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 currently  Scientific Director at Eyvor Institute in Hamburg, Germany. He has long standing experience in strategic foresight, technology option assessment, and security studies. He has also subject matter expertise in CBRN defence technologies.

Roman previously held permanent academic positions at German Aerospace Centre (DLR) and Fraunhofer-Institute for Technological Trend Analysis. During this time he has been responsible for the scientific oversight of two BMBF (Federal Ministry of Education and Research) research funding programs on Bioanalog Information Technologies and Bioelectronics in the ‘Intelligent Systems’ funding area. Later, he was involved for many years in planning and decision support for the armaments department of the German Federal Ministry of Defense (BMVg) and was responsible for conducting long-term technological forecasting studies and assessment of technological options in the field of biodefense, sensor technologies, and artificial intelligence. In this role, he was involved in a number of national and international study projects for NATO, the European Commission, the German Federal Criminal Police, and the OECD, among others.

His current research interests centre around the investigation of security-related framework conditions for innovation. Topics of interest include the governance of emerging technologies; counter-terrorism technologies and terrorist innovation; and the military and climate change.

Roman has been Lecturer at the NATO Advanced Study Institute (ASI) for Biodefence in Tashkent, Uzbekistan and spent several research visits, among others at SPRU (Science Policy Research Unit), University of Sussex and Vrije Universiteit Brussel.

He holds a Diploma degree in Biology (equivalent to Master of Science) with special emphasis on Bioinformatics and Neurobiology and a Ph.D. (Dr.rer.nat.) from Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms University, Bonn, and a state-approved Certificate in Business Administration with a focus on Strategic Management from Hagen University.