Hydrogen permeation rates in Inconel, Hastelloy and stainless steels.

Some 20 years ago, I published a graph of the permeation rate for hydrogen in several metals at low pressure, See the graph here, but I didn’t include stainless steel in the graph.

Hydrogen permeation in clean SS-304; four research groups’ data.

One reason I did not include stainless steel was there were many stainless steels and the hydrogen permeation rates were different, especially so between austenitic (FCC) steels and ferritic steels (BCC). Another issue was oxidation. All stainless steels are oxidized, and it affect H2 permeation a lot. You can decrease the hydrogen permeation rate significantly by oxidation, or by surface nitriding, etc (my company will even provide this service). Yet another issue is cold work. When  an austenitic stainless steel is worked — rolled or drawn — some Austinite (FCC) material transforms to Martisite (a sort of stretched BCC). Even a small amount of martisite causes an order of magnitude difference in the permeation rate, as shown below. For better or worse, after 20 years, I’m now ready to address H2 in stainless steel, or as ready as I’m likely to be.

Hydrogen permeation data for SS 340 and SS 321.

Hydrogen permeation in SS 340 and SS 321. Cold work affects H2 permeation more than the difference between 304 and 321; Sun Xiukui, Xu Jian, and Li Yiyi, 1989

The first graph I’d like to present, above, is a combination of four research groups’ data for hydrogen transport in clean SS 304, the most common stainless steel in use today. SS 304 is a ductile, austenitic (FCC), work hardening, steel of classic 18-8 composition (18% Cr, 8% Ni). It shares the same basic composition with SS 316, SS 321 and 304L only differing in minor components. The data from four research groups shows a lot of scatter: a factor of 5 variation at high temperature, 1000 K (727 °C), and almost two orders of magnitude variation (factor of 50) at room temperature, 13°C. Pressure is not a factor in creating the scatter, as all of these studies were done with 1 atm, 100 kPa hydrogen transporting to vacuum.

The two likely reasons for the variation are differences in the oxide coat, and differences in the amount of cold work. It is possible these are the same explanation, as a martensitic phase might increase H2 permeation by introducing flaws into the oxide coat. As the graph at left shows, working these alloys causes more differences in H2 permeation than any difference between alloys, or at least between SS 304 and SS 321. A good equation for the permeation behavior of SS 304 is:

P (mol/m.s.Pa1/2) = 1.1 x10-6 exp (-8200/T).      (H2 in SS-304)

Because of the song influence of cold work and oxidation, I’m of the opinion that I get a slightly different, and better equation if I add in permeation data from three other 18-8 stainless steels:

P (mol/m.s.Pa1/2) = 4.75 x10-7 exp (-7880/T).     (H2 in annealed SS-304, SS-316, SS-321)

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Hydrogen permeation through several common stainless steels, as well as Inocnel and Hastelloy

Though this result is about half of the previous at high temperature, I would trust it better, at least for annealed SS-304, and also for any annealed austenitic stainless steel. Just as an experiment, I decided to add a few nickel and cobalt alloys to the mix, and chose to add data for inconel 600, 625, and 718; for kovar; for Hastelloy, and for Fe-5%Si-5%Ge, and SS4130. At left, I pilot all of these on one graph along with data for the common stainless steels. To my eyes the scatter in the H2 permeation rates is indistinguishable from that SS 304 above or in the mixed 18-8 steels (data not shown). Including these materials to the plot decreases the standard deviation a bit to a factor of 2 at 1000°K and a factor of 4 at 13°C. Making a least-square analysis of the data, I find the following equation for permeation in all common FCC stainless steels, plus Inconels, Hastelloys and Kovar:

P (mol/m.s.Pa1/2) = 4.3 x10-7 exp (-7850/T).

This equation is near-identical to the equation above for mixed, 18-8 stainless steel. I would trust it for annealed or low carbon metal (SS-304L) to a factor of 2 accuracy at high temperatures, or a factor of 4 at low temperatures. Low carbon reduces the tendency to form Martinsite. You can not use any of these equations for hydrogen in ferritic (BCC) alloys as the rates are different, but this is as good as you’re likely to get for basic austenitc stainless and related materials. If you are interested in the effect of cold work, here is a good reference. If you are bothered by the square-root of pressure driving force, it’s a result of entropy: hydrogen travels in stainless steel as dislocated H atoms and the dissociation H2 –> 2 H leads to the square root.

Robert Buxbaum, December 17, 2017. My business, REB Research, makes hydrogen generators and purifiers; we sell getters; we consult on hydrogen-related issues, and will (if you like) provide oxide (and similar) permeation barriers.

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