Access Type

Open Access Dissertation

Date of Award

January 2014

Degree Type


Degree Name



Materials Engineering

First Advisor

Susil K. Putatunda


Many metallic structural components come into contact with hydrogen during manufacturing processes or forming operations such as hot stamping of auto body frames and while in service. This interaction of metallic parts with hydrogen can occur due to various reasons such as water molecule dissociation during plating operations, interaction with atmospheric hydrogen due to the moisture present in air during stamping operations or due to prevailing conditions in service (e.g.: acidic or marine environments). Hydrogen, being much smaller in size compared to other metallic elements such as Iron in steels, can enter the material and become dissolved in the matrix. It can lodge itself in interstitials locations of the metal atoms, at vacancies or dislocations in the metallic matrix or at grain boundaries or inclusions (impurities) in the alloy. This dissolved hydrogen can affect the functional life of these structural components leading to catastrophic failures in mission critical applications resulting in loss of lives and structural component. Therefore, it is very important to understand the influence of the dissolved hydrogen on the failure of these structural materials due to cyclic loading (fatigue). For the next generation of hydrogen based fuel cell vehicles and energy systems, it is very crucial to develop structural materials for hydrogen storage and containment which are highly resistant to hydrogen embrittlement. These materials should also be able to provide good long term life in cyclic loading, without undergoing degradation, even when exposed to hydrogen rich environments for extended periods of time.

The primary focus of this investigation was to examine the influence of dissolved hydrogen on the fatigue crack growth behaviour of a commercially available high strength medium carbon low alloy (AISI 4140) steel. The secondary objective was to examine the influence of microstructure on the fatigue crack growth behaviour of this material and to determine the hydrogen induced failure mechanism in this material during cyclic loading. The secondary objective of this investigation was to determine the role of inclusions and their influence in affecting the fatigue crack growth rate of this material.

Compact tension and tensile specimens were prepared as per ASTM E-647, E-399 and E-8 standards. The specimens were tested in three different heat treated conditions i.e. annealed (as received) as well as two austempered conditions. These specimens were precharged with hydrogen (ex situ) using cathodic charging method at a constant current density at three different time periods ranging from 150 to 250 hours before conducting fatigue crack growth tests. Mode 1 type fatigue tests were then performed in ambient atmosphere at constant amplitude using load ratio R of 0.1. The near threshold fatigue crack growth rate, fatigue threshold and the fatigue crack growth rate in the linear region were determined. Fatigue crack growth behaviour of specimens without any dissolve hydrogen were then compared with the specimens with different concentration of dissolved hydrogen.

The test results show that the dissolved hydrogen concentration increases with the increase in charging time in all three heat treated conditions and the hydrogen uptake shows a strong dependence on the microstructure of the alloy. It was also observed that the microstructure has a significant influence of on the fatigue crack growth and SCC behaviour of the alloy with dissolved hydrogen. As the dissolved hydrogen concentration increases, the fatigue threshold was found to decrease and the near threshold crack growth rate increases in all three heat treated conditions showing the deleterious effect of hydrogen, but to a different extent in each condition. Current test results also indicate that the fatigue crack growth rates in the linear region increases as the dissolved hydrogen content increases in all three heat treated conditions. It is also observed that increasing the austempering temperature decreases the resistance to hydrogen embrittlement. An interesting phenomenon was also observed in annealed specimen charged with hydrogen for 250 h which had an unusually high fatigue threshold (ΔKth).