The Influence of Oxygen Reduction on Corrosion Protective Organic Coating Failure

Closing Date: 17th February 2023

Project Start Date: 1st October 2023

Funding Provider: UKRI EPSRC CDT Studentship

Subject Area:  Functional Coatings

Key Information

Academic Supervisors: Primary: Prof Geraint Williams. Secondary: Prof James Sullivan.

Industry Supervisor: Dr Patrick Keil.

Aligned programme of study: EngD in Materials, Modelling and Manufacturing

Mode of study: Full-time

Expected Interview Date: Late April 2023


It is well known that localized corrosion causes paint films to delaminate from metal surfaces, through a mechanism involving anodic metal dissolution at a penetrative coating defect, coupled to cathodic oxygen reduction occurring on the adjacent organic-coated metal. This cathode-driven disbondment of the organic coating is thought to proceed through the formation of an under-film alkaline environment, which promotes loss of adhesion through hydrolysis of interfacial bonds, polymer degradation, and dissolution of amphoteric oxide layers. However, it is also thought that the presence of highly reactive intermediate species in the oxygen reduction reaction, such as peroxides and free radicals may also play an important role in de-adhesion on certain metal surfaces. This project forms part of a larger partnership involving BASF Coatings Ltd, in collaboration with Swansea University and Imperial College London, where the main theme will involve furthering knowledge of corrosion-induced failure of protective organic coatings when applied to metal surfaces. The principal focus of this project will be directed towards a fundamental understanding of the role of oxygen reduction in organic coating degradation via a cathodic delamination mechanism.

This project aims to fundamentally understand the role of the oxygen reduction reaction on the corrosion-driven failure of protective organic coatings applied to steel and galvanized steel surfaces. The principal objectives will comprise the following:

  • A correlation of oxygen reduction rate, determined electrochemically on bare metal surfaces with organic coating failure rate under atmospheric conditions when the same surfaces are coated with a protective organic layer.
  • An understanding of the influence of surface oxide composition and the presence of thin film pretreatments on oxygen reduction rate and the associated tendency to undergo organic coating disbondment.
  • A mechanistic understanding of the interfacial processes associated with oxygen reduction which cause de-adhesion at the metal-polymer interface, along with a knowledge of any chemical changes produced within the polymer film.

Project Aims:

The research will concentrate on three specific areas of interest:

(i) Developing methodologies which enable the oxygen reduction reaction to be characterized in situations where metal surfaces such as cold-rolled steel and galvanized steel are coated with an organic layer.

(ii) Gaining mechanistic information of the cathodic disbondment process by identifying chemical and physical changes in the de-adhered polymer film caused by interfacial oxygen reduction

(iii) A comparison of electrochemical measurements of oxygen reduction rates on various metal substrates with empirically gathered organic coating cathodic delamination rates to identify controlling factors such as surface composition/chemistry; understand the means to mitigate against cathode-driven coating failure.

The investigation will be carried out using comprehensive in-situ and ex-situ electrochemical characterization by means of scanning Kelvin Probe (SKP), Scanning Vibrating electrode technique (SVET), alongside potentiodynamic and electrochemical impedance spectroscopy methods in the laboratories of the Swansea University corrosion research group. Surface chemical and structural characterization will be carried using a world class suite of instrumentation including X-ray-photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS), glancing angle X-ray diffraction (XRD), and field emission gun scanning electron microscopy (FEG-SEM), available in the Materials Research Centre at the Faculty of Science & Engineering.

Sponsoring Company: BASF Coatings GmbH

COATED M2A recognises applicants have a variety of backgrounds with different educational and research experiences. We do not expect applicants to be proficient users of any techniques/equipment mentioned, at the time of application. Our focus is to upskill our participants and training will be provided.

COATED M2A in the Faculty of Science and Engineering is a Swansea University initiative which provides postgraduate research training in partnership with industry, providing access to world class laboratories and a wealth of academic and industry expertise. COATED M2A is committed to providing top quality research opportunities within an inclusive environment, funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), Swansea University and Industry partners.

Interwoven through the research study are business, technical and entrepreneurial courses, designed to support and prepare participants for a senior role in industry or academia, on completion of their studies.

The Athena SWAN charter recognises work undertaken by institutions to advance gender equality. The College of Engineering is an Athena SWAN silver award holder and is committed to addressing unequal gender representation. Applications from women and other under-represented groups are particularly welcomed. 

All applications will be anonymised prior to short listing.

Are you considering making an application and have questions you’d like answered? Come and have a 1-2-1 chat with us at our applicant surgeries (Link). We encourage all applicants to review our ‘hints and tips’ document found here.


Candidates must normally hold at minimum (or expect to obtain by the start date) an undergraduate degree at 2.1 level (or Non-UK equivalent as defined by Swansea University), or a combination of degree and equivalent experience to the same level.

NB: If you are holding a non-UK degree, please see Swansea University degree comparisons to find out if you meet the eligibility. 

English Language requirements: If applicable – IELTS 6.5 overall (with at least 6.0 in each individual component) or Swansea recognised equivalent. Details on the Swansea University English Language entry policy can be found here.

Studentships for October 2023 entry are open to candidates of any nationality; however, please note:

  • International students (including EU countries) can apply, but due to UKRI funding rules, no more than 30% of the Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) in Functional Industrial Coatings projects can be allocated to international students. Once the cap is reached, studentships will only be open to applicants eligible for tuition fees at the UK rate, as defined by UKCISA regulations.

If you have any questions regarding your academic or fee eligibility based on the above, please email with the web-link to the studentship(s) you are interested in.


This studentship covers a full award and includes a tax-free stipend (currently £22,000 per annum) and tuition fees, each for a period of four years, subject to meeting University progression requirements.

Also, a generous budget is available to support training, project costs, industry placements and travel to enable you to network and showcase your research at an international conference.

How to Apply

To apply, please complete your application online with the following information:

1. Course choice (section 1) – for administrative purposes only, please select PhD Materials Engineering and your application will be considered for the Engineering Doctorate (EngD) in Materials, Modelling and Manufacturing programme. 

In the event you have already applied for the above programme previously, the application system may issue a warning notice and prevent application, in this event, please email where staff will be happy to assist you in submitting your application.

2. Start year (section 1) – please select 2023

3. Personal Statement (section 6) – select ‘Add Personal Statement Text’ and set out your skills and experience and the relevance of these to the project within the text box provided. Please refer to the ‘hints and tips’ guide for details of how to structure your personal statement. Shortlisting decisions will be made on information supplied in section 6 of Apply only. Please do not attach a cover letter as it will not be considered.

4. Funding (section 8) –

  • ‘Are you funding your studies yourself?’ – please select No
  • ‘Name of Individual or organisation providing funds for study’ – please enter RS252 – BASF Coatings

*It is the responsibility of the applicant to list the above information accurately when applying, please note that applications received without the above information listed will not be considered for the studentship award.

One application is required per individual Swansea University led research scholarship award; applications cannot be considered listing multiple Swansea University led research scholarship awards.

As part of your online application, you MUST upload the following documents (please do not send these via email):

  • Degree certificates and transcripts (if you are currently studying for a degree, screenshots of your grades to date/interim transcripts are sufficient)
  • Two references (academic or previous employer) on headed paper or using the Swansea University reference form. Please note that we are not able to accept references received citing private email accounts, e.g. Hotmail. Referees should cite their employment email address for verification of reference.
  • Evidence of meeting English Language requirement (if applicable).
  • Copy of UK resident visa (if applicable).

Furthermore, we invite you to complete the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Monitoring Form (online form).  Data is solely collected for statistical purposes and is not viewed by those that shortlist.

Informal enquiries are welcome, please contact

*External Partner Application Data Sharing – Please note that as part of the studentship application selection process, application data sharing may occur with external partners outside of the University, when joint/co-funding of a studentship project is applicable.