The FCI is located in picturesque Brest, on the coast of Brittany, France.

Tackling corrosion with bespoke research

The French Corrosion Institute (Institut de la Corrosion) is a world-renowned research facility which carries out a huge array of projects for end-users and manufacturers from around the globe. Laboratories with access to natural seawater allow the Offshore & Onshore Infrastructure Group within the Institute to carry out bespoke materials testing, qualification, and research.
 
^ The FCI is located in picturesque Brest, on the coast of Brittany, France.

Article by Joanne McIntyre
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Charles graduated with a Masters in material science eight years ago and was able to take up a position within FCI immediately. “It’s a fascinating workplace, operating at the intersection of the manufacturers and end-users points of view. Our corrosion specialists have a thorough understanding of the corrosion problems they encounter, and as a neutral entity, we can offer impartial research and advice.”

Charles works at the FCI’s headquarters in Brest, France. “The Institute’s teams work on a wide range of corrosion-related research, much of it focusing on corrosion resistant alloys such as stainless steels and duplexes,” he explains.

The range of applications making use of the Institutes’ services is incredibly varied, ranging from the oil & gas, nuclear, chemical and petrochemical industries, to transport, aviation & aerospace, building, and offshore infrastructure. The facilities available include a fully equipped H2S laboratory, seawater facilities, ATEX laboratory, accelerated corrosion testing chambers, a corrosion fatigue laboratory, and outdoor exposure sites.

Offshore & Onshore Infrastructure Group

The bulk of Charles work focuses on corrosion and cathodic protection. “I’m in charge of the marine corrosion and cathodic protection testing activities within the Group. Our team mainly works on corrosion in aqueous media, under the lead of Nicolas Larché. About 80% of our work involves corrosion resistant alloys.”

The objectives of the Offshore & Onshore Infrastructure Group are to estimate the corrosion resistance of materials in seawater; to develop and adapt corrosion protection methods; and to assist in selecting materials which fulfil the environmental requirements and reduce costs.

The Groups field laboratory is well appointed to perform tests in natural seawater at temperatures ranging 4°C to 90°C, and if necessary, treated with chlorine regulation systems, oxygen, pollution, etc.

“When a customer contacts us, we propose a complete and independent in-situ corrosion monitoring system for continuous measurement of electrochemical potential, current and cathodic protection,” Charles explains.

Many of the companies who commission research are end-users, who may also request advice on which materials to select for a particular application.

However, manufacturers also make use of the FCI’s expertise. “Manufacturers often ask us to qualify materials and to carry out corrosion testing in the laboratory. The flexibility of our equipment means we can perform both small and large-scale experiments for marine applications, including heat exchangers, umbilicals, connectors, chlorination units and pumps, etc.”

Extensive laboratories

The FCI team is justifiably proud of the extensive laboratories that the Institute runs at its sites. “The location of our Brest marine test station gives it direct access to natural seawater. One of our key strengths is the ability to perform bespoke tests to exactly meet the requirements of the customer. Our laboratories can propose literally any test required to replicate the actual in-service conditions of most activities related to seawater applications. The laboratory is equipped to simulate every type of service condition by controlling the temperature, chlorides, oxygen content, chlorine…almost everything is possible! We have a large catalogue of tools to control and measure every parameter during testing and to perfectly qualify the corrosion state after the test.”

The FCI also has strong partnerships with laboratories around the world, which enables them to undertake experiments with materials in different environments and climate zones.

Hot topics

Charles and his colleagues work on projects from a very wide range of applications. However, in the past year, Charles has observed a strong increase in demand for the qualification of low-grade alloys for treated seawater applications. “Many end-users operate in conditions where the seawater in their process systems is treated, resulting in significantly lower dissolved oxygen levels and bacterial activity compared to natural seawater conditions. Potentially, the user could, therefore, use lower grade alloys than the corrosion resistant alloys usually specified. We’ve seen a strong increase in demand for these kinds of tests. Simulating this environment – treated natural seawater at the same temperature, operating conditions, etc. as the actual situation – is extremely challenging in a laboratory environment. We’ve been working on this for the past two years, and have published several papers on this groundbreaking work.”

International project

The FCI team often carries out work dedicated to a specific application, at the request of the customer. However, joint industrial projects are also running at FCI, allowing end-users and manufacturers to collaborate closely. Charles has been involved in an extensive project over the past few years, where various grades of stainless steel are being tested in locations around the world.

“This project is undertaken in partnership with similar laboratories in Brazil, Malaysia and Singapore, using natural seawater. The first part of the projects - Biofoul Corr - is complete, while stage 2 - TropicalSEA - is still running and focuses on tropical seawater. The experiment tests the fifteen most commonly used grades of stainless steel (duplex, super duplex, hyper duplex, super austenitic, nickelbased alloys., etc…) across a wide range of applications to compare how these materials behave in terms of crevice corrosion as a function of the global location. During the first part of the program, the pitting and crevice corrosion susceptibility of several materials were tested in temperate and tropical seawater over three to six months, according to standard ISO18070. The second phase is focused on tropical seawater, for which the global corrosiveness is usually higher. A focus was put on the influence of temperature and microbiological activity on the corrosion initiation risk. Ultimately, the research will produce guidelines for the application of these materials in different temperature zones.”

With both end-users and manufacturers involved in this global research project, the results are expected to have far-reaching applications for many industries.

“One of our key strengths is the ability to perform bespoke tests to exactly meet the requirements of the customer”
 

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