Hydrogen Embrittlement

Hydrogen embrittlement can occur when metals are exposed to hydrogen gas or certain hydrogen-containing compounds. When hydrogen atoms diffuse into metal, they can weaken the metal’s atomic bonds and cause it to become more brittle and prone to cracking or fracturing.

Hydrogen embrittlement can occur in various metals, including: 

  • Steel
  • Titanium
  • Aluminum

It is a concern in many industries, including: 

  • Aerospace
  • Automotive
  • Oil and gas

Several factors can contribute to hydrogen embrittlement, including: 

  • High levels of hydrogen gas or hydrogen-containing compounds
  • The presence of stress or strain on the metal
  • The particular properties of the metal being used

Hydrogen embrittlement prevention can involve various measures, such as: 

  • Controlling the amount of hydrogen exposure
  • Using specialized coatings or surface treatments to reduce the likelihood of hydrogen uptake
  • Designing structures and components to reduce stress and strain

Materials Susceptible to Hydrogen Embrittlement

Some materials are more susceptible to hydrogen embrittlement than others. Generally, higher strength and hardness materials are more vulnerable to hydrogen embrittlement. Some of the materials that are known to be particularly susceptible to hydrogen embrittlement include:

  • High-strength steels, especially those with high levels of carbon or alloying elements like chromium, nickel, or molybdenum.
  • Martensitic stainless steel is a type of stainless steel that is heat-treated to achieve high strength.
  • Titanium and titanium alloys are commonly used in aerospace and medical applications due to their high strength-to-weight ratio.
  • Aluminum alloys, especially those with high levels of copper, are used in various industries, including aerospace, automotive, and construction.
  • Some high-strength nickel alloys are used in high-temperature applications like gas turbines and jet engines.

It is important to note that not all materials are equally susceptible to hydrogen embrittlement. The factors contributing to hydrogen embrittlement can vary depending on the material. It is essential to consider the risks of hydrogen embrittlement when designing and selecting materials. 

Hydrogen Embrittlement Concerns in Oil and Gas Industry Services

Hydrogen embrittlement can be a concern in various oil and gas services, particularly in processes where hydrogen is present in high concentrations or where high-strength metals are used. Some examples of oil and gas services where hydrogen embrittlement can be a concern include:

Oil and Gas Drilling

Hydrogen sulfide (H2S) is a byproduct of oil and gas drilling. It can be present in high concentrations in some reservoirs. Hydrogen embrittlement can occur if high-strength steels or other susceptible materials are used in drilling equipment. This can lead to equipment failure and safety hazards.

Refining and Petrochemical Processing

In refining and petrochemical processing, high temperatures are often used. This can create conditions where hydrogen can diffuse into metals. This can lead to hydrogen embrittlement. This can be a particular concern in equipment like reactors and heat exchangers.

Pipeline Transportation

Hydrogen can be present in pipeline transportation. Particularly in pipelines that transport hydrogen gas or gases that contain hydrogen. Hydrogen embrittlement can occur if sensitive materials are used in pipeline construction. This can lead to pipeline failure and safety hazards.

Offshore Oil and Gas Production

Offshore oil and gas production often involves exposure to seawater. This can contain hydrogen sulfide and other hydrogen-containing compounds. This can create conditions where hydrogen embrittlement can occur in metals used in offshore equipment. This can lead to equipment failure and safety hazards.

It is essential to consider the risks of hydrogen embrittlement in oil and gas services. Appropriate measures to prevent or mitigate its occurrence. This can include: 

  • Carefully selecting materials
  • Using protective coatings or surface treatments
  • Designing equipment to minimize stress and strain

How Can You Inspect for Hydrogen Embrittlement?

Inspecting for hydrogen embrittlement can be challenging since the effects of can be difficult to detect with standard non-destructive testing methods. Several methods can be used to detect the presence of hydrogen embrittlement in materials:

Delayed Fracture Testing

This test involves applying constant stress to a material sample over an extended period while it is exposed to hydrogen. If the sample fractures under stress, it indicates the presence of hydrogen embrittlement.


Microscopy techniques can be used to examine the microstructure and detect hydrogen-induced cracks or voids, such as: 

  • Scanning electron microscopy (SEM)
  • Transmission electron microscopy (TEM)

Hydrogen Permeation Testing

This test involves exposing a material to hydrogen gas and measuring the hydrogen that permeates the material. If a significant amount of hydrogen permeates the material, it suggests it is susceptible to hydrogen embrittlement.

Electrochemical Testing

Electrochemical techniques can detect hydrogen in a material and determine its susceptibility, such as: 

  • Electrochemical impedance spectroscopy (EIS)
  • Hydrogen permeation analysis (HPA)

Mechanical Testing

Mechanical testing techniques can be used to evaluate the mechanical properties of a material. It can detect any changes in strength or flexibility that may be indicative of hydrogen embrittlement.

It is important to note that each method has advantages and limitations. No single approach can provide a definitive diagnosis of hydrogen embrittlement. Using multiple inspection methods in combination is often necessary to assess the risk of hydrogen embrittlement in a particular material or application.

API Standards for Hydrogen Embrittlement

API (American Petroleum Institute) has several standards and recommended practices related to hydrogen embrittlement in the oil and gas industry. Some of these include:


Recommended Practice for Thread Compounds for Casing, Tubing, and Line Pipe. This standard guides the selection and use of thread compounds in oil and gas well applications. In addition, it includes recommendations for minimizing the risk of hydrogen embrittlement in the thread compounds.


Recommended Practice for Care and Use of Casing and Tubing. This standard provides guidance on the care and use of casing and tubing used in oil and gas well applications. In addition, it includes recommendations for minimizing the risk of hydrogen embrittlement in the materials used for casing and tubing.


Recommended Practice for Conducting Drop-Weight Tear Tests on Line Pipe. This standard guides conducting drop-weight tear tests on line pipes used in oil and gas pipelines. The tests are designed to evaluate the susceptibility of the line pipe to hydrogen-induced cracking.

API RP 571

Damage Mechanisms Affecting Fixed Equipment in the Refining Industry. This recommended practice provides information on various damage mechanisms that can affect equipment in the refining industry, including hydrogen embrittlement. It includes information on the mechanisms of hydrogen embrittlement and recommendations for managing the risk of hydrogen embrittlement in refining equipment.

API RP 934-A

Materials and Fabrication of 2-1/4Cr-1Mo, 2-1/4Cr-1Mo-1/4V, 3Cr-1Mo, and 3Cr-1Mo-1/4V Steel Heavy Wall Pressure Vessels for High-temperature, High-pressure Hydrogen Service. This recommended practice guides the materials and fabrication of pressure vessels in high-temperature, high-pressure hydrogen service. In addition, it includes recommendations for minimizing the risk of hydrogen embrittlement in the materials used for pressure vessels.

These standards and recommended practices are intended to guide managing the risk of hydrogen embrittlement in the oil and gas industry and promote safe and reliable operations.

Types of Hydrogen Embrittlement

Internal Hydrogen Embrittlement: The Hidden Culprit

Internal hydrogen embrittlement occurs when hydrogen atoms permeate the metal’s structure from within. This leads to a gradual degradation of mechanical properties. This type of embrittlement is often associated with manufacturing processes such as: 

  • Electroplating
  • Welding

This hydrogen is introduced during the production phase. As hydrogen atoms diffuse and accumulate within the metal’s lattice, they can weaken the bonds between atoms. This results in reduced ductility and an increased susceptibility to cracking and fracture. Dealing with internal hydrogen embrittlement involves taking a thoughtful approach to manufacturing methods. It requires implementing suitable post-processing treatments. It aims to minimize the intake and diffusion of hydrogen within the metal’s structure.

External Hydrogen Embrittlement: Environmental Influences

External hydrogen embrittlement is also known as environmental hydrogen embrittlement. It occurs when metals are exposed to external sources of hydrogen through corrosive processes. This embrittlement is relevant in industries like oil and gas where equipment is in contact with hydrogen-rich environments. Corrosion reactions generate hydrogen, which can permeate the metal’s surface. This leads to embrittlement effects. The presence of hydrogen can promote crack initiation and propagation, especially in stressed or susceptible regions of the metal. Preventing external hydrogen embrittlement involves utilizing: 

  • Corrosion-resistant materials
  • Protective coatings
  • Proper maintenance practices

Stress-Induced Hydrogen Embrittlement: The Role of Mechanical Strain

When a metal is under stress, the interaction with hydrogen leads to stress-induced embrittlement. This embrittlement is concerning in industries that involve high-stress conditions, such as: 

  • Oil and gas extraction
  • Transportation

The combination of stress and hydrogen presence can lead to: 

  • Accelerated crack growth 
  • Reduced fatigue resistance

Even materials that resist other types of embrittlement might experience stress-induced embrittlement. Mitigating stress-induced hydrogen embrittlement involves: 

  • Careful engineering design
  • Stress analysis
  • Selecting materials with enhanced resistance

It’s essential for industries relying on metal components exposed to hydrogen-rich environments to grasp the types of hydrogen embrittlement. Each type brings its unique challenges and considerations for preventing its effects. By comprehending the mechanisms and conditions driving hydrogen embrittlement, engineers and researchers can craft strategies to guarantee the safety and structural integrity of vital systems and equipment. This understanding fosters more effective approaches to maintaining the reliability of industrial processes.

Causes of Hydrogen Embrittlement

Hydrogen embrittlement is a complex phenomenon that arises from various sources and mechanisms. All of which can compromise the structural integrity of metals. Understanding these causes is crucial for developing preventative strategies to mitigate their effects.

Corrosion and Electrochemical Reactions

One of the primary sources of hydrogen in many industrial settings is corrosion. When metals are around environments rich in moisture and corrosive agents hydrogen ions form during electrochemical reactions. These hydrogen ions diffuse into the metal’s lattice and lead to embrittlement. This is relevant in industries where pipelines and equipment are in direct contact with corrosive substances.

Hydrogen-Producing Reactions

Certain chemical reactions within industrial processes can also release hydrogen. During the extraction or the pickling of metals in acids, hydrogen gas can be produced. If not managed, this released hydrogen can permeate the metal’s structure. Industries that involve metal processing need to be vigilant about these reactions.

Hydrogen Absorption during Manufacturing

Manufacturing processes involving high-temperature operations can introduce hydrogen into metals. The high temperatures cause hydrogen molecules to dissociate and diffuse into the metal. Once the metal cools down, the hydrogen can recombine and accumulate at defects. This accumulation weakens the metal’s bonds, making it more susceptible to embrittlement. Controlling the hydrogen content and managing the manufacturing conditions are essential in preventing embrittlement.

Hydrogen Diffusion and Trapping

Hydrogen can diffuse within a metal’s lattice. This can be due to concentration gradients and temperature differences. Once diffused, hydrogen atoms can become trapped at various sites within the microstructure. Trapping sites hinder the movement of hydrogen, leading to local accumulations, such as: 

  • Grain boundaries
  • Interfaces
  • Lattice defects

These trapped hydrogen atoms contribute to embrittlement. They create zones of increased vulnerability to cracking and fracture.

Hydrogen embrittlement can stem from a range of sources and mechanisms. Each cause has its own implications for the structural integrity of metals. Preventing hydrogen embrittlement involves a: 

  • A multifaceted approach that includes material selection
  • Appropriate manufacturing processes
  • Protective coatings

This is geared towards minimizing hydrogen uptake and diffusion within metals. Industries must remain vigilant and informed about the potential causes to mitigate risks.

Testing and Detection of Hydrogen Embrittlement

Testing and detecting hydrogen embrittlement are vital. It guarantees the structural integrity and safety of metal components across industries. The potential outcomes of failures underline the importance of dependable techniques. Reliable methods help in preventing disasters and contribute to the efficiency and longevity of industrial systems.

Testing Methods

Several testing methods assess the vulnerability of metals to hydrogen embrittlement. One common technique is Slow Strain Rate Testing (SSRT). In SSRT, a metal sample is subject to controlled levels of strain while exposed to a hydrogen-rich environment. If the material’s ductility or fracture resistance reduces during testing, it indicates susceptibility. Another useful method is Thermal Desorption Analysis (TDA). This involves heating a metal sample to release the absorbed hydrogen, which can then be analyzed. Fracture Surface Analysis offers insights into the specific type of embrittlement. It also goes into the failure mechanisms by examining fracture surfaces. These diverse testing methods help grasp the extent of embrittlement risks.

Detection Techniques

Detecting effects related to hydrogen embrittlement employs non-destructive testing techniques. This helps to identify vulnerabilities without worsening the situation. Ultrasonic testing uses sound waves to find internal flaws or weaknesses. This could come from embrittlement. Magnetic Particle Inspection is good at spotting surface cracks or defects. Furthermore, advanced imaging methods, like Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM), enable detailed examination of microstructures, helping researchers precisely locate hydrogen-related damage at a tiny scale.

Challenges and Advancements

While testing and detection techniques have advanced, challenges remain. Especially in accurately simulating real-world conditions. Hydrogen embrittlement can be influenced by factors such as: 

  • Temperature
  • Pressure
  • The presence of other chemicals

Researchers work to refine protocols to better replicate these conditions and improve accuracy. Advancements in computational modeling have allowed for simulations that provide insights into hydrogen diffusion and interactions. This aids in understanding and predicting embrittlement behavior.

Testing for hydrogen embrittlement and detecting its presence is vital. It upholds the dependability of metal structures and components across different industries. Engineers achieve this by using a blend of testing approaches and detection methods. It allows them to:

  • Recognize vulnerabilities at an early stage
  • Put preventive actions in place
  • Ensure metals are safely and efficiently utilized in challenging conditions

Continuous research and advancements in this area are set to deepen our grasp of embrittlement mechanisms and heighten the precision of testing techniques. This progress, in turn, will play a role in creating industrial systems that are safer and more resilient.