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Title: Micromechanical testing of oxidized grain boundaries
Author: Dohr, Judith
ISNI:       0000 0004 6496 4132
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2016
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Primary water stress corrosion cracking (SCC) of metals in pressurized water reactors (PWRs) is known to be one of the most challenging and cost intensive modes of failure in the nuclear industry. Even though it is known that cracking in Ni-base alloys proceeds mainly intergranular (IG), the initiation and propagation of cracks in ductile metals are not yet understood and a much-desired accurate prediction of SCC related failure seems unobtainable. In this thesis, a combination of microcantilever fracture experiments, scanning electron- (SEM) and transmission electron microscopy (TEM) techniques was employed to study and compare the failure of oxidized grain boundaries of Ni-base Alloy 600 with high and low intergranular carbide coverage and different sample history. A new technique for lifting-out whole cantilevers after testing and for performing 3D focussed ion beam sequencing (3D FIB-SEM) while preserving a thin central region of the cantilever for further TEM sample preparation was developed and is presented. In lieu with recent efforts of the main project sponsor Électricité de France (EDF) to build a predictive model for IGSCC based on localized/microscopic information, one of the main objectives was the extraction of the stress at failure of individual oxidized GBs. Supported by finite element simulations, microcantilever fracture tests revealed that surface oxides on top of individual GBs have the capability to alter the mechanical response by delaying/suppressing the onset of failure. An overestimation of the failure stress (> 230 MPa) was observed, proving that the presence of the surface oxide on top of the test structures cannot be neglected. The failure stress on both samples, tested without influence of the surface oxide, was found to cover a range of 300 - 600 MPa, which agreed well with finite element simulations of the tests and further demonstrates the reliability of the obtained data. The second objective was to gain a better understanding of the observed fracture behaviour and the role of local microstructure. Using the gathered microscopy data, it was found that the crack clearly favours a progression along the IG oxide-metal interface in the presence of carbide precipitates. Electron energy loss spectroscopy (EELS) revealed that the observed crack path can be linked to compositional and density variations of the IG oxide. In the presence of carbides the oxide was layered. An oxide close to the stoichiometry of chromia was located at the original GB and next to the carbides. Next to this Cr-rich oxide, Fe-rich mixed spinel oxides of varying composition and density were found. An explanation for density variations based on the possible formation of defective spinel oxides of the type A2+B3+2O4, due to an unavailability of certain cation species is presented. No clear interface preference was observed in the absence of precipitation, where the IG oxide was found to be thin and often incomplete with Cr-richer oxides preferentially located at the original GB. While these observations were consistent on both samples (high and low carbide coverage), bigger void-like defects were located at the Fe-richer oxide-metal interface of the cold worked sample with high IG carbide precipitation only. These weak spots seemed to be the preferred path for crack propagation on this sample. The sample with low intergranular carbide coverage showed no obvious porosities at this interface but a Cr- depleted region was seen. Introducing a multi-faceted investigation strategy, supported by finite element simulations, the presented thesis provides the most accurate determination of the failure stress of oxidized GBs on Alloy 600 to date and and adds new valuable insights to our understanding of IGSCC and the future prediction of SCC related failures.
Supervisor: Armstrong, David ; Lozano-Perez, Sergio ; Tarleton, Edmund Sponsor: Électricité de France (EDF)
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Materials Science ; Electron Microscopy ; Grain Boundary Embrittlement ; Nickel base alloys ; Micromechanical Testing ; Pressurized Water Reactors ; Nanoindenter ; Oxidation ; Finite Element Analysis ; Stress Corrosion Cracking ; Microcantilevers