Hydrogen embrittlement (HE) is a phenomenon that affects both the physical and chemical properties of several intrinsically ductile metals. Consequently, understanding the mechanisms behind HE has been of particular interest in both experimental and modeling research. Discrepancies between experimental observations and modeling results have led to various proposals for HE mechanisms. Therefore, to gain insights into HE mechanisms in iron, this dissertation aims to investigate several key issues involving HE such as: a) the incipient crack tip events; b) the cohesive strength of grain boundaries (GBs); c) the dislocation-GB interactions and d) the dislocation mobility.
The crack tip, which presents a preferential trap site for hydrogen segregation, was examined using atomistic methods and the continuum based Rice-Thompson criterion as sufficient concentration of hydrogen can alter the crack tip deformation mechanism. Results suggest that there is a plausible co-existence of the adsorption induced dislocation emission and hydrogen enhanced decohesion mechanisms. In the case of GB-hydrogen interaction, we observed that the segregation of hydrogen along the interface leads to a reduction in cohesive strength resulting in intergranular failure. A methodology was further developed to quantify the role of the GB structure on this behavior.
GBs play a fundamental role in determining the strengthening mechanisms acting as an impediment to the dislocation motion; however, the presence of an unsurmountable barrier for a dislocation can generate slip localization that could further lead to intergranular crack initiation. It was found that the presence of hydrogen increases the strain energy stored within the GB which could lead to a transition in failure mode. Finally, in the case of body centered cubic metals, understanding the complex screw dislocation motion is critical to the development of an accurate continuum description of the plastic behavior. Further, the presence of hydrogen has been shown to drastically alter the plastic deformation, but the precise role of hydrogen is still unclear. Thus, the role of hydrogen on the dislocation mobility was examined using density functional theory and atomistic simulations. Overall, this dissertation provides a novel atomic-scale understanding of the HE mechanism and development of multiscale tools for future endeavors.