Super Materials To Improve Lifetime When Your Pump Is On Acid

Severely corroded impeller next to the original wear part
Severely corroded impeller next to the original wear part

Recently I had a discussion on LinkedIn about the pump killer #2: ‘wrong material’. There I chipped in with this disaster picture1. It was an application where we provided a suboptimal material for the acid environment. The consequences were disastrous, as seen above. Luckily, we were able to identify the problem and propose a different material. Now, I want to share our experience here, also.

What was the case? A client requested a DOP for handling tailings in their facility. Tailings is fine stuff. Leftover from mining or waste water processing. We are always careful on the grain size, as these fines may interfere with the operation of the mechanical seal. With appropriate measures, they can handle them. As the grains tend to be fresh, they can be razor sharp. The erosion on the wear parts is higher than normal fine silt. Oh, and most tailings come with acid in their water.

So, for this request we proposed a material that was usually good in wear resistance and had a moderate resistance against corrosion. Casting materials can be classified for their corrosion resistance with the Pitting Resistance Equivalent Number2. This PREN can be calculated with:

PREN = Cr + 3.3Mo + 16N

Two observations to this formula. One, this is only valid for normal Chromium content materials intended as Stainless Steel. Two, it does not mention the aggression of the corrosion. The acidity is usually provided in the request for quotation. But, a catalyst for the oxidising reaction is the conductivity of the fluid. Chloric acid and sulphuric acid may have the same pH, but due to their different ion and electron content, their conductivity differ. We did not check this in the above example, with the consequences in the picture.

Is increasing the chromium content in the wear alloy a solution to this corrosion problem? Mwah, moderately. Alloys like stainless steel profit from the above approach. But, wear materials use their Chromium for generating carbides. Those are the particles we require for the wear resistance. The Chromium provided is than not available for corrosion resistance. e.g. White cast iron with 3%C and 21%Cr will only have about 6% of Chromium to be used in the PREN. For white cast irons, it is better to use the following graph3 to find their corrosion resistance.

Corrosion Properties of Cast Iron Ball Materials in Wet Grinding. (Credit: Corrosion Feb 1992)
Corrosion Properties of Cast Iron Ball Materials in Wet Grinding. (Credit: Corrosion Feb 1992)

If corrosion is such an issue, why don’t we use Stainless Steel? Well, there you bite yourself in the tail. Stainless Steel in itself is relatively soft. It would have the same wear index of normal construction steel. By definition a Wear Rate Index of 1. For the sharp tailing material, that would be disastrous in itself. But, let’s play along. The stainless steel derives it’s corrosion resistance from the Chromium as explained before. Chromium’s trick is to generate a clear closed patina layer of Chromium Oxide protecting the underlaying material. In dredging conditions, the particles damage the protecting patina forever exposing fresh base material for more erosion and corrosion. In the end, the wear is accelerated and part life decreases dramatically.

Accelerated erosion process under corrosive conditions
Accelerated erosion process under corrosive conditions

Back to the pictured example, we expected some corrosion, but did not expect the higher conductivity. So, after three weeks, the client noticed a sudden los of performance. The leading edge of blades and the hub shroud were completely eaten away. As long as the trailing edge was there, it generated head. A single stone hit severed the front of the impeller from the hub and we received the above disaster picture. After damage evaluation, we sent a CW250 impeller and that one lasted.

A corrosion resistant DOP working in an acid tailings pit
A corrosion resistant DOP working in an acid tailings pit


  1. Pump killers: How to fight the 13 most common centrifugal pump failures? Number 2., Jos Overschie
  2. Pitting resistance equivalent number, Wikipedia
  3. Corrosion Properties of Cast Iron Ball Materials in Wet Grinding, Corrosion

See also

Do You Have Wear Parts For Spare?

Severely worn impeller. Though still with acceptable discharge head.

A dredge company makes its profit by economically transporting sand by mixing it with water. Unfortunately, this happens to be the best combination to literally ‘sand blast’ steel. Every effort should be made to reduce the wear and tear on the dredging components and especially the dredge pump. If not tenderly cared for, your dredge pump may erode away. Performance and profit will follow down the drain, also.

The background of the wear on the dredge components, is scratching. The small hard particles in the sediment are blasted against the surface of the wear parts. As the sand is usually harder than the steel, the steel gets scratched. Enough scratches on top of each other makes the wear. The principle of scratching different materials against each other was scientifically explored by Friedrich Mohs. Although the effects were already known by the ancient Greeks1. Mohs proposed a hardness scale, that is very practical and will give you a first estimate of the hardness2.

Mohs hardness scale in relation to tool material (Credit: National Parks Service)

On the left side are the classical Mohs minerals, that we also sometimes encounter in dredging. On the right side there is also a suggestion of tool material that is of comparable hardness. If you need to scratch on the mineral on the left, you need at least a tool of the corresponding hardness on the right. Quartz is a main component of sand. And from the scale, you can see, that a normal steel nail will not be tough enough to make a scratch. And that is exactly what we see in dredging. Wear parts for handling the soil are usually made of sophisticated alloys to be harder than sand. The wear rate reduces significantly beyond the hardness of sand. In selecting wear parts material3, we usually discuss the wear index. This is the factor in which a certain material lasts longer than normal construction steel under the same conditions.

Wear part material hardness in relation to wear index

There is a trend: harder material lasts longer. Off course it is very attractive to select the hardest material. But, there are two considerations:

  1. Hard material tends to be very brittle. For an uniformly distributed sediment with no heavy lumps (read: rocks) this might be fine. As soon as rocks and debris are involved, the wear part might crack due to impact from stones etc.
  2. Hard material tends to be expensive. It requires exotic elements to cast and extensive treatment and machining to finally reach the required hardness.

Still, the harder material might be your choice. If the best material at 10 times the wear index, is three times as expensive as the softer cheap material, your will end up with a three times better wear rate per Euro (or Dollar). And it is not an investment. Wear parts are consumables.

Speaking of money, wear parts do involve some financial planning. At best, the contractor has his own stock. In case of a worn wear part, the part is immediately available. Though this requires some investment indeed. We do have a stock for emergency deliveries, but transport costs time also. Let alone, if the part has to be cast. Casting is a laborious process that can take 16 to 20 weeks. Even with all the modern progress, we are still limited by the physical processes involved. But the casting process itself sure looks quite spectacular!

Casting molten steel in a sand mold


  1. Mohs scale of mineral hardness, Wikipedia
  2. Mohs Hardness Scale, National Parks Service
  3. Product Specification Sheet (only in print), Van Voorden Foundry

See also