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Investigating the electrochemistry of organic coated metal surfaces at defect sites

Key Information

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

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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 seeks to further the understanding of how state-of-the-art organic coating systems, applied to various steel-based substrates, protect against corrosion at sites where the coating is damaged or defective and the underlying metal is revealed. It is acknowledged that the conditions prevailing in the confined space of a small area defect within a relatively thick organic layer will differ considerably from those experienced in a corrosive environment by an un-coated metal substrate. Consequently, in developing next generation corrosion-protective coating technologies, there is a requirement to understand the electrochemistry of metal surfaces under such occluded circumstances.

The principal objectives will comprise the following:
•    A comprehensive knowledge of how anode and cathode reactions differ on various steel surfaces within confined regions representative of penetrative defects within a protective organic coating.
•    The development of experimental methodologies capable of providing new insight into the electrochemistry of steel surfaces at occluded defect sites.
•    An understanding of how the anode and cathode processes vary as a function of changes in chemical environment within the defect, as a result of corrosion product formation and/or release of inhibitive species from the surrounding organic coating.

Project Description:
This project forms part of a larger partnership involving BASF Coatings, 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 processes which occur within the confined space of a penetrative organic coating defect, down to the underlying metal. A detailed knowledge in this area is key in designing improved coating technologies which provide “self-healing” capability under situations where damage is induced, and a small area of metal becomes exposed (e.g., a stone chip in painted car bodywork).

The research will concentrate on three specific areas of interest:
(i) the development of appropriate electrochemical techniques and experimental methodologies which allow the study of dynamic changes in the corrosion behaviour of exposed metal surfaces at a penetrative organic coating effect.
(ii) the influence of the defect topography and composition of the protective organic coating, with particular emphasis on the primer layer, on the corrosion processes and kinetics of corrosion occurring on the exposed metal surface. The metal substrates to be studied will comprise cold rolled, galvanized and zinc-aluminium-magnesium alloy coated steel, while organic coatings will concentrate on simple model paint systems.
(iii) correlation of dynamic changes in the electrochemistry of the exposed metal at the defect with release of inhibitive agents stored within the protective coating, initially focusing on industry standard corrosion inhibitive pigment technologies, but extending to novel, intelligent release additives.

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 College of Engineering.

Project Tasks:
•    Develop experimental methodologies to investigate the electrochemistry of exposed metal substrates at a penetrative coating defect, initially concentrating on the application of SKP to monitor changes in corrosion potential and SVET to determine time-dependent changes in anodic and cathodic currents. It is anticipated that the use of microprobe electrode technology can also be adapted to characterise metal substrate electrochemistry at a defect under external polarisation.
•    A systematic study the effect of defect size, organic coating thickness and composition on dynamic changes in the corrosion behaviour of the exposed metal.
•    Carry out chemical characterisation of the post-corrosion metal surface at the defect site to elucidate the phenomena responsible for the observed dynamic changes in corrosion behaviour.

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 is desirable.
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