Researchers look at graphene for rust-proof coating

University of Buffalo researchers are investigating rust-proofing steel using a graphene-based composite that could serve as a non-toxic alternative to coatings that contain hexavalent chromium.

In the scientists’ first experiments, pieces of steel coated with the varnish remained rust-free for only a few days when immersed continuously in saltwater.

By adjusting the concentration and dispersion of graphene within the composite, the researchers reportedly increased to about a month the amount of time the treated steel can survive in brine.

According to a statement, the chemists leading the project are Sarbajit Banerjee, PhD, an assistant professor, and Robert Dennis, a PhD student. Their next step is to use a $50,000 grant from the New York State Pollution Prevention Institute to enhance the graphene composite’s lasting power, as well as the quality of its finish.

Tata Steel has been helping the scientists test larger sample sizes, Banerjee said.

Bringing the coating to the market could not only benefit public health, but also save jobs, according to Dennis and Banerjee.

‘Our product can be made to work with the existing hardware of many factories that specialise in chrome electroplating, including job shops in Western New York that grew around Bethlehem Steel,’ Banerjee said. ‘This could give factories a chance to reinvent themselves in a healthy way in a regulatory environment that is growing increasingly harsh when it comes to chromium pollution.’

Graphene consists of a single layer of carbon atoms linked in a honeycomb-like arrangement.

The material’s hydrophobic and conductive properties may help prevent corrosion, repelling water and stunting electro-chemical reactions that transform iron into iron oxide, or rust, Banerjee said.

The University of Buffalo Office of Science, Technology Transfer and Economic Outreach (STOR) has submitted a provisional patent application to protect the coating Banerjee and Dennis are refining. Tata Steel also has certain rights to the technology.