Chemical heterogeneity enhances hydrogen resistance in high-strength steels
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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The antagonism between strength and resistance to hydrogen embrittlement in metallic materials is an intrinsic obstacle to the design of lightweight yet reliable structural components operated in hydrogen-containing environments. Economical and scalable microstructural solutions to this challenge must be found. Here, we introduce a counterintuitive strategy to exploit the typically undesired chemical heterogeneity within the material’s microstructure that enables local enhancement of crack resistance and local hydrogen trapping. We use this approach in a manganese-containing high-strength steel and produce a high dispersion of manganese-rich zones within the microstructure. These solute-rich buffer regions allow for local micro-tuning of the phase stability, arresting hydrogen-induced microcracks and thus interrupting the percolation of hydrogen-assisted damage. This results in a superior hydrogen embrittlement resistance (better by a factor of two) without sacrificing the material’s strength and ductility. The strategy of exploiting chemical heterogeneities, rather than avoiding them, broadens the horizon for microstructure engineering via advanced thermomechanical processing.