
compared to 100% K2CO3 medium. This

Results
i. The percentage elongation (%Ef) of the
samples was calculated suing the formula
%Ef = L - Lo x 100....(i)
Lo
where L = Length after fracture and
Lo = Initial gauge length
ii. The percentage reduction in area (%RA) is
given by
%RA = Ao - A x 100..(ii)
Ao
where Ao = Cross sectional area before
deformation.
170

AU J.T. 10(3):165-170 (Jan. 2007)

SCC in caustic soda solution. In other words,


the presence of hydrogen atom in caustic soda
became endangering specie when MCS is
exposed to this medium. Therefore, increase in
concentration of this medium with exposure
time increased the cracking effect on this
material. It was observed that the pH of the
mixture reduced with increase in concentration
of potash solution. This also indicates that
higher the pH of the corrosion medium the
more the SCC susceptibility of MCS as
reported by Sambongi et al. (1998) and Zhang
et al. (2005).

higher SCC susceptibility in NaOH could have


been enhanced by the presence of hydrogen
ions in the medium. These ions could have
caused an increase in the amount of atomic
hydrogen that can enter the metal lattice and
embrittle the steel. This confirms the role of
hydrogen in the cracking mechanism. Since
percentage elongation measures the ductility of
materials, decrease in this parameter with
exposure time brings about reduction in
ductility of the MCS as it is evident in Figure
2. According to Arsenault and Ghali (1991)
and SinghRaman et al. (2004), the
susceptibility of carbon steels to cracking
depends on factors such as metal composition,
metallurgical, environment, temperature and
electrochemical potential. With reference to the
first three, intergranular cracks are suspected in
the MCS immersed in the two media. These
cracks might have been caused by retained and
unrelieved residual stresses caused by
quenching process on the steel which could
have been assisted by high content of carbon in
the steel. Thus, these intergranular cracks
developed into secondary cracks which grow
rapidly in the corrosive media thereby causing
premature failure of the material within few
exposure days studied.
Figs. 3 and 4 express SCC in terms of
percentage reduction in cross sectional area and
percentage elongation to fracture respectively
in a mixture of various concentrations of
caustic soda and potash media. These Figures
indicate that the combination of concentration
of 70% caustic soda and 30% potash mixture
produces the highest deformation with
exposure time. This is closely followed by
mixture of equal concentrations of these media
while the least deformation with exposure
period occurred at the highest concentration of
potash (i.e. 70% K2CO3 + 30% NaOH). This is
indicative that the highest SCC susceptibility is
obtainable with corrosion mixture having the
highest concentration of caustic (70% NaOH).
This behaviour further supports the SCC
mechanism described previously. While
retained residual stresses and carbon cracking
caused by carbon content in the MCS are
believed to be responsible for SCC in K2CO3
medium, hydrogen induced cracking is added
to the factors above to initiate and propagate

Conclusions
The SCC of MCS was investigated in
100% NaOH, 100% K2CO3, 50% NaOH +
50% K2CO3, 70% NaOH + 30% K2CO3 and
70% K2CO3 + 30% NaOH media. Based on
the comparison of the results obtained and the
observations made during the course of the
work, the following conclusions can be made.
(i) The ductility of MCS decreased with
exposure time in caustic soda and
potash media, an indication that MCS is
susceptibility to SCC in these media.
(ii) The susceptibility of MCS to SCC is
higher in caustic soda solution than in
potash medium. This is due to the
combined
carbon
cracking
and
hydrogen cracking in the former as
compared to carbon cracking only in
the latter.
(iii) While hydrogen atom is endangering
specie in the cracking mechanism of
MCS in caustic soda, reduction in
concentration of this medium by potash
solution reduced the susceptibility of
this material to SCC.
(iv) There is no indication that hydrogen
atom is an endangering specie when the
steel is exposed to 100% K2CO3 and
70% K2CO3 + 30% NaOH mixture due
to change in pH of the solution.
(v) Intergranular SCC of MCS occurred in
media due to retained and unrelieved
internal stresses caused by hardening
process of the steel.
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AU J.T. 10(3):165-170 (Jan. 2007)

steel in agro-fluids. Nigerian J. Tech. Educ.


14(2): 112-24.
Oni, A. 1997. Inhibition of stress corrosion
cracking of low carbon steel in sulphuric
acid by potassium chromium and sodium
nitrate mixture due to synergism. Nigerian
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Oni, A.; and Ashaolu, J.T. (1991. Hydrogen
embrittlement resistance of a new highstrength low steel for offshore application.
Corr. Prev. Cont. 38(1) 20-2.
Rogante, M.; Battistella, P.; and Cesari, F.
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pipeline weldings. Int. J. Hydro. Ener.. 31:
597-601.
Rondelli, G.; Vicentini, B.; and Sivier, E. 1997.
Stress corrosion cracking of stainless steels
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Sambongi, M.; Takamori, K.; Suzuki, S.;
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T.;Wada, Y.; Akamine, K.;, Takahashi, T.;
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AU J.T. 10(3):165-170 (Jan. 2007)

% Reduction in cross sectional area (%RA).

25

20

15

10

100% NaOH
100% K2CO3
0
0

10

15

20

25

30

Exposure time (days).


Figure 1: % Reduction in cross sectional area Vs exposure time of MCS in NaOH and
K2CO3.

30

% Elongation to fracture (% Ef).

25

20

15

10

100% NaOH
100% K2CO3

0
0

10

15

20

25

Exposure time (days).


Figure 2: % Elongation to fracture Vs exposure time of MCS in NaOH and K2CO3.

173

30

AU J.T. 10(3):165-170 (Jan. 2007)

% Reduction in cross sectional area (% RA)

25

20

15

10

70% NaOH + 30% K2CO3


50% NaOH + 50% K2CO3
30% NaOH +70% K2CO3

0
0

10

15

20

25

30

Exposure time (days).


Figure 3: % Reduction in cross sectional area Vs exposure time of MCS in a mixture of
NaOH and K2CO3.

30

% Elongation to fracture (%Ef).

25

20

15

10

70% NaOH + 30% K2CO3


50% NaOH + 50% K2CO3
30% NaOH + 70% K2CO3

0
0

10

15

20

25

30

Exposure time (days).


Figure 4: % Elongation to fracture Vs exposure time of MCS in a mixture of NaOH
and K2CO3.

174