Materials Sciences and Applicatio ns, 2011, 2, 81-86
doi:10.4236/msa.2011.22011 Published Online February 2011 (
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. MSA
Effect of High Temperature Treatment on
Aqueous Corrosion of Low-Carbon Steel by
Electrochemical Impedance Spectroscopy*
Samuel J. Gana1, Nosa O. Egiebor1, Ramble Ankumah2
1Environmental Engineering Program, Chemical Engineering Department, Tuskegee University, Tuskegee, USA; 2Department of
Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, Tuskegee University, Tuskegee, USA.
Received December 28th, 2010; revised January 11th, 2011; accepted January 16th, 2011.
The corrosion behavior of 1020C carbon steel samples that had been subjected to oxidizing heat treatment at 550˚C
and 675˚C were studied in sodium chloride electrolytes using a 3-electrode electrochemical impedance spectroscopy.
Experimental data were used to evaluate the corrosion behavior of the samples while optical microscopy was employed
to investigate the surface characteristics of the samples before and after aqueous corrosion. The results showed that
while the sample treated at 550˚C revealed an increasing corrosion rate with time, the sample treated at 675˚C indi-
cated a higher initial corrosion rate, but the rate declined gradually over the 4-day experimental period. Optical mi-
croscopy revealed significant formation of surface corrosion products on both heat treated samples, but the complex
plane diagrams indicated significant capacitive behavior for the heat treated samples relative to the untreated samples.
Keywords: Impedance, Carbon Steel, Corrosion, Nyquist Diagrams, Photomicrographs
1. Introduction
The corrosion behavior of carbon and stainless steels in
service under high temperature conditions has become a
subject of major research interest for a number of indus-
trial applications [1,2]. Temperature is one of the critical
environmental parameters in corrosion studies because of
its severe effects on physicochemical and electrochemical
reaction rates. Accordingly, passive film stability and
solubility, pitting and crevice corrosion behavior are
known to be closely related to temperature [3]. Elevated
temperature corrosion is a widespread problem in various
industries, including; nuclear power generation, petro-
chemical, fossil fuel power generation, waste incineration,
pulp and paper, and numerous other industrial processes.
In a number of industries where components operate at
high temperatures, severe corrosion is encountered due to
the significant changes in the surface chemistry of the
service materials. In cases where desirable higher oper-
ating temperatures lead to an increase in process effi-
ciency, the process is impeded by an exponential increase
in corrosion potential of structural materials with tem-
For example, in the development of the next generation
(Generation IV) of advanced nuclear reactors [4], some of
the reactor systems, such as the very high temperature
reactors (VHTR), will operate at coolant temperatures
above 1000˚C. Such severe temperature environments
present major materials degradation and corrosion chal-
lenges in terms of maintaining the mechanical and
chemical stability of the candidate structural materials.
For most structural materials including carbon and stain-
less steels, the breakdown of the protective oxide layer at
high temperatures is attributable to numerous degradation
and defect formation phenomena. Some of these protec-
tive film degradation processes include loss of a critical
surface concentration of a solute needed to maintain film
stability, swelling, growth mechanisms of surface product,
formation of pores at the film-substrate interface, and
oxide layer spallation [5]. The development of imperfec-
tions in the substrate also limits the effectiveness of the
protective oxide films under extreme conditions. All of
these degradation processes contribute to the general
corrosion, pitting corrosion, stress corrosion cracking,
corrosion fatigue, and hydrogen-induced cracking and
*Thanks to US Department of Energy/NNSA Massie Chair program.
Effect of High Temperature Treatment on Aqueous Corrosion of Low-Carbon Steel by
Electrochemical Impedance Spectroscopy
Attempts to solve these high temperature materials
corrosion and degradation processes have included the
development of new materials through engineered mi-
crostructure evolution and alloy formulation by refractive
element inclusion in conventional steel compositions [4].
The mechanical inclusion of Y-Ti-O nano-particles into
Fe-Cr based ferritic alloy was reported by Alinger et al. [6]
to impart remarkably high temperature stability with lim-
ited nanocluster growth and coarsening. These materials,
now generally referred to as oxide dispersion strengthened
(ODS) steels, are believed to have excellent potential for
corrosion and degradation resistance at high temperatures
due to their unique nanostructures. In other studies, the
addition of Si powders was reported to cause the forma-
tion of a duplex microstructure in austenitic stainless
steels with significant increases in the aqueous corrosion
resistance of the resulting alloys [7,8]. However, the exact
mechanisms responsible for the apparent thermal stability
of the materials resulting from their unique nanostructures
are not known.
While the development of new materials that are cor-
rosion resistant at high temperatures is critical, one of the
major scientific challenges that have not been fully ad-
dressed is the fundamental understanding of the electro-
chemical mechanisms for corrosive environmental deg-
radation that limit the effective use of structural steel
materials in extreme temperature environments. Meeting
this challenge will require a basic and systematic study of
the effects of high temperature treatment on the corrosion
behavior of a variety of structural steel materials, includ-
ing carbon steel, stainless steel, and various specialty
steels that are candidate materials for high temperature
service. This will enable a fundamental understanding of
the influence of various alloying components and nanos-
tructure developments on the corrosion resistance of ma-
terials at high temperatures.
The study reported here represents a subset of a larger
study aimed at conducting a systematic investigation of
the effects of high temperature treatments on the aqueous
corrosion behavior of a number of structural steel mate-
rials with the hope of providing a basic understanding of
how chemical composition and nanostructure develop-
ments impact on corrosion behavior. The aim of the cur-
rent communication was to study the effects of high
temperature oxidative treatments on the aqueous corro-
sion of 1020C low-carbon steel in NaCl electrolyte, using
electrochemical impedance spectroscopy. The specific
objective was to investigate the corrosion behavior of
1020C low-carbon steel that had been pretreated in an
oxidizing atmosphere at either 550˚C or 675˚C in com-
parison to untreated samples. The study was based on the
simple hypothesis that higher oxidative heat treatment
temperatures should result in higher aqueous corrosion
rates for low carbon steel.
2. Experimental
The 1020C carbon steel specimens used in this study
were obtained from Metal Samples Company of Munford,
Alabama, USA with nominal chemical composition as
follows: Mn 0.450, Al 0.046, Cr 0.003, N 0.005, As
0.003, Cu 0.005, Si 0.017, Ni 0.003, C 0.020, P 0.012, Fe
99.437. Some of the samples were subjected to heat
treatment in air in a muffle furnace by isothermally heat-
ing each sample to either 550˚C or 675˚C, and held at the
treatment temperatures for 1.0 hour. The untreated (con-
trol) and heat treated specimens were subsequently em-
ployed as the working electrodes for electrochemical
measurements, with 3 wt.% NaCl solution used as elec-
The electrochemical impedance spectroscopy (EIS)
equipment used in the experiment was a Princeton Ap-
plied Research (PAR) Potentiostat Model 263A, em-
ploying a 3-electrode configuration in a Princeton Ap-
plied Research model K0235 flat electrochemical cell
with a platinum counter electrode, and a Ag-AgCl/KCl
(saturated) reference electrode. The software used for
data acquisition and analyses was a Princeton Applied
Research (PAR) PowerSuite electrochemical application
software. Electrochemical tests on the samples were se-
tup and conducted in a three-electrode configuration. The
samples, at the specified electrolyte concentration, were
studied for 4 days. The metal samples were exposed to
the electrolyte solution through a fixed orifice of 1.0 cm2
surface area. The reference electrode was submerged in
the Ag-AgCl/KCl saturated solution. An alternating cur-
rent of 10mV was applied to the electrode under study at
sweeping frequencies of between 0.1 Hz and 100 kHz.
The frequency response of the electrode under the dif-
ferent test conditions were recorded and displayed as
Nyquist plots for further analysis. Corrosion data were
collected continuously for 4 days before the experiments
were terminated for data analyses. The equipment soft-
ware was also used to generate data for the corrosion
rates, open circuit potentials, polarization resistance, and
polarization curves or Tafel plots.
For optical micrographic examinations, the untreated
control samples were first polished using a Munnimet
polisher. The samples were subjected to an initial pol-
ishing with 240 or 320-grit SIC paper under a MetaDi
fluid at 35 rpm speed in the polisher. The samples were
then successively polished with 9-micron MetaDi Su-
preme diamond suspensions with UltraPol cloth, 3-mi-
crom with Trident cloth, and 0.5-micron MasterPrep alu-
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. MSA
Effect of High Temperature Treatment on Aqueous Corrosion of Low-Carbon Steel by 83
Electrochemical Impedance Spectroscopy
mina suspension on a MicroCloth. All polishings were
conducted at 5 lbs pressure, 20-30 rpm for between 3 and
5 minutes each. The samples were finally etched using
2% Nital (2 mL nitric acid, 98 mL ethanol). The samples
were immersed at10-second intervals and cleaned with
ethanol after etching, before subsequent examination
under an optical microscope. The optical microscope
used was a Wild Heerbrugg M3Z optical microscope
equipped with a Paxit digital camera.
3. Results and Discussions
Figure 1 presents the photomicrograph of the untreated
1020C low carbon steel sample. As expected, the figure
shows a typical α-ferrite grain structure. Figure 2 shows
the open circuit potential (OCP) plot with time, while
Figure 3 presents the polarization resistance plot with
time (Rp) for the control sample as well as the samples
treated at 550˚C and 675˚C. Figure 2 demonstrates that
the control sample and the sample treated at 675˚C have
similar OCP trends throughout the 4-day experimental
period. The OCP for both samples decreased from about
0.725 V after day-1 to about 0.745 V in day-4. In con-
trast, the sample heated at 550˚C showed a significantly
higher OCP of between 600 V and 625 V throughout
the 4-day period. These results suggest a higher equilib-
rium rate of corrosion for the sample treated at 550˚C than
both the untreated sample and the one treated at 675˚C.
The results presented in Figure 3 shows that the initial
polarization resistance (Rp) for the 550˚C sample was
significantly higher than those of the control and the
sample treated at 675˚C. However, the Rp for the 550˚C
sample continued to decline throughout the 4-day ex-
perimental period, going from 2800 Ohms/cm2 on day-1
to about 1900 Ohms/cm2 on the 4-day. In contrast, the Rp
for the 675˚C sample showed continuous increase from
about 1400 Ohms on day-1 to 2100 Ohms on 4-day. The
declining polarization resistance with time for the 550˚C
sample suggests a decreasing passivation, and therefore
increasing corrosion rate with time for this sample, while
the 675˚C sample demonstrates an opposite trend of in-
creasing passivation with time, thus suggesting increas-
ing resistance to corrosion, or decreasing corrosion rate
with time. This trend was unexpected since the general
belief is that the sample subjected to a more severe tem-
perature environment will likely result in increasing sus-
ceptibility to corrosion. The control sample also showed
a gradual increase in polarization resistance over the
4-day experimental period, similar to the 675˚C treated
Figure 4 presents the corrosion rate in mills per year
(MPY) versus time plots for the three samples mentioned
above. The results are in good agreement with the ob-
Figure 1. Photomicrograph of untreated/control 1020C
carbon steel sample showing a typical α-ferrite grain struc-
Figure 2. Open circuit potential (OCP) versus time plots for
control sample and samples heat-treated at 550˚C and
675˚C for 1 hr before corrosion.
served trends in the polarization resistance results of
Figure 3. The initial corrosion rate for the 675˚C sample
of 27.5 MPY in day-1, declining to about 18.5 MPY after
four days, while that of the 550˚C sample increased sig-
nificantly from 14.0 MPY in day-1 to about 21.5 MPY
after four days. At the end of the 4th day, the corrosion
rate for the 550˚C sample exceeded the rates for the con-
trol sample and the sample treated at 675˚C. Again this
corrosion rate is unexpected as mentioned earlier. Figure
5 shows the complex plane (Nyquist plot) diagram for
the untreated (control) 1020C low carbon steel sample.
The figure discloses a readily corroding sample with a
typical Randle cell-type semi-circular arc for each of the
3-days of experimentation. The increasing diameter of
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. MSA
Effect of High Temperature Treatment on Aqueous Corrosion of Low-Carbon Steel by
Electrochemical Impedance Spectroscopy
Figure 3. Polarization resistance (Rp) versus time plots for
1020C carbon steel control sample, and for samples heat
treated at 675˚C and 550˚C for 1hr before corrosion studies.
Figure 4. Corrosion rate vs. time plots for 1020C carbon
steel control sample and for samples heat treated at 675˚C
and 550˚C for 1hr before corrosion experiments.
the semi-circular arcs from day-1 to day-3 is indicative of
increasing polarization resistance and decreasing corro-
sion rate with time. This observation of increasing di-
ameter of the Nyquist semi-circles with time as an indi-
cation of increasing corrosion protection has also been
reported by Rout [9]. These Nyquist diagrams also con-
firm the polarization resistance trend observed in Figure
3, and demonstrates that although the sample result indi-
cate active corrosion, it continues to passivate with time.
Figure 6 presents the Nyquist diagram for the low-carbon
steel sample pretreated at 550˚C for 1 hour before aque-
ous corrosion experimentation. In comparison to Figure
5 results, each of the Nyquist diagrams in Figure 6
shows a single capacitive arc for the sample throughout
the experimental period.
This capacitive behavior illustrates that the heat treat-
ment of the low-carbon α-ferritic steels at 550˚C leads to
a buildup of a porous oxide layer which is not necessarily
protective of the surface due to the high conductivity of
the electrolytic solution inside the pores of the oxide
layer. The non protective nature of this porous oxide
layer is evidenced in the observed higher corrosion rate
after 3 days of corrosion measurements for the 550˚C
Figure 5. Complex plane (Nyquist) diagram for untreated
1020C carbon steel control sample.
Figure 6. Complex plane or Nyquist diagram for 1020C
low-carbon steel heat treated at 550˚C for 1 hr.
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. MSA
Effect of High Temperature Treatment on Aqueous Corrosion of Low-Carbon Steel by 85
Electrochemical Impedance Spectroscopy
heat treated samples relative to the untreated sample as
shown in Figure 4. This porous oxide layer is known to
engender diffusion impedance through a finite thickness
which leads to a capacitive arc formation in the complex
plane diagram. The impedance results from the diffusion
of oxygen through the surface oxide scale. Previous stu-
dies have also reported that the observed capacitive be-
havior of such an actively corroding sample is attribut-
able to this porous barrier layer formation [10,11]. Fig-
ure 7 presents the Nyquist diagram for the low-carbon
sample treated at 675˚C. The figure also show single
capacitive arc for each day similar to the sample treated
at 550˚C. Again this result is indicative of a porous oxide
barrier layer formed on the sample surface.
The capacitance of this kind of oxide barrier layer can
be related to the thickness of the barrier layer by the fol-
lowing equation [10]:
where εo = 8.85 × 10–14 F/cm is the dielectric constant in
vacuum, ε = constant depending on the material, S =
electrode surface area. The capacitive behavior of surface
oxide scales have been modeled as constant phase ele-
ments (CPE) and attributed to the redox transformation
of the surface corrosion products from the ferrous to the
ferric state. Figures 8 and 9 show the photomicrographs
of the samples tempered at 550˚C and 675˚C respectively,
after corrosion for 4 days in 3.0 wt.% NaCl electrolyte.
The two figures demonstrate significant uniform sur-
face corrosion, with some spots indicating localized or
pitting corrosion. The extensive surface corrosion ob-
served in these photomicrographs is in agreement with
the corrosion and EIS data presented above.
Figure 7. Complex plane or Nyquist diagram for 1020C
low-carbon steel heat treated at 675˚C for 1 hr.
Figure 8. Photomicrograph of 1020C carbon steel treated at
550˚C and after 4 days of corrosion studies in 3 wt.% NaCl
Figure 9. Photomicrograph of 1020C carbon steel treated at
675˚C and after 4 days of corrosion studies in 3 wt.% NaCl
4. Conclusions
The results presented here show that the aqueous corro-
sion trends with time for the same low-carbon steel sam-
ples are different for oxidative treatments at 550˚C and
675˚C. While the sample treated at 550˚C resulted in
increasing corrosion rates with time for the 4-day ex-
perimental period, the sample treated at 675˚C presented
a decreasing rate of corrosion over the same experimen-
tal period.
The corrosion behavior observed for the 675˚C sample
was closer to that of the untreated sample than that of the
sample treated at 550˚C. This was unexpected. The re-
sults clearly suggest that the effects of oxidative high
temperature treatments on the corrosion behavior and
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. MSA
Effect of High Temperature Treatment on Aqueous Corrosion of Low-Carbon Steel by
Electrochemical Impedance Spectroscopy
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. MSA
surface developments of low-carbon steels, and pre-
sumably on all structural steels, is more complex than the
simple expectation of increased porous surface oxide
formation. For example, Bautista et al. [11], in a recent
study of the corrosion behavior of sintered ferritic stain-
less steels after high temperature (800˚C) treatment, re-
ported that while high temperature exposures resulted in
an increase in the corrosion current density for 11.3 wt.%
Cr ferritic stainless steel, a similar treatment for a 16.7
wt.% Cr stainless steel sample resulted in a decrease in
the corrosion current density as compared to the un-
treated samples.
These results clearly demonstrate that the exact influ-
ence of elevated temperatures on the corrosion behavior
of structural steels is still not fully understood. Perhaps, a
full understanding of temperature effects on the corrosion
behavior of structural materials in general lies in the
nanostructure developments that accompany such tem-
perature treatments, and other extreme conditions such as
pressure, fluids dynamics, irradiation, etc. The study of
the relationships between nanostructure developments of
these materials under extreme environments and at dif-
ferent temporal scales, deserve additional research em-
phasis. Unfortunately, a major factor militating against
such efforts is the lack of appropriate in-situ experimen-
tal techniques and adequate nanoscale analytical capa-
bilities that could facilitate such nanoscale studies on
structural steel materials.
5. Acknowledgements
The authors would like to acknowledge the financial
support of the Department of Energy-National Nuclear
Security Administration (DOE-NNSA) under the Samuel
Massie Chair of Excellence program.
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