Post-service destructive evaluation was performed on two commercially pure zirconium pump impellers. One impeller failed after short service in an aqueous hydrochloric acid environment. Its exposed surfaces are bright and shiny, covered with pockmarks, and peppered with pitting. Uniform corrosion is evident and two deep linear defects are present on impeller blade tips. In contrast, the undamaged impeller surfaces are covered with a dark oxide film. This and many other impellers in seemingly identical service conditions survive long lives with little or no apparent damage. No material or manufacturing defects were found to explain the different service performance of the two impellers. Microstructure, microhardness and material chemistry are consistent with the specified material. Examination reveals the damage mechanism to be corrosion-enhanced cavitation erosion, the most severe form of erosion corrosion. Cavitation damage to the protective oxide film caused the zirconium to lose its normally outstanding corrosion resistance. The root cause of the impeller failure is most likely the introduction of excessive air into the pump due to low liquid level, a bad seal or inadequate head. Corrosion pitting, crevice corrosion, and solidification cracks (casting defect) also contributed to the failure.
R.J. Parrington, Cavitation Erosion of a Zirconium Pump Impeller in an Aqueous Hydrochloric Acid Service Environment, ASM Failure Analysis Case Histories: Chemical Processing Equipment, ASM International, 2019, https://doi.org/10.31399/asm.fach.chem.c9001718
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