The degradation of private and public assets and infrastructure continues to have a major economic impact on industry and the wider community: it is estimated that governments and organisations spend approximately three per cent of GDP – the equivalent of billions of dollars each year – mitigating and repairing corrosion damage.

In November 2017, the Australasian Corrosion Association (ACA) hosted a major conference where the management and prevention of corrosion was the focus. The ACA’s annual Corrosion and Prevention Conference and Trade Exhibition (C&P2017) was held in the International Convention Centre Sydney (ICC) with nearly 500 delegates from every continent (except Antarctica) attending lectures, seminars and workshops.

The conference brought together corrosion practitioners and researchers, as well as asset owners and operators from around the world in order to promote a better understanding of corrosion mitigation.

The event enabled all corrosion stakeholders to meet and discuss a wide range of topics. In particular, the conference brought together a panel of industry experts to discuss the challenges and the importance of maintaining vital infrastructure. The diverse technical streams showcased the latest developments in corrosion prevention, management and mitigation.

The main themes of the technical seminars covered coatings, concrete and asset management, the oil & gas and offshore industry, and research. Topics ranged from fundamental corrosion science to hands-on applications including advances in sensing and monitoring; asset management; cathodic protection; concrete corrosion and repair; corrosion mechanisms, modelling and prediction; materials selection and design; and protective coatings.

New materials developed to combat corrosion

The design, construction and operation of facilities and infrastructure represent major investments by companies, organisations and governments. Corrosion affects all structures at varying rates over time, depending on the material used, the types of corrosive agents in the environment and the physical processes and mechanisms involved. How to manage this degradation is a challenge for designers and engineers, as well as asset owners, managers and operators.

In the continuing efforts to minimise the impact of corrosion, new materials are being developed to build structures, and new procedures are being implemented that have been designed to protect both new and existing facilities.

The keynote address of the conference – the P F Thompson Memorial Lecture  – has been delivered at every C&P Conference since 1951. The presenter for 2017 was Professor Maria Forsyth, Australian Laureate Fellow and Chair of Electromaterials and Corrosion Sciences at Deakin University. Professor Forsyth’s lecture, ‘Controlling Corrosion with Chemistry’, covered using chemistry to control corrosion ranges, from designing metallic coatings through to creating oxides on a metal substrate or protective polymeric coatings, and using chemical additives in a given environment to produce inhibited surfaces.

Corrosion mitigation legacy

A special guest at C&P2017 was David Thompson, son of Percival Thompson in whose honour the lecture is named. A renowned metallurgist in his own right, David Thompson said the reception he received at the conference was almost overwhelming. “So many people approached me to say they knew people whom I had either trained or worked with during the course of my career,” Mr Thompson said.

Thompson stated he had, like so many others over the years, a good teacher in his father. “However, being the sixth child in the family, I wasn’t supposed to know anything,” he added wryly. Thompson said his father spent a lot of time away from home inspecting mining leases and that as a result, the family home had one of the largest collections of ore samples in the country.

“He was also an umpire assayer and so had to visit every gold mine in the country in order to counter fraudulent ‘salting’ of a site to increase its potential value,” Mr Thompson said.

An ‘umpire assay’ is an independent assessment of the value of an ore sample where there is disagreement between the values given by the buyer and seller. When a mine is ‘salted’, most commonly gold or silver is added to a sample in order to give a greater value to the mine deposits.

“My father regularly marked university exam papers,” Mr Thompson added. “A big truck would arrive at our house and a massive load of papers would be unloaded.” Thompson senior’s study often had inorganic and organic chemical samples that were used as part of the university exams he set.

P F Thompson established the School of Metallurgy at the University of Melbourne and oversaw its development, growing from a handful of students to more than 200 before moving to RMIT to set up a similar school at that institution. Named after the revered Michael Faraday of the Royal Society in London, Thompson’s father taught in a similar manner to his namesake.

“He was a demonstrator and believed that if you showed a student a process or reaction, they would remember it better,” Mr Thompson said. “If they could show they really understood the basic principles, my father would be lenient towards them when marking their papers.”

Mr Thompson stated that his father was a master of many disciplines, such as general science, astronomy and music, in addition to his main passion of metallurgy. “We had one of the largest reflective telescopes in its day at our house and the Victorian Field Naturalists Society used to meet in our backyard.”

P F Thompson worked with the CSIRO, but a lot of the projects were very secretive, especially during the Second World War. One investigation involved US warships at the time of the Battle of the Coral Sea; ships would have to head to port with heavily corroded condenser tubes that impacted the marine steam engines. It was discovered that the American navy had used brass alloy that had phosphorus added and that this additive enhanced the corrosion.

Another wartime investigation involved the catastrophic failure of aircraft engines. “Many aircraft had glycol-cooled engines but some maintenance staff added a corrosion inhibitor to the mix, which my father and his team discovered deposited copper onto the aluminium cooling tubes causing the engines to overheat,” Mr Thompson said.

David Thompson himself was also called on for advice. The company he worked for received an order from the operators of the Sydney Opera House with a design that utilised copper pipes under load.

“I knew from my research that the proposal would fail very quickly due to corrosion fatigue and advised them accordingly.” Wanting a second opinion, the operators approached another metallurgist, Rupert Myers – the first Australian to be appointed a University Vice-Chancellor. “Rupert was a friend of mine and he told them that if David Thompson said it, you had better believe him as he knows more about the subject than anyone else.”

Premier corrosion event

The annual Corrosion and Prevention Conference is just one aspect of how the ACA collaborates with industry and academia to research all aspects of corrosion mitigation in order to provide an extensive knowledge base that supports best practice in corrosion management, thereby ensuring all impacts of corrosion are responsibly managed, the environment is protected, public safety enhanced and economies improved.

The integral trade show consisting of 72 exhibition booths, attracted more than 200 additional people to the event. The range of exhibitors included materials suppliers, equipment vendors, specialist contractors and consultants. Conference delegates were able to browse the stands throughout the conference and take the opportunity to discuss products and services with the exhibitors. Exhibitors benefited from broad exposure to corrosion industry practitioners from around Australia, New Zealand and the world.  

The ACA’s conference continues to be the premier corrosion event in the Asia Pacific region, with its extensive program of keynote speakers and technical presentations. In 2018, South Australia’s capital Adelaide will once again host the ACA conference from 11-14 November. For more information or to register visit https://conference.corrosion.com.au.

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