Hydrogen Embrittlement of Metals

See allHide authors and affiliations

Science  08 Mar 1968:
Vol. 159, Issue 3819, pp. 1057-1064
DOI: 10.1126/science.159.3819.1057


Hydrogen interacts with many metals to reduce their ductility (2) and frequently their strength also. It enters metals in the atomic form, diffusing very rapidly even at normal temperatures. During melting and fabrication, as well as during use, there are various ways in which metals come in contact with hydrogen and absorb it. The absorbed hydrogen may react irreversibly with oxides or carbides in some metals to produce a permanently degraded structure. It may also recombine at internal surfaces of defects of various types to form gaseous molecular hydrogen under pressures sufficiently high to form metal blisters when the recombination occurs near the outer surface. In other metals, brittle hydrides that lower the mechanical properties of the metal are formed. Another type of embrittlement is reversible, depending on the presence of hydrogen in the metal lattice during deformation for its occurrence. Under some conditions the failure may be delayed for long periods. A number of different mechanisms have been postulated to explain reversible embrittlement. According to some theories hydrogen interferes with the processes of plastic deformation in metals, while according to others it enhances the tendency for cracking.