Creativity and Corrosion

Creativity and Corrosion

Creativity and corrosion – two words that perhaps do not seem like they belong together but that is exactly what my role is all about and why I love it. I studied my PHD in Electrochemistry at Southampton University which is where my interest was ignited in new technologies and more specifically in the coatings used for anode and cathode in PEMFCs and how I could create my own metallic based coatings.

Corrosion is an unstoppable process, and the biggest challenge is to implement protective coatings for example in the Oil and Gas Industry where it is almost impossible to do. The steel pipes at the bottom of the sea are exposed to high pressure and temperatures constantly and because of these extreme conditions they are always highly susceptible to corrosion. I saw this first-hand when I was doing my postdoc at the University of Manchester and was working to create protective layers for the steel used by BP.

The corrosion of metallic parts is a global problem, and it amounts to 3% of global spending. That may not sound like a lot but to put it into perspective this equates to over $2 Trillion annually with experts estimating that 25%-30% could be prevented with proper corrosion protection. Protective coatings are one of the solutions to inhibit degradation of materials where the choice of materials is so critical. This is exactly where my passion lies and where the creativity part kicks in – materials selection, materials choice and finally the design.

PCBFCs are fascinating devices and the conversion of chemical energy into electrical energy make them so efficient, but most importantly of all is that the by-product of the electrochemical reaction is just water! Truly remarkable! Of course, having studied them what I have found is that like most things they have certain inefficiencies. One of them, rather serious, is the corrosion of the bipolar plates or the current collector. They are usually made of metals or alloys, stainless steel, covered with another metal which is slightly less corrosive but does not solve the issue!

Coatings are not only there to prevent corrosion but also give an appealing & unique look. Protective coatings are everywhere around us from your kitchen oven being covered with a heat resistant, possibly flame-retardant powder coating to all of our cars being covered with layers of protective coating and decorative paints.

Experimenting with a variety of coatings has been an intriguing adventure into the chemistry of the finish as well as practical use of materials, for example one of the most fascinating materials are conductive polymers. In fact, we can take any polymer and make it conductive. We can tailor the polymer to give us the properties we want, in particular corrosion resistance. That is very important in protecting the bipolar plate from corrosion keeping a good electrical conduction. Polymer coating was my first experience designing such finishes for anode and cathode in Bramble Energy PCBFCs. As time has gone on, my experience with coatings and surface finish has expanded and I have become even more captivated by surface finish.

Working at Bramble Energy will see me develop and oversee the production of even better, original and unique coatings that will satisfy the high demand for our PCBFCs, and other electrochemical devices.

Jacek Lapinski

Corrosion Lead, Bramble Energy

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