Hydrogen trapping and embrittlement in high-strength Al alloys

Zhao, H. and Chakraborty, P. and Ponge, D. and Hickel, T. and Sun, B. and Wu, C.-H. and Gault, B. and Raabe, D.

Volume: 602 Pages: 437-441
DOI: 10.1038/s41586-021-04343-z
Published: 2022

Ever more stringent regulations on greenhouse gas emissions from transportation motivate efforts to revisit materials used for vehicles1. High-strength aluminium alloys often used in aircrafts could help reduce the weight of automobiles, but are susceptible to environmental degradation2,3. Hydrogen ‘embrittlement’ is often indicated as the main culprit4; however, the exact mechanisms underpinning failure are not precisely known: atomic-scale analysis of H inside an alloy remains a challenge, and this prevents deploying alloy design strategies to enhance the durability of the materials. Here we performed near-atomic-scale analysis of H trapped in second-phase particles and at grain boundaries in a high-strength 7xxx Al alloy. We used these observations to guide atomistic ab initio calculations, which show that the co-segregation of alloying elements and H favours grain boundary decohesion, and the strong partitioning of H into the second-phase particles removes solute H from the matrix, hence preventing H embrittlement. Our insights further advance the mechanistic understanding of H-assisted embrittlement in Al alloys, emphasizing the role of H traps in minimizing cracking and guiding new alloy design. © 2022, The Author(s).

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