Rice University has established a National Corrosion Center where researchers will develop better technology for preventing corrosion – a problem that is estimated to cost $276 billion a year in the U.S.
To develop the center, Rice is working closely with NACE International, an association of more than 20,000 scientists, engineers and technicians around the world who are involved in virtually every industry and aspect of corrosion prevention and control.
Rice will collaborate with others in academia and industry to create corrosion-control strategies that can be applied to the nation’s infrastructure.
“Anything made with steel corrodes, so our system of highways and bridges, our pipelines for transporting water, oil and gas, our buildings, our aviation and transportation industries are all at risk,” said Emil Peña, executive director of the new center and also of Rice’s Energy and Environmental Systems Institute. “We will focus on corrosion prevention and mitigation technologies that not only have the potential to improve the reliability and safety of just about everything made of steel, but also can save billions of dollars in repairs and rebuilding. This research even has biomedical implications.”
Corrosion is a “silent destroyer of our nation’s critical infrastructure,” said NACE International’s Cliff Johnson. “Because it is a slow process that usually occurs out of sight, it is not uncommon for corrosion mitigation measures to be delayed or never implemented. Unfortunately, when this occurs, the problem grows dramatically and shortens the useful life of the asset, similar to what we saw with recent bridge collapses in the U.S. or the pipeline failure in Carlsbad, New Mexico, in 2000.”
The National Corrosion Center intends to change the discussion on corrosion from being an afterthought to being part of the upfront decision making about an asset and its projected life, while also advancing technological solutions. “We know that you can more than double the life of an asset if corrosion prevention and mitigation solutions are implemented,” Johnson said.
One of the techniques for preventing corrosion involves coatings. With Rice’s expertise in nanotechnology, Peña is optimistic about developing superhydrophic nanocoatings that can keep water away from the steel surface. “If you don’t have fluid, you won’t have corrosion,” he said.
Researchers from Rice’s George R. Brown School of Engineering and Wiess School of Natural Sciences and various institutes at Rice will be involved with the NCC, as will experts from other universities.
Given Rice’s location in the oil capital of the U.S., NCC researchers will focus much of their initial work on the oil and gas industry. A 2001 study by the Federal Highway Administration found that corrosion costs the oil and gas industry $13.4 billion per year.
The NCC is seeking government and private funding. Because corrosion is not a problem exclusive to the U.S., the center is open to collaborations and support from international institutions and businesses. Panama, for example, has already signed a memorandum of understanding through its technology institute, the City of Knowledge, which will include major construction projects.
“This is a global problem, and we’re looking for global solutions,” Peña said.