Corrosion is a problem that costs the US military more than $20 billion each year. In order to combat this problem, the Department of Defense has held a major conference on the theme of corrosion every two years since 1967. The Tri-Service Corrosion Conference, as it was originally called, brought together government, military, industry, and academic experts to discuss their latest research findings.
This year, the Department of Defense Corrosion Conference was scheduled to be held over a period of five days at the Sheraton Waikiki Hotel in Honolulu, Hawaii. However, the massive “sequestration” cuts to the federal budget put a halt to those plans. Instead, for the first time ever, the conference was held online. The virtual conference, organized with the help of the professional organization NACE International, was presented in two afternoon sessions in September. This format allowed more than 900 attendees from around the world to participate from the comfort of their own computers. Maybe not quite as comfortable as the Sheraton Waikiki Hotel, but definitely more accessible and affordable: registration was free, and open to anyone with an Internet connection.
Opening remarks were provided by Daniel J. Dunmire, director of the Defense Department's Corrosion Office. He underscored the importance of corrosion research, which he claimed yields an impressive 57-to-1 cumulative return on investment. He said that the US military has invested $165 million on corrosion science and technology since 2005, for a projected life cycle cost savings of $9.4 billion. He also outlined some of the military’s outreach programs designed to spread awareness of corrosion and to encourage young people to consider careers in corrosion prevention. These include a series of training videos starring actor LeVar Burton (known for his roles on the television shows Roots, Reading Rainbow, and Star Trek: The Next Generation). These videos are available for free on corrconnect.org.
The Corrosion Office also helped the University of Akron to start the nation's first undergraduate corrosion engineering program, whose first group of students will graduate in 2015. In addition, the Corrosion Office sponsored an exhibit called "Corrosion: The Silent Menace," which opened in March at the Orlando Science Center. The exhibit has been well received, and one participant on the virtual conference's chatroom commented that getting kids excited about watching things rust is an amazing feat in itself. (OK, that was me.)
The conference's presenters study corrosion in many different environments. Eliza Montgomery studies launch pad corrosion at the NASA Kennedy Space Center. Located on the Florida coast, one of the most corrosive natural environments in the US, the launch pads are also exposed to large quantities of hydrochloric acid produced by the exhaust of solid-fuel rockets. NASA spends about $1.6 million a year on corrosion control for the launch site. Improved materials and coatings could help to save this money. However, approval of new coatings requires a five-year exposure test at the space center's Beach Corrosion Testing Site. "Atmospheric exposure is very time consuming, but is the gold standard for us," Montgomery said during the conference. Variable weather conditions mean that it's impossible to extrapolate results from a month or a few months of testing to predict performance over a longer period of time. In fact, Montgomery's testing showed that corrosion rates varied from year to year by as much as a factor of four.