Microbial corrosion, also called microbiologically influenced corrosion (MIC), microbially induced corrosion (MIC) or biocorrosion, is "corrosion affected by the presence or activity (or both) of microorganisms in biofilms on the surface of the corroding material." This corroding material can be either a metal (such as steel or aluminum alloys) or a nonmetal (such as concrete or glass).
Some sulfate-reducing bacteria produce hydrogen sulfide, which can cause sulfide stress cracking. Acidithiobacillus bacteria produce sulfuric acid; Acidothiobacillus thiooxidans frequently damages sewer pipes. Ferrobacillus ferrooxidans directly oxidizes iron to iron oxides and iron hydroxides; the rusticles forming on the RMS Titanic wreck are caused by bacterial activity. Other bacteria produce various acids, both organic and mineral, or ammonia.
In presence of oxygen, aerobic bacteria like Acidithiobacillus thiooxidans, Thiobacillus thioparus, and Thiobacillus concretivorus, all three widely present in the environment, are the common corrosion-causing factors resulting in biogenic sulfide corrosion.
Without presence of oxygen, anaerobic bacteria, especially Desulfovibrio and Desulfotomaculum, are common. Desulfovibrio salixigens requires at least 2.5% concentration of sodium chloride, but D. vulgaris and D. desulfuricans can grow in both fresh and salt water. D. africanus is another common corrosion-causing microorganism. The genus Desulfotomaculum comprises sulfate-reducing spore-forming bacteria; Dtm. orientis and Dtm. nigrificans are involved in corrosion processes. Sulfate-reducers require reducing environment; an electrode potential lower than -100 mV is required for them to thrive. However, even a small amount of produced hydrogen sulfide can achieve this shift, so the growth, once started, tends to accelerate.
Layers of anaerobic bacteria can exist in the inner parts of the corrosion deposits, while the outer parts are inhabited by aerobic bacteria.
Some bacteria are able to utilize hydrogen formed during cathodic corrosion processes.
Bacterial corrosion may appear in form of pitting corrosion, for example in pipelines of the oil and gas industry. Anaerobic corrosion is evident as layers of metal sulfides and hydrogen sulfide smell. On cast iron, a graphitic corrosion selective leaching may be the result, with iron being consumed by the bacteria, leaving graphite matrix with low mechanical strength in place.
Hydrocarbon utilizing microorganisms, mostly Cladosporium resinae and Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Sulfate Reducing Bacteria, colloquially known as "HUM bugs", are commonly present in jet fuel. They live in the water-fuel interface of the water droplets, form dark black/brown/green, gel-like mats, and cause microbial corrosion to plastic and rubber parts of the aircraft fuel system by consuming them, and to the metal parts by the means of their acidic metabolic products. They are also incorrectly called algae due to their appearance. FSII, which is added to the fuel, acts as a growth retardant for them. There are about 250 kinds of bacteria that can live in jet fuel, but fewer than a dozen are meaningfully harmful.
Sewer network structures are prone to biodeterioration of materials due to the action of some microorganisms associated to the sulfur cycle. It can be a severely damaging phenomenon which was firstly described by Olmstead and Hamlin in 1900 for a brick sewer located in Los Angeles. Jointed mortar between the bricks disintegrated and ironwork was heavily rusted. The mortar joint had ballooned to two to three times its original volume, leading to the destruction or the loosening of some bricks.
Around 9% of damages described in sewer networks can be ascribed to the successive action of two kinds of microorganisms. Sulfate-reducing bacteria (SRB) can grow in relatively thick layers of sedimentary sludge and sand (typically 1 mm thick) accumulating at the bottom of the pipes and characterized by anoxic conditions. They can grow using oxidized sulfur compounds present in the effluent as electron acceptor and excrete hydrogen sulfide (H2S). This gas is then emitted in the aerial part of the pipe and can impact the structure in two ways: either directly by reacting with the material and leading to a decrease in pH, or indirectly through its use as a nutrient by sulfur-oxidizing bacteria (SOB), growing in oxic conditions, which produce biogenic sulfuric acid. The structure is then submitted to a biogenic sulfuric acid attack. Materials like calcium aluminate cements, PVC or vitrified clay pipe may be substituted for ordinary concrete or steel sewers that are not resistant in these environments.
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- Kaempfer and Berndt, 1999
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