Oilfield Glossary
Oilfield Glossary
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hydrogen embrittlement

1. n. [Enhanced Oil Recovery]
The process whereby hydrogen causes steel components to become less resistant to breakage and generally much weaker in tensile strength. While embrittlement has many causes, in the oil field it is usually the result of exposure to gaseous or liquid hydrogen sulfide [H2S]. On a molecular level, hydrogen ions work their way between the grain boundaries of the steel, where hydrogen ions recombine into molecular hydrogen [H2], taking up more space and weakening the bonds between the grains. The formation of molecular hydrogen can cause sudden metal failure due to cracking when the metal is subjected to tensile stress. This type of hydrogen-induced failure is produced when hydrogen atoms enter high strength steels. The failures due to hydrogen embrittlement normally have a period where no damage is observed, which is called incubation, followed by a sudden catastrophic failure. Hydrogen embrittlement is also called acid brittleness.