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The degradation of private and public assets continues to have a major economic impact on industry with organisations spending billions a year on mitigating and repairing corrosion damage.

Last month the Australasian Corrosion Association (ACA) hosted a major forum where the management and prevention of corrosion was the focus.

Held at the International Convention Centre Sydney (ICC), the ACA's annual Corrosion and Prevention Conference and Trade Exhibition (C&P2017) was attended by more than 500 delegates.

The conference brings together corrosion practitioners and researchers, as well as asset owners and operators, from around the world in order to promote a better understanding of corrosion mitigation.

A range of topics were covered at C&P2017 with a panel of industry experts addressing the challenges of maintaining vital infrastructure.

The main themes of the technical seminars covered coatings, concrete & asset management, the oil & gas and offshore industry, and the latest research. Topics ranged from fundamental corrosion science to hands-on application including advances in sensing & monitoring; asset management; cathodic protection; concrete corrosion and repair; corrosion mechanisms, modelling and prediction; materials selection and design, and protective coatings.

The design, construction and operation of facilities and infrastructure represent major investments by companies, organisations and governments. Corrosion affects all structures at varying rates over time, depending on the material used, the types of corrosive agents in the environment and the physical processes and mechanisms involved.

How to manage this degradation is a challenge for designers and engineers, as well as asset owners, managers and operators.

To minimise the impact of corrosion, new materials are being developed all the time. This was the topic for the keynote address, known as the PF Thompson Memorial Lecture, which was delivered this year by Professor Maria Forsyth, Australian Laureate Fellow and Chair of Electromaterials and Corrosion Sciences at Deakin University.

Professor Forsyth's lecture—Controlling Corrosion with Chemistry—related how using chemistry to control corrosion ranges from designing metallic coatings through to creating oxides on a metal substrate or protective polymeric coatings and using chemical additives in a given environment to produce inhibited surfaces.

A special guest at C&P2017 was David Thompson, son of Percival Thompson in whose honour the lecture is named. A renowned metallurgist in his own right, Thompson said the reception he received at the conference was almost overwhelming.

“So many people approached me to say they knew people I had either trained, or worked with, during the course of my career," he said.

Thompson said that, like so many others over the years, he had a good teacher in his father.  Thompson said his father spent a lot of time away from home inspecting mining leases and that as a result, the family home had one of the largest collections of ore samples in the country.

“My father regularly marked university exam papers,” Thompson added. “A big truck would arrive at our house and a massive load of papers would be unloaded.”

P F Thompson established the School of Metallurgy at the University of Melbourne and oversaw its development, growing from a handful of students to more than 200 before moving to RMIT to set up a similar school at that institution.

Named after the revered Michael Faraday of the Royal Society in London, Thompson's father taught in a similar manner to his namesake, “He was a demonstrator and believed that if you showed a student a process or reaction, they would remember it better,” he added. “If they could show they really understood the basic principles, my father would be lenient towards them when marking their papers."

Thompson stated that his father was a master of many disciplines, such as general science, astronomy and music in addition to his main passion of metallurgy. “We had one of the largest reflective telescopes in its day at our house and the Victorian Field Naturalists Society used to meet in our backyard,"  he said.

P F Thompson worked with the CSIRO but a lot of the projects were very secretive, especially during the Second World War. One investigation involved US warships at the time of the Battle of the Coral Sea; ships would have to head to port with heavily corroded condenser tubes that impacted the marine steam engines. It was discovered that the American Navy had used brass alloy that had phosphorous added and that this additive enhanced the corrosion.

Another wartime investigation involved the catastrophic failure of aircraft engines. “Many aircraft had glycol-cooled engines but some maintenance staff added a corrosion inhibitor to the mix, which my father and his team discovered deposited copper onto the aluminium cooling tubes causing the engines to overheat," Thompson said.

David Thompson himself was also called on for advice. The company he worked for received an order from the operators of the Sydney Opera House with a design that utilised copper pipes under load. “I knew from my research that the proposal would fail very quickly due to corrosion fatigue and advised them accordingly.” Wanting a second opinion, the operators approached another metallurgist, Rupert Myers—the first Australian to be appointed a University Vice-Chancellor. “Rupert was a friend of mine and he told them that if David Thompson said it, you had better believe him as he knows more about the subject than anyone else.”

The annual Corrosion and Prevention Conference is just one aspect of how the ACA collaborates with industry and academia to research all aspects of corrosion mitigation in order to provide an extensive knowledge base that supports best practice in corrosion management.

The trade show, which featured 72 exhibition booths, attracted another 200 attendees.

In 2018, South Australia's capital, Adelaide, will host the ACA conference.

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