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A boost for steel: A smarter and safer way to tackle corrosion

Armourers and Brasiers award will help commercialize research breakthrough

Swansea University


IMAGE: After being exposed to hundreds of hours of salt spray, and showing virtually no signs of corrosion. view more

Credit: Patrick Dodds, Swansea University

A team from Swansea University which is developing a new 'smart release' corrosion inhibitor, for use in coated steel products, has won the Materials Science Venture Prize awarded by The Worshipful Company of Armourers and Brasiers.

Led by Professor Geraint Williams, the team, including doctorate student Patrick Dodds, is working on an alternative to hexavalent chromate, the commonly used corrosion inhibitor which is facing an EU ban in 2019. The discovery by Mr Dodds, in late 2015, of a material and manufacturing process for a smart release coating which outperforms hexavalent chromate in laboratory tests could lead to the product taking a significant slice of a multi-million pound market. The market for coiled coated steel is potentially worth £3billion per year in Europe alone.

"This is a significant breakthrough, showing a smarter and safer way of reducing corrosion. The new product is environmentally sound, economical and outperforms the market leader in laboratory tests. It illustrates that Swansea, with its close links between research and industry, remains at the heart of innovation in steel" said Professor Geraint Williams.

Corrosion inhibitors are commonly used in a wide range of sectors, including: coated steel products used to construct industrial, commercial and other buildings; aerospace and aircraft; and the car industry.

Dodds' discovery contains a stored reservoir of corrosion inhibitor. It works by channelling aggressive electrolyte anions into the coating, triggering the release of the inhibitor 'on demand', thus preventing corrosion.

"The system has been shown to prevent the onset of corrosion for over 24 hours compared to less than two hours for the current market leader," said Patrick Dodds. "We have also been able to demonstrate that the rate of corrosion can be slowed down significantly once it has started. This is by far the best result seen in 15 years of research on this topic."

"This is a significant discovery and shows how the UK is still a driving innovation force in industry," said Professor Bill Bonfield, chairman of the Armourers and Brasiers Venture Prize judging panel. "Our prize looks to encourage scientific entrepreneurship in the UK and provide funding to help discoveries like this realise their potential."

"The £25,000 prize win will be used to purchase a Jet Mill system, an essential tool for overcoming the remaining technical barriers preventing commercialisation," explained Professor Williams. "All the laboratory tests have been most encouraging and the next stage is to demonstrate technical viability and commercial scalability."

The research was carried out at Swansea University using a scanning Kelvin probe, specially built by the team, which can detect the state of the metal beneath a coating without touching it. This allowed them to test different products much more quickly, with each test taking around 24 hours, rather than 500 hours as was previously the case.

The intellectual property is owned by Swansea University, having been developed under a project co-funded by Tata Steel Colors. Swansea University has also filed a GB patent application relating to the technology. Ownership will be transferred to the spin-out company in exchange for a minority shareholding which will include a package of on-going scientific, technical and business support to ensure the company is investable.

The spin-out company will be co-located with the SPECIFIC Innovation and Knowledge Centre at Swansea University in its company incubation area. The centre's strategic partners include Tata Steel and BASF Chemicals, and it is funded by EPSRC, Innovate UK and the European Regional Development Fund through the Welsh Government.


Notes to Editors:

About Armourers and Brasiers' Company

Alongside Professor Bonfield on the judging panel were Cambridge based Materials Scientist Professor Sir Colin Humphreys, representatives from the venture capital industry and members of the Armourers and Brasiers' Company.

The Armourers and Brasiers' Company is a leading supporter of Materials Science education and research in the UK. Its Venture Prize is aimed at helping scientists commercialise the early stage research and the exploitation of new and exciting ideas. The Company also seeks to encourage education in science from primary to postdoctoral levels supporting schools and universities throughout the UK.

Swansea University and steel

Founded to help meet the needs of the metal industries, Swansea University remains at the heart of innovation in steel. Swansea-led innovations are already demonstrating that steel is a 21st century industry, with academics and the industry working hand in hand on tomorrow's technologies, including:

  • New steel-based products which turn buildings into power stations that store and release their own energy

  • Using nano-level technology to develop lighter steel for more energy-efficient cars

  • Improving the way blast furnaces are loaded and stirred, already saving over £5 million a year at Port Talbot

    Brand-new research and testing facilities at the University's new Bay Campus, which is situated across the bay from the giant Port Talbot steelworks, cement Swansea's role as the natural home for innovation in steel.

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