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“Cannot Be Explained” – Scientists Unveil Revolutionary SS-H2 Steel

Scientists have developed a groundbreaking stainless steel for hydrogen production, SS-H2, which offers superior corrosion resistance and cost-effectiveness compared to Titanium. This innovation could substantially reduce material costs in water electrolyzers, paving the way for more affordable hydrogen production from renewable sources. Above is the novel stainless steel for hydrogen developed by the team. Credit: The University of Hong Kong

A team headed by Professor Mingxin Huang from the University of Hong Kong’s Department of Mechanical Engineering has achieved a significant advancement in the field of stainless steel. This recent innovation focuses on the development of stainless steel designed for hydrogen applications, known as SS-H2.

This accomplishment is part of Professor Huang’s ongoing ‘Super Steel’ Project, which previously achieved notable milestones with the creation of anti-COVID-19First identified in 2019 in Wuhan, China, COVID-19, or Coronavirus disease 2019, (which was originally called "2019 novel coronavirus" or 2019-nCoV) is an infectious disease caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). It has spread globally, resulting in the 2019–22 coronavirus pandemic.” data-gt-translate-attributes=”[{“attribute”:”data-cmtooltip”, “format”:”html”}]” tabindex=”0″ role=”link”>COVID-19 stainless steel in 2021 and the development of ultra-strong and ultra-tough Super Steel in 2017 and 2020.

The new steel developed by the team exhibits high corrosion resistance, enabling its potential application for green hydrogen production from seawater, where a novel sustainable solution is still in the pipeline.

The performance of the new steel in salt water electrolyzer is comparable to the current industrial practice using Titanium as structural parts to produce hydrogen from desalted seawater or acidAny substance that when dissolved in water, gives a pH less than 7.0, or donates a hydrogen ion.” data-gt-translate-attributes=”[{“attribute”:”data-cmtooltip”, “format”:”html”}]” tabindex=”0″ role=”link”>acid, while the cost of the new steel is much cheaper.

The discovery has been published in the journal Materials Today. The research achievements are currently applying for patents in multiple countries, and two of them has already been granted authorisation.

Revolutionizing Corrosion Resistance

Since its discovery a century ago, stainless steel has always been an important material widely used in corrosive environments. Chromium is an essential element in establishing the corrosion resistance of stainless steel. Passive film is generated through the oxidation of chromium (Cr) and protects stainless steel in natural environments. Unfortunately, this conventional single-passivation mechanism based on Cr has halted further advancement of stainless steel. Owing to the further oxidation of stable Cr2O3 into soluble Cr(VI) speciesA species is a group of living organisms that share a set of common characteristics and are able to breed and produce fertile offspring. The concept of a species is important in biology as it is used to classify and organize the diversity of life. There are different ways to define a species, but the most widely accepted one is the biological species concept, which defines a species as a group of organisms that can interbreed and produce viable offspring in nature. This definition is widely used in evolutionary biology and ecology to identify and classify living organisms.” data-gt-translate-attributes=”[{“attribute”:”data-cmtooltip”, “format”:”html”}]” tabindex=”0″ role=”link”>species, tranpassive corrosion inevitably occurs in conventional stainless steel at ~1000 mV (saturated calomel electrode, SCE), which is below the potential required for water oxidation at ~1600 mV.

Mingxin Huang and Kaiping Yu

Professor Mingxin Huang and Dr Kaiping Yu. Credit: The University of Hong Kong

254SMO super stainless steel, for instance, is a benchmark among Cr-based anti-corrosion alloys and has superior pitting resistance in seawater; however, transpassive corrosion limits its application at higher potentials.

By using a “sequential dual-passivation” strategy, Professor Huang’s research team developed the novel SS-H2 with superior corrosion resistance. In addition to the single Cr2O3-based passive layer, a secondary Mn-based layer forms on the preceding Cr-based layer at ~720 mV. The sequential dual-passivation mechanism prevents the SS-H2 from corrosion in chloride media to an ultra-high potential of 1700 mV. The SS-H2 demonstrates a fundamental breakthrough over conventional stainless steel.

Unexpected Discovery and Potential Applications

“Initially, we did not believe it because the prevailing view is that Mn impairs the corrosion resistance of stainless steel. Mn-based passivation is a counter-intuitive discovery, that cannot be explained by current knowledge in corrosion science. However, when numerous atomic-level results were presented, we were convinced. Beyond being surprised, we cannot wait to exploit the mechanism,” said Dr Kaiping Yu, the first author of the article, whose PhD is supervised by Professor Huang.

From the initial discovery of the innovative stainless steel to achieving a breakthrough in scientific understanding, and ultimately preparing for the official publication and hopefully its industrial application, the team devoted nearly six years to the work.

“Different from the current corrosion community, which mainly focuses on the resistance at natural potentials, we specialize in developing high-potential-resistant alloys. Our strategy overcame the fundamental limitation of conventional stainless steel and established a paradigm for alloyA mixture of two metallic elements typically used to give greater strength or higher resistance to corrosion.” data-gt-translate-attributes=”[{“attribute”:”data-cmtooltip”, “format”:”html”}]” tabindex=”0″ role=”link”>alloy development applicable at high potentials. This breakthrough is exciting and brings new applications.” Professor Huang said.

At present, for water electrolyzers in desalted seawater or acid solutions, expensive Au- or Pt-coated Ti are required for structural components. For instance, the total cost of a 10-megawatt PEM electrolysis tank system in its current stage is approximately HK$17.8 million, with the structural components contributing up to 53% of the overall expense. The breakthrough made by Professor Huang’s team makes it possible to replace these expensive structural components with more economical steel. As estimated, the employment of SS-H2 is expected to cut the cost of structural material by about 40 times, demonstrating a great foreground of industrial applications.

“From experimental materials to real products, such as meshes and foams, for water electrolyzers, there are still challenging tasks at hand. Currently, we have made a big step toward industrialisation. Tons of SS-H2-based wire has been produced in collaboration with a factory from the Mainland. We are moving forward in applying the more economical SS-H2 in hydrogen production from renewable sources,” added Professor Huang.

Reference: “A sequential dual-passivation strategy for designing stainless steel used above water oxidation” by Kaiping Yu, Shihui Feng, Chao Ding, Meng Gu, Peng Yu and Mingxin Huang, 19 August 2023, Materials Today.
DOI: 10.1016/j.mattod.2023.07.022

Source: SciTechDaily