Sustainable options in military corrosion defence

By Roman Kernchen

Sustainable options in military corrosion defence

Corrosion of military platforms or their components is an enormous matter, that affects both economic and safety issues and is becoming more prominent as the acquisition of new equipment slows down and more reliance is placed on modifications and upgrades to extend the life of the current systems. Armed forces have long recognized the pervasive effects of corrosion on equipment and infrastructure and have developed corrosion prevention and control programs, including research and development, training, and operations.

With ongoing reduction of defense budgets, serious consideration must be given to the selection of advanced materials, processes, and designs that will require less manpower for corrosion maintenance. Of major importance is the development of new materials with improved corrosion resistance. However, it is equally important to develop procedures and methods to maintain the existing materials that are currently in use. The common physical rust removal methods are based on the use of abrasive grits, or the use of high-power water jet blasting. These procedures do offer logistical advantages in the removal process, but the operational labor tends to be costly. Chemical rust removal involves the use of highly concentrated acids which often have side effects for materials, people and the environment. Furthermore, when the solutions are exhausted they need to be neutralized. Both, physical and chemical corrosion removal require costly equipment, including a higher level of personnel protective equipment (PPE) and continued training as the personnel rotate.

In recent times alternative approaches aim to adopt a less labor intensive and environmentally acceptable procedure that will dissolve the rust within a reasonable time and produce a cleaned surface. One focus of these approaches involves the application of chelating agents for rust removal and inhibition. A chelating agent is a chemical compound that reacts with metal ions to form stable, water-soluble metal complexes. However, commonly used chelating agents are poorly biodegradable and concerns have been raised about their detrimental environmental effects. Therefore, considerable efforts have gone into searching for greener, more biodegradable alternatives.

Especially promising are biochemical chelating agents, known as siderophores. Such agents offer several advantages related to rust removal including recyclability and biodegradability. Since the rust removal process of these agents is very gentle without strong acids or toxic substances, there is also no need for the utilization of personnel protective equipment. The use of such chelating agents for corrosion defense, which today can be produced biotechnologically on competitive terms, could be an effective and sustainable alternative in protecting the safety of military personnel, eliminating hazardous waste disposal, reducing labor costs, and preserving defense readiness.

In spite of much advancement in the field of corrosion science and technology, the phenomenon of corrosion remains a major concern to armed forces around the world. Innovative chemical or biochemical agents for corrosion removal and inhibition, however, could have the potential to render possible a more environmentally friendly and sustainable corrosion defence.


This is an excerpt of the journal article: Sustainable options in military corrosion defence, by Roman Kernchen. Published: February 2015 in European Security & Defence; 1: 60; ISSN 1617-7983 

Roman Kernchen
Scientific Director

Roman Kernchen is scientific director at Eyvor Institute. He received his Ph.D. (Dr.rer.nat.) from Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms University, Bonn and then held permanent academic positions at the German Aerospace Centre (DLR) and the Fraunhofer-Institute for Technological Trend Analysis.
His current research interests centre around the investigation of scientific, economic, organizational, and political framework conditions for generating innovation and their implications for security. Topics of interest include innovation research, risk studies, technology options assessment, strategic foresight, security studies, and governance of emerging technologies.