Intergranular Corrosion Testing

Let’s discuss intergranular corrosion (IGC). This sneaky type of corrosion attacks along the grain boundaries of materials like steel, stainless steel, and alloys. It’s like a termite infestation for metals, where the damage is mostly hidden but can cause serious structural issues. Let’s explore this phenomenon and how labs like White House Laboratories test for it!

Intergranular corrosion testing

What is Intergranular Corrosion?

Intergranular corrosion is when the areas between the grains of a material corrode, leaving the grains themselves intact. Imagine a brick wall where the mortar crumbles away but the bricks stay in place—that’s what IGC does to metals. This type of corrosion can be particularly nasty in materials like austenitic stainless steels, where the corrosion resistance can be compromised by the formation of chromium carbides at the grain boundaries during heat treatment.

Why Does Intergranular Corrosion Happen?

Certain elements, like chromium and nickel, play a big role in how susceptible a material is to IGC. In austenitic stainless steels, when the material is heated, chromium can combine with carbon to form chromium carbides. These carbides settle at the grain boundaries, reducing the amount of chromium available to protect the steel from corrosion. Without enough chromium, these areas become vulnerable to attack.

The presence of other elements, such as nickel and molybdenum, can also influence a material’s resistance to IGC. Nickel can enhance the overall corrosion resistance, while molybdenum can improve resistance to pitting and crevice corrosion, which are other forms of localized corrosion. However, the interplay of these elements during processes like welding and heat treatment can sometimes create conditions favorable for IGC.

How Do We Test for Intergranular Corrosion?

To figure out if a material is susceptible to IGC, scientists use several tests. Two common tests are:

  • Huey Test: This test involves boiling the material in nitric acid and measuring how much material is lost. The Huey test is particularly useful for detecting sensitization, a condition where the material becomes more susceptible to intergranular attack due to the formation of chromium carbides.
  • Strauss Test: This test uses a mix of sulfuric acid and copper sulfate to check for signs of intergranular attack. The Strauss test is often used for austenitic stainless steels and helps identify materials that may suffer from IGC under certain conditions.

For aluminum alloys, different tests like the NAMLT (Nitric Acid Mass Loss Test) test or the copper sulfate test are used. The NAMLT test measures the mass loss of an aluminum sample after exposure to a nitric acid solution, while the copper sulfate test involves immersing the material in a copper sulfate solution and examining it for signs of corrosion.

Intergranular Corrosion in Different Materials

Different materials have different susceptibilities and test methods:

  • 5xxx Series Aluminum: Uses specific standard tests to determine IGC resistance. These tests help ensure that aluminum alloys used in marine and aerospace applications can withstand harsh environments.
  • Duplex Stainless Steels: Have their own set of tests to evaluate susceptibility. Duplex stainless steels, which have a mixed microstructure of austenite and ferrite, offer improved resistance to stress corrosion cracking and IGC. Testing these materials involves assessing their behavior under various conditions to ensure they meet the required standards.

Understanding these factors is crucial for preventing problems like stress corrosion cracking or sour service corrosion in industrial settings. For instance, in the oil and gas industry, materials are often exposed to sour environments containing hydrogen sulfide, which can exacerbate IGC and other forms of corrosion.

Importance of Intergranular Corrosion Tests

Why are these tests so important? Well, let’s break it down:

Identifying Weaknesses

By conducting IGC tests, manufacturers can spot potential weak spots in materials. This is vital for industries like aerospace, automotive, and construction, where material failure can have catastrophic consequences. Knowing a material’s weaknesses means you can either choose a better material or modify the existing one to improve its resistance.

For example, in the aerospace industry, components made from high-strength aluminum alloys are subjected to rigorous testing to ensure they won’t fail during flight. Similarly, in the automotive industry, parts exposed to road salts and other corrosive substances must be tested to guarantee their longevity and safety.

Ensuring Longevity

Understanding how materials degrade due to Intergranular Corrosion helps engineers develop strategies to extend the lifespan of components. This could involve selecting more resistant materials, altering heat treatments, or applying protective coatings. Engineers can also use the data from IGC tests to design components that minimize the risk of corrosion by avoiding sharp corners and crevices where corrosion can initiate.

In the construction industry, ensuring the longevity of materials used in infrastructure projects like bridges and buildings is crucial. By testing for IGC, engineers can select materials that will remain durable and safe for decades, reducing maintenance costs and preventing structural failures.

Types of Intergranular Corrosion

Intergranular corrosion comes in several flavors:

  • Intergranular Attack (IGA): General attack along grain boundaries. This type of corrosion can weaken the material and lead to fractures under stress.
  • Intergranular Stress Corrosion Cracking (IGSCC): Cracks that form along grain boundaries due to stress and corrosion. IGSCC is particularly dangerous because it can cause sudden and catastrophic failures in structures like pipelines and pressure vessels.
  • Intergranular Selective Leaching: Removal of one element from the alloy, weakening the grain boundaries. An example of selective leaching is the dezincification of brass, where zinc is preferentially removed, leaving behind a porous, weakened structure.

Knowing the specific type helps engineers take targeted actions to prevent damage. For instance, by understanding the conditions that lead to IGSCC, engineers can design systems to minimize residual stresses and avoid environments that promote corrosion.

Test Methods for Intergranular Corrosion

ASTM A262 Test Method

This is a standard test for evaluating intergranular corrosion in stainless steels. It helps detect potential weaknesses that could lead to failure. By using this method, engineers can catch problems early and save resources by preventing future corrosion issues.

The ASTM A262 test method includes several practices, such as Practice A (Oxalic Acid Etch Test), Practice B (Streicher Test), Practice C (Huey Test), Practice D (Streicher Test), and Practice E (Strauss Test). Each practice is designed to assess different aspects of IGC susceptibility and provides valuable information about the material’s behavior under corrosive conditions.

ASTM G28 Test Method

Used primarily for nickel-rich and nickel-chromium alloys, this test exposes materials to harsh environments to assess their resistance to IGC. It’s crucial for industries where corrosion resistance is key, like chemical processing and power generation.

The ASTM G28 test method includes two practices: Practice A (Ferric Sulfate-Sulfuric Acid Test) and Practice B (Copper-Copper Sulfate-50% Sulfuric Acid Test). These practices help identify materials that may suffer from IGC and guide the selection of suitable materials for demanding applications.


Intergranular corrosion testing is a critical part of materials science. It helps ensure that materials will stand up to their intended use without failing unexpectedly. By understanding and testing IGC, we can build safer, longer-lasting products.

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