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Russ College professor launches three-year NSF project to study anti-corrosion materials

 | Sep 11, 2017
Professor Sharma with students at a computer

Russ College professor launches three-year NSF project to study anti-corrosion materials

Sep 11, 2017

For the thousands of miles of pipelines carrying oil and gas across the U.S., corrosion remains a basic problem for which industry continues to look for answers.

With help from a $300,000 grant from the National Science Foundation, Russ College Assistant Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Sumit Sharma’s newest research project will provide solutions by discovering the molecular-level details of common anticorrosion materials.

Mild steel, the material used to build pipelines, is highly prone to corrosion from water and ionic species, which are always present in oil and gas streams. Apart from regular maintenance costs, unpredicted corrosion related failures are a major concern for the industry. That’s why surfactants, or soap-like substances, are injected into pipelines -- because they adsorb to, or hold onto, the metal surface of pipes and help prevent corrosion from the liquids flowing through them.

However, Sharma explains, not much is known about how the chemicals actually work. “The search for new chemicals is largely based on trial and error experimentation,” said Sharma. “Once we know what molecular characteristics decide anti-corrosive properties of these surfactants, we can design and test new materials.”

Sharma and co-investigators will use closely knit computer simulations and experimental techniques to understand the molecular properties that help these chemicals create a corrosion-repellant barrier.

“Behavior of surfactants on metals has not been extensively studied using molecular simulations because of the complex nature of the interface,” said Sharma. “Where there is challenge, there is opportunity.”

Fundamental knowledge gained from the research can lead to the design and development of new anticorrosive materials that would be useful for other applications, such as prevention of corrosion in military equipment and of battery electrodes. Better corrosion prevention will also help avoid unforeseen corrosion-related disasters, Sharma said, as well as save millions of dollars in corrosion maintenance.

Sharma is joined in this three-year project by fellow co-principal investigators Assistant Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry Katherine Cimatu, Russ Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and Director of the Institute for Corrosion and Multiphase Technology (ICMT) Srdjan Nesic, Assistant Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Marc Singer, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Research Professor David Young, and a host of ICMT graduate students.

“The strength of our multidisciplinary collaborative team is the biggest asset of this grant,” Sharma said. “I have been extremely impressed by the dedication of our graduate students, the depth of their knowledge, and their willingness and enthusiasm to work hard. The environment of ICMT is bubbling with enthusiasm.”