The development of 9-12% chromium steels during the last twenty years is reviewed. The significant increases in creep strength that have been achieved by minor alloying additions of V, Nb, W, Mo, N and B are discussed and the mechanisms by which the individual elements contribute to the long-term creep strength are evaluated. The basic strengthening is provided by the martensitic transformation that allows the formation of a sub-grain structure from the martensite laths. The sub-grain boundaries are stabilized by precipitates, mainly M23C6; within the sub-grains, fine nitride and carbonitride precipitates interact with dislocations, thereby enhancing the strength. The relative contributions of the martensitic transformation and the various precipitates to the overall creep strength of the steels are assessed. Of particular importance for the long-term creep strength is the stability of the microstructure, especially the time dependent coarsening of the various precipitates and the possible formation of additional phases, such as Laves phase (Fe2(W,Mo) and the Z phase (CrNbN). It is shown that microstructural changes that occur during exposure at anticipated service temperatures have a large impact on the strength and these changes must be taken into account in the derivation of long-term design stresses. Finally, the potential for achieving further increases in the creep strength of 9-12% chromium steels is discussed, especially in view of the need for higher chromium contents to ensure adequate steam oxidation resistance.

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