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A 76 mm (3 in.) type 304 stainless steel tube that was used as a heat shield and water nozzle support in a hydrogen gas plant quench pot failed in a brittle manner. Visual examination of a sample from the failed tube showed that one lip of the section was eroded from service failure, whereas the opposite side exhibited a planar-type fracture. Sections were removed from the eroded area and from the opposite lip for microscopic studies and chemical analysis. The eroded edges exhibited river bed ditching, indicative of thermal fatigue. Microstructural analysis showed massive carbide formations in a martensite matrix and outlining of prior-austenite grains by a network of fine, white lines. These features indicated that the material had been transformed by carburization by the impinging gas. The outer surface exhibited a heavy scale deposit and numerous cracks that originated at the surface of the tube. The cracks were covered with scale, indicating that thermal fatigue (heat cracking) had occurred. Chemical analysis confirmed that the original material was type 304 stainless steel that had been through-carburized by the formation of an endothermic gas mixture. It was recommended that plant startup and shutdown procedures be modified to reduce or eliminate the presence of the carburizing gas mixture.

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