Nanoscopic and in-situ cross-sectional observations of Li-based conversion coating formation using liquid-phase TEM
Journal Contribution - Journal Article
Lithium salts have been proposed as promising environmentally friendly alternatives to carcinogenic hexavalent chromium-based inhibitors for the corrosion protection of aerospace aluminium alloys (AAs). Incorporated into organic coatings, lithium salts are released at damaged locations to establish a conversion layer in which distinct sublayers have different barrier characteristics. Thus, detailed knowledge on the sequence of formation events from the early stages of nucleation towards the final multi-layered arrangement is essential for developing and optimising lithium-leaching technology for protective coatings. Here, liquid-phase-transmission electron microscopy (LP-TEM) is employed to observe nanoscopic morphological evolutions in situ during the lithium-based conversion process of AA2024-T3. Thanks to dedicated preparation of delicate sandwiched TEM specimens allowing us to explore the events cross-sectionally, we provide real-time direct mechanistic information on the conversion process from the initiation to an advanced growth stage. In parallel, we perform supplementary ex situ SEM and TEM investigations to support and validate the LP-TEM findings. The unprecedented experimental approach developed and executed in this study provides an inspiring base for studying also other complicated surface conversion processes in situ and at the nanoscopic scale.