Aluminium alloys are extensively used in space programs for both structural and non-structural applications. As well known, the corrosion resistance of these alloys is quite limited and anticorrosion treatment is needed.

The most used treatment currently used for improving the corrosion resistance of aluminium alloys are usually chromate (CrVI-based) conversion coatings (CCC). Due to the high environmental impact of these compounds, the REACH Regulation of the European Union decided to limit/restrict the use of hexavalent chromium. A sunset date of mid-2017 has been already set.

For the time being many chromate-free alternative products are available but they have found to be significantly inferior in terms of corrosion protection performances with respect to the chromate options. In this regard there is a great need to develop high performance hexavalent chromium-free anti-corrosion coatings with low environmental impact and conformity with the EU regulations.

The European Space Agency (ESA) is currently involved in a TRP contract with Instituto de Soldadura e Qualidade (ISQ) that is currently on-going. The objective of this study is to evaluate the anticorrosion behaviour of the different alternative pre-treatments applied to the most used aluminium. The outcome of this activity will be the identification and the optimization of the most promising anticorrosion pre-treatment.

Several commercial Cr(VI) free processes were applied onto aluminium alloys (2024-T3 and 2024-T81) used in the construction of ESA spacecraft, in order to investigate their anticorrosive properties compared with Alodine 1200, a widely used conventional CCC. One of these commercial processes (PreCoat A32) presented good anticorrosion performance, even better than Alodine 1200 and these results are presented in this paper.

Salt spray resistance is included in the testing program as well as metallurgical coating evaluation that include microscopy (SEM) observations before and after testing and electrochemical impedance spectroscopy (EIS), in order to evaluate surface and microstructural modifications due to degradation mechanisms. Further studies must be performed with the this promising alternative, modifying application parameters, in order to achieve improved corrosion protection efficiency.

Key Words: Aluminium alloy, Conversion coating, Anti-corrosion coatings, SEM, EIS

Source: Whitepaper,Journal of Coatings Technology and Research, pp 1–14, Alternative corrosion protection pretreatments for aluminum alloys

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