Stress corrosion cracking (SCC) is a materials degradation phenomena resulting from a combination of stress and a corrosive environment. Among the alphabet soup of proposed mechanism of SCC the most important are film-rupture, film-induced cleavage and hydrogen embrittlement.
This work examines various aspects of film-induced cleavage in gold alloys for which the operation of hydrogen embrittlement processes can be strictly ruled out on thermodynamic grounds. This is so because in such alloys SCC occurs under electrochemical conditions within which water is stable to hydrogen gas evolution. The alloy system examined in this work is AgAu since the corrosion processes in this system occur by a dealloying mechanism that results in the formation of nanoporous gold. The physics behind the dealloying process as well as the resulting formation of nanoporous gold is today well understood.
Two important aspects of the film-induced cleavage mechanism are examined in this work: dynamic fracture in monolithic nanoporous gold and crack injection. In crack injection there is a finite thickness dealloyed layer formed on a AgAu alloy sample and the question of whether or not a crack that nucleates within this layer can travel for some finite distance into the un-corroded parent phase alloy is addressed. Dynamic fracture tests were performed on single edge-notched monolithic nanoporous gold samples as well as “infinite strip” sample configurations for which the stress intensity remains constant over a significant portion of the crack length. High-speed photography was used to measure the crack velocity. In the dynamic fracture experiments cracks were observed to travel at speeds as large as 270 m/s corresponding to about 68% of the Raleigh wave velocity. Crack injection experiments were performed on single crystal Ag77Au23, polycrystalline Ag72Au28 and pure gold, all of which had thin nanoporous gold layers on the surface of samples. Through-thickness fracture was seen in both the single crystal and polycrystalline samples and there was an indication of ~ 1 μm injected cracks into pure gold. These results have important implications for the operation of the film-induced cleavage mechanism and represent a first step in the development of a fundamental model of SCC.