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Understanding the role of thin film pre-treatments on steel surfaces

Key Information

Academic supervisor: Prof Geraint Williams
Industrial supervisor: Dr Patrick Keil

Join us for our Virtual Open Day on March 17th 2021 to discover more about the M2A and what we have to offer as a scheme.

BASF, the world’s foremost chemical company and a major vendor of coatings and surface technologies treatment solutions, wishes to generate a better understanding of corrosion processes. This will be crucial for developing advanced concepts for the next generation of corrosion protection, and for speeding up R&D for the development of novel corrosion protection formulations for coatings and surface treatment applications. This project forms part of a large collaborative research programme, involving a multidisciplinary team of experimental scientists and modelers who will explore the underlying mechanisms of corrosion by applying a variety of cutting-edge analytical technologies and algorithms for multi-scale modelling and simulation.

This project aims to fundamentally understand how the chemical nature of a metal surface influences its resistance to corrosion driven organic coating failure, when over-coated with a corrosion protective paint system. The principal intentions will comprise the following:
•    A comprehensive knowledge of how metal surface preparation using industry standard cleaning methods influences interaction with various state of the art pre-treatments.
•    A correlation of the chemical nature and surface composition of a cleaned and/or pre-treated substrate with resistance to corrosion driven organic coating failure.
•    An understanding of the interaction of the pre-treated surface with various organic coating types, and how factors such as adhesion and bonding at this interface affects organic coating failure rates.

Project Description:
The interface between a metal substrate and a protective organic coating plays a vital role in determining the long-term anti-corrosion performance of painted metal products. Prior to the application of an organic coating system to protect against corrosion, the metal surface is subjected to a cleaning regime, typically involving exposure to an alkaline environment, followed by a pre-treatment which deposits a thin inorganic film. This in turn provides an inert surface which improves adhesion with organic-based primer coatings, and in certain circumstances, also offers additional active corrosion protection at the metal-organic coating interface. 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 the understanding 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 influence of the metal surface prior to the application of a corrosion protective organic coating system on durability.

The research will concentrate on two specific areas of interest:
(i) the chemical nature of the cleaned metal surface prior to pre-treatment and how this affects the formation and composition of current state-of-the-art inorganic conversion coatings.
(ii) the influence of the topography and chemical composition of the pre-treated surface on the durability of a corrosion protective organic coating, initially concentrating on a simple model paint system.

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 labs 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).

Project Tasks:
•    Investigate the influence of various industry standard chemical cleaning technologies on the surface chemistry of cold-rolled galvanised steel and zinc-magnesium-aluminium (ZMA) alloy coated steel substrates.
•    Study the effect of cleaning regimes on the efficiency of thin inorganic film formation using current pre-treatment technologies such as phosphate, zirconate and titanate-based types.
•    Investigate the influence of both the cleaned and pre-treated surface on resistance to corrosion-driven failure when overcoated with an organic layer. For steel and galvanised steel surfaces, this will include an evaluation of organic coating failure via cathodic disbondment and anodic-driven organic coating failure.

The Materials and Manufacturing Academy (M2A) in the College of Engineering is a Swansea University initiative which provides postgraduate research training in partnership with industry; providing access to world­class laboratories and a wealth of academic and industry expertise. The M2A is committed to providing top quality research opportunities within an inclusive environment, funded by the Welsh European Funding Office (WEFO), 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. Research Engineers may participate in our career mentoring system, offering opportunity to engage with M2A alumni and other senior staff from across the University.

The Athena SWAN charter recognises work undertaken by institutions to advance gender equality. The College of Engineering is an Athena SWAN bronze award holder and is committee to addressing unequal gender representation. Applications from women are particularly welcomed.

Before submitting an application for the project, please see our Hints & Tips document which can be found here.

Sponsoring Company BASF Coatings

The Coatings division of BASF is a global expert in the development, production and marketing of innovative and sustainable automotive OEM and refinish coatings, decorative paints as well as applied surface treatments for metal, plastic, and glass substrates in a wide range of industries. The portfolio is completed by the “Innovation Beyond Paint” program which aims at developing new markets and businesses. We create advanced performance solutions and drive performance, design, and new applications to meet our partners’ needs all over the world. BASF shares skills, knowledge, and resources of interdisciplinary and global teams for the benefit of customers by operating a collaborative network of sites in Europe, North America, South America, and Asia Pacific. In 2019, the Coatings division achieved global sales of about €3.75 billion. 

The Surface Treatment global business unit of BASF’s Coatings division, operating under the Chemetall brand, is a leading supplier of applied surface treatments. Chemetall develops and manufactures tailor-made technology and system solutions for applied surface technology. The products protect metals from corrosion, facilitate forming and treatment, prepare parts optimally for the painting process and ensure excellent coating adhesion. The products are used in a variety of industries and end markets such as automotive, aerospace, aluminium finishing and metal forming.

For more information about the Coatings and surface treatment divisions of BASF and their products, visit www.basf-coatings.com and www.chemetall.com

Company Website Eligibility

Materials Science & Engineering and/or Chemistry preferred, but first degrees in other physical sciences also acceptable (Engineering, Physics). 2.1 minimum qualification. Equivalent relevant experience that would enable the candidate to fulfil the role may also be considered.
Previous experience using some of the techniques mentioned above, as well as a basic understanding of corrosion or how materials may degrade, is desirable.
Strong communication skills, both verbal and written, and keen to publish research and present at conferences.

Full eligibility can be found at https://www.materials-academy.co.uk/eligibility


Fees at Home / EU rate, and Stipend £20,000 per annum, for each of the four years.
For full details on funding eligibility, please refer to the Materials and Manufacturing Academy (M2A) Website (Student Eligibility | M2A).
Due to funding restrictions, this scholarship is not open to ‘International’ candidates.

Closing Date 5 April 2021

Start Date October 2021

Download Application Pack

Applications and informal enquiries about this studentship should be directed by email to: M2A@swansea.ac.uk