COLUMBUS, OH – Battelle scientists have developed a tiny bead, the Battelle Smart Corrosion Detector™ bead, that not only detects corrosion but delivers a payload to help heal the microscopic cracks that rust creates.

The beads look like a fine, whitish powder that can be mixed with coatings used to protect pipelines and other critical infrastructure subject to corrosion. The self-healing smart beads detect and reveal corrosion forming on metal before it is visible to the naked eye. Once activated, the 20-to-50-micron beads release a proprietary chemical that fills the cracks.

The beads fluoresce in the presence of corrosion and can be seen with a special light. This not only provides an early indication that corrosion is happening, even when it isn't showing through the paint, but also creates an opportunity to mitigate the underlying problem while the beads repair and stem the onset of the corrosion.

Ram Lalgudi, a Principal Research Scientist, and Battelle colleagues Kelly Jenkins, John Stropki and Wes Childers began working on this application of nanotechnology nearly a decade ago. They created a smart coating derived from functional nanomaterial that could be applied between a primer and topcoat. Now, they've developed a proof-of-concept technology that can be valuable for many industries, especially oil and gas.

For example, a technician could run a routine scan of the outer shell of a pipeline with a hand-held device and detect the presence of corrosion not yet visible otherwise. Then, while the nanomaterial was actively fighting the corrosion, the underlying problem could be addressed at that section, resulting in significant savings in time and money, as well as improved reliability, through early detection and remediation.