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Liquid metal embrittlement


Ahmad Omar

MM-5330 Surface Degradation Processes

Department of Metallurgical & Materials Engineering
IIT Madras - Chennai - 600 036
• High Temperature Degradation
▫ Creep-fatigue
▫ Microstructural degradation
▫ Hydrogen damage
▫ Liquid metal embrittlement (LME)
▫ Graphitization
▫ Thermal shock
▫ High temperature corrosion
Introduction (contd.)
• Characterized by the reduction in the true fracture
stress and/or in the strain to fracture when tested in
the presence of liquid metals as compared to that
obtained in air / vacuum tests.

• Very high crack propagation rates, varying from few

centimeters per second to several meters per second
are induced in solid metals by the embrittling liquid

• Very small amounts of liquid metal are sufficient to

result in embrittlement.
Influencing factors
• Required operational conditions:
▫ High temperature
▫ Low melting metals cadmium, zinc, lead and tin
▫ Alloys with low melting eutectics (e.g. Pb-Bi)

• Low melting metals mainly come from surface coatings (e.g.


• Small amounts of lead added to steel for improved

machinability might also lead to embrittlement

• Cracking may occur well below the yield stress of the material
and thus catastrophic failure can occur without significant
deformation or obvious deterioration of the component
• The dissolution-diffusion model
(Robertson and Glickman)
▫ adsorption of the liquid metal on the solid metal
induces dissolution and inward diffusion. Under
stress these processes lead to crack nucleation
and propagation.

• The brittle fracture theory (Stoloff and

Johnson, Westwood and Kamdar)
▫ Adsorption of the liquid metal atoms at the crack
tip weakens inter-atomic bonds and propagates
the crack.

• All of these models utilize the concept of an adsorption-induced surface

energy lowering of the solid metal as the central cause of LME. They
succeeded in predicting many of the phenomenological observations.
However, a quantitative prediction of LME is still elusive.
Mechanisms (contd.)

• It is believed that there is specificity in the solid-

liquid metals combinations experiencing LME

• There should be limited mutual solubilities for

the metal couple to cause embrittlement.
Mercury embrittlement
• The most common liquid metal causing embrittlement is mercury.

• Mercury spillage on aluminium alloys forms an amalgam which

proceeds rapidly along grain boundaries, causing liquid metal
embrittlement (LME). The mercury is able to disrupt the oxide layer

• Its spills present especially significant danger for airplanes.

• Elemental mercury spilled can be immobilized and made relatively

harmless by silver nitrate.

• Spills of mercury, even small, can be detected using radiography due

to high density of mercury
Typical components

• Cadmium plated titanium bolts for galvanic

compatibility with aluminium

• Cadmium plated steel nuts

• Hot dip galvanizing bolts and joints

• Springs
• Some events that may permit liquid metal
embrittlement under the appropriate circumstances
▫ Brazing
▫ Soldering
▫ Welding
▫ Heat treatment
▫ Hot working
▫ Elevated temperature service
▫ Some new studies show that LME may also be cause of
cracking in tool pin during Friction stir welding of Al-
Mg alloys (which form low melting eutectic)
Preventive actions
• Avoid metal coatings in elevated temperatures

• Cadmium plated components of steels should be kept below


• Check the sensitivity to the coating if metal coating is used

• Avoid lead, tin and zinc in high temperature lubricants

• Be careful when welding galvanised steels

• Avoid contact with elements like mercury and gallium

Thank You!
• Heloisa Cunha Furtadoa, Iain Le May, Materials
Research, Vol. 7, No. 1,1 103-110, 2004.
• Metallurgical Minutes, Metallurgical Associates,
Inc., Summer 2004.