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10/4/2014 Selection of materials for chemical engineering equipment

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Selection of materials for chemical engineering equipment
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The selection of materials of construction for chemical engineering equipment is not a
trivial matter. The choice of material influences the safety, reliability, lifetime, and cost
of the equipment. Many criteria must be considered, and many types of materials exist
although the vendors of equipment normally have narrowed the availability
considerably. While an entire course could be devoted to this topic, we aim here only to
provide sufficient information for preliminary design decisions.

General references
CRC Materials Science and Engineering Handbook (excellent source of
composition ranges for metal alloys)
Ashby charts of mechanical properties, from wood to ceramics. Outstanding
summaries. See also Chapter 4 in Ashbys very useful book:
Materials Selection in Mechanical Design by M.R. Ashby, 4
th
edition, Elsevier
(2011). 1992 edition in Clarkson library, 620.11 A823m.
Granta teaching resources for materials education
Mat Web materials selection guide
Chapter 28 of Perry's 7th edition.
Perry's Chemical Engineers Handbook, 8th edition (available free for AIChE
members through their site)
Materials selection deskbook (edited by Clarkson Ph.D. alumnus)

Types of materials
There are many classes of materials:
Metals. The most common class of materials for chemical engineering equipment
because they generally are easy to fabricate, have high strength, and are resistance
to fracture.
ASM Handbook, ASM International, Materials Park, OH (1990-2001) Clarkson library
reference section 669.01 A512m10
ASME Boiler and Pressure Vessel Code: Section II - Materials
Piping Materials Guide
Glasses. Typically rich in silica (SiO
2
). The most common material for chemical
laboratory equipment, but usually considered too prone to fracture for large-scale
plant equipment. Highly resistant to corrosion, except by fluorides and strong bases.
Ceramics. A variety of compounds, usually oxides. Can be very strong to very high
temperatures, generally very resistant to chemical attack, but difficult to fabricate and
usually brittle.
Polymers. Use in piping, valves and equipment is increasing, particularly as strength
and temperature stability are increased.
Plastics Technology materials selection database
Carbon. Carbon comes in many forms (google for more details of each):
Bulk graphite is a polycrystalline material available in different porosities and
purities. It can be machined, is highly resistant to chemical attack, and is strong to
10/4/2014 Selection of materials for chemical engineering equipment
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very high temperatures. But it is difficult to join and oxidizes in air above about
350
o
C. As shown on Table28-29 on p 28-6 of Perry's 7th edition, graphite can be
used up to 2800
o
C in an inert atmosphere (e.g., argon), while silicon carbide can be
used to even higher temperatures! S ometimes used for heat exchanger tubes.
Pyrolytic graphite is crystalline with the graphite sheets highly aligned, giving very
directional properties, e.g. thermal conductivity. Like ordinary graphite, highly
resistant to chemical attack. Not believed to be used in chemical engineering
equipment.
Graphite foil consists of flakes of graphite pressed into sheets that may be used as
thermal insulation, particularly in vacuum systems where oxidation is not a
problem.
Glassy carbon. A brittle amorphous form, not believed to be used in chemical
engineering equipment.
Carbon or graphite fibers. Amorphous fibers with high strength, useful for
composites.
Carbon nanofibers or nanotubes are usually single-crystal fibers with nanometer
diameters having highly unusual properties. Many possible applications, but thus
far not in chemical engineering equipment.
Diamond and diamond-like carbon coatings can be applied at low pressures and
temperatures. While diamond particularly is extremely hard and chemically
resistant, it is not believed to be used in chemical engineering equipment.
Composites. Any mixtures of two or more solids, but generally refers to high-
strength but brittle fibers dispersed in a softer ductile matrix. The oldest man-made
example is glass fibers in polymer (see fiberglass). The fibers may be weaved or
wound on a form before the matrix is applied. Fiberglass-reinforced polymer may be
used for storage tanks for water and some solvents. However, in general, fiber-
reinforced composites are not used in chemical engineering equipment.
Linings and coatings. Many chemical resistant materials are not suitable for large
equipment, e.g., because they are difficult to form to a desired shape, cannot be
welded, are either too brittle or too soft, or are too expensive. Often, however,
advantage can be taken of their chemical resistance by coating on another material,
such as carbon steel. Examples are glass-lined piping and vessels; polymer-coated
gaskets, o-rings, pipes and vessels.

Criteria for selection
Following are the primary criteria for materials selection. The weighting of these is
somewhat flexible, although those influencing safety trump all others.
Strength. The material must be sufficiently strong to withstand indefinitely the
pressure difference between the inside of the equipment and the exterior. Lower
strength can be compensated somewhat by use of thicker walls. Ashby charts of
mechanical properties, from wood to ceramics
Ease of fabrication: ductility, weldability, castability. Metals reign supreme here.
Resistance to mechanical and thermal shock: A sudden blow or a continuously
applied stress can cause a brittle material to fail catastrophically, i.e. fracture. A
sudden change in temperature can induce a stress sufficient to damage some
materials. Ductility is the ability of a material to deform without failing, e.g. by cracks
or fracture. When brittle materials such as glass are chosen, care must be taken in
the plant to avoid situations that might cause damage. For example, dont drop a
wrench into a glass-lined steel vessel used for hot sulfuric acid!
Tendency to form sparks: Because leaks do sometimes develop, when a
10/4/2014 Selection of materials for chemical engineering equipment
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combustible gas is processed in a unit one must avoid sparks. For this reason, in
such a unit constructed of steel, brass tools are supplied to maintenance personnel.
Corrosion and chemical resistance: Corrosion generally refers to attack of metals
by aqueous systems. The attack may take several forms, dependent on the particular
conditions and metal: general penetration, pitting, and even cracking. While non-
metals dont corrode in this sense, they may be attacked in other ways. Thus, for
example, silica glasses are dissolved by fluorides and strong alkalis. A solvent may
dissolve a polymer or cause it to swell or crack. Although there are large amounts of
data available, for new situations laboratory testing is desirable. At high
temperatures, materials can react with a wide variety of compounds, including
hydrogen and those containing sulfur, nitrogen, chlorine and even carbon.
Materials selection and corrosion
Selection of materials for high temperature operation
Metals and Alloys in various fluids: Table 28-2 of Perry's Chemical Engineers
Handbook, 8th edition
Chemical resistance of plastics: Table 28-22 of Perry's Chemical Engineers
Handbook, 8th edition
Chemical resistance of coatings: Table 28-23 of Perry's Chemical Engineers
Handbook, 8th edition
Chemical resistance of elastomers: Table 28-27of Perry's Chemical Engineers
Handbook, 8th edition
Corrosion Survey Database Searchable tables of the effects of exposing 87 metal
and nonmetal materials to over 1500 different exposure media at various
temperatures and concentrations.
Corrosion Resistant Materials Handbook
Uhlig's Corrosion Handbook (2nd Edition)
Corrosion
Handbook of Corrosion Engineering
Corrosion Science and Technology
Oxidation resistance: The exterior of some materials exposed to air will oxidize,
particularly as temperature is increased. Some materials, such as metals, form solid
oxides, while others such as graphite form gaseous oxides. For materials such as
aluminum and stainless steel, the resulting oxide forms a coherent film that protects
the material. In other materials, such as carbon steel at high temperature, the oxide
is not protective and damage continues until the material fails. Table 28-34 in Perry's
Chemical Engineers Handbook, 8th edition gives the temperatures above which
ferrous alloys experience excessive scaling in air. The minimum such temperature is
565
o
C for carbon steels.
Chemical compatibility: While unusual, one must be alert to the possibility that a
material or its oxide can catalyze a dangerous reaction. For example, maleic acid
reacts with iron to form iron maleate, which is pyrophoric, i.e., capable of
spontaneous ignition when exposed to air. Ethylene oxide vapor in contact with high
surface area metal oxides, such as the gamma form of iron oxide, can undergo
exothermic reactions (disproportionation) that can raise the temperature above the
decomposition temperature of ethylene oxide.
Temperature stability: Temperature influences all of the factors above, generally
decreasing strength, increasing ductility, and increasing the rate of chemical
reactions. Considering strength alone, upper temperature limits may be set for
materials. Very low temperatures (cryogenic) can cause normally ductile materials
to become dangerously brittle.
10/4/2014 Selection of materials for chemical engineering equipment
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Selection of materials for high temperature operation
Chart of strength versus maximum service temperature for materials from wood to
ceramics
Temperature limits of plastic pipe: Table 10-15 in Perry's Chemical Engineers
Handbook, 8th edition.
Maximum use temperatures for plastics: Table 28-22 in Perry's Chemical Engineers
Handbook, 8th edition.
Maximum use temperatures for elastomers: Table 28-27 in Perry's Chemical
Engineers Handbook, 8th edition.
Costs: Typically a variety of suitable materials can be identified for a particular
application. The sensible thing then is to choose that with the lowest total cost, not
just the cost of the bulk material but including also the cost of fabrication and
installation. In economic evaluations of equipment, such as in CAPCOST, one
multiplies the base module cost of the equipment fabricated from carbon steel by a
materials factor, which is the ratio of the cost for the equipment fabricated from a
different material to that fabricated from carbon steel. If this materials factor is
unknown, it may be estimated by the following: [($/kg)
material
/($/kg)
steel
]
(r
material
/r
steel
)(s
steel
/s
material
), where r is density and s is the allowable stress
(typically on the order of of the yield strength).
Relative costs of piping made from different materials relative to carbon steel:
Figure 10-176 in Perry's Chemical Engineers Handbook, 8th edition. Lacking better
information, use the materials factors given here for other equipment as well.
Chart of strength versus cost for materials from wood to ceramics
Chart of strength versus density

Clarkson's Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering
Disclaimer: The material on these pages is intended for instructional purposes by
Clarkson University students only. Neither Clarkson University nor Professor Wilcox
are responsible for problems caused by using this information.

Last updated April 4, 2013. Comments and corrections should be sent to Professor
William R. Wilcox

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