Corrosion costs industry billions of dollars every year—more than $7 billion annually for oil and gas pipelines alone. Human-eye inspection is time consuming and may miss signs of corrosion at the very early stages when it would be most cost efficient to repair, particularly if the corrosion occurs under a coating. Unless mitigated quickly, corrosion will spread and weaken the physical structure of materials and equipment, eventually leading to failure of the affected component. By the time corrosion is visible to the eye, the damage can be very costly to repair. Battelle wanted to find a way to improve the odds of early detection and mitigate the effects of corrosion before it spreads.
We developed a smart microbead that breaks open when corrosion is detected. The smart beads look like a fine white powder and can be mixed into paints and coatings. The beads fluoresce in the presence of corrosion, so inspectors can easily see early stage corrosion using a special light, even if it isn’t showing through the paint. At the same time, they automatically release self-healing materials to fill the corrosion cracks at the microscopic level. Existing products have separate beads for detection purposes and repair. However, the chances of both kinds of beads being in the right place to both detect the corrosion and deliver a self-healing payload are very small. By combining both properties in a single microbead, the self-healing chemicals can be automatically released as soon as corrosion is detected at the microscopic level.
The Battelle Smart Corrosion Detector® is the first dual-action microbead that can both detect and mitigate corrosion as soon as it starts. Using coatings with the smart beads would allow for much faster inspection of pipelines and critical infrastructure, and allow for corrosion detection at a much earlier stage. At the same time, the self-healing properties of the beads slow or stop the spread of corrosion to prevent damage to equipment while mitigation efforts are under way. Their use could result in enormous potential cost savings in both direct equipment replacement and repair and indirect costs associated with equipment failure. Battelle’s encapsulation technology can be applied to many other products that require two components to be kept separated until released by a defined trigger such as water, pressure, temperature or pH level.