European funded research to boost the safety of steel construction products using recycled scrap aluminium

European funded research to boost the safety of steel construction products using recycled scrap aluminium

RMIT Europe has been awarded AU$434K to contribute to ALCOAT, a research project developing aluminium alloy coatings as a more sustainable alternative to zinc galvanisation.

Steel is the world’s most important metallic construction material: its mechanical properties, availability and affordability make it a staple in many building and infrastructure projects.

Left untreated, steel is susceptible to oxidation and subsequent deterioration, with tell-tale signs of damage such as cracking and rusting especially prevalent in moisture-rich environments.

Protection against corrosion is necessary to lengthen the service life of steel products and ensure the fulfilment of safety requirements by averting material failure.

ALCOAT is a 42-month project that will develop two new families of aluminium alloy coatings thanks to financing from the EU Research Fund for Coal & Steel (RFCS).

Recycled aluminium alloy coatings with chemically tailored electrochemical potential for safe protection of steel structures (ALCOAT) will recycle aluminium destined for landfill to create an alternative to zinc for the galvanisation of steel products.

“Scrap aluminium is widely available but being contaminated with iron and magnesium makes it brittle and unusable for many applications, meaning it is often either discarded or used for lower-level purposes such as pellets,” said Professor Ivan Cole, Research Director at RMIT Europe.

“However, this aluminium is exactly what we need to produce a good coating for steel as the contaminants it contains actually stop oxide from forming.”

This strategy of reusing existing scrap materials is one of the advantages of the project – while zinc continues to be widely used to protect steel from corrosion and is highly effective, it is also difficult to recycle.

 “ALCOAT will address a sustainability issue rather than a performance problem,” Cole said.

“Using existing scrap materials will prevent the energy-intensive process of mining and processing virgin zinc and the associated negative costs to the environment.”

The ALCOAT coatings will be used in the protection of wind towers, ships and other structures exposed to sea water and atmosphere as well as steel sheet products for automotive, building and home appliance industries.

RMIT is leading the computational modelling for in silica design of the coating; the model will integrate numerous multi-scale approaches based on material modelling, led by RMIT, and molecular chemistry, led by the Institut Català de Nanociència i Nanotecnologia (ICN2) in Barcelona.

“Compared to traditional coating development processes, the procedure proposed by ALCOAT is highly innovative and advanced and will ensure a dramatic shortening of the development process and reduce costs,” Cole said.

The aluminium alloy coatings developed by the project are expected to have several advantages, such as a lower corrosion rate and a reduced risk of hydrogen embrittlement, which can occur with zinc coatings of high strength steels.

They will also be lighter, thinner and more sustainable given the reduction in the quantity of primary raw materials required, thereby also boosting efforts in the circular economy.

It is expected that ALCOAT will contribute to improvements in the safety of steel constructions and provide a powerful tool to enhance other metal coating systems for material protection.

RMIT Europe is currently advertising a Barcelona-based Postdoctoral Research Fellow to work on the ALCOAT project – applications close on 11 June.

ALCOAT is coordinated by the University of Chemistry and Technology Prague and will commence on 1 September.

In 2023 RMIT Europe is celebrating the significant milestone of its 10-year anniversary of operations in Barcelona. To learn about RMIT's history in Europe and keep up with the latest news and events, visit the #RMITEurope10 webpage and follow RMIT Europe on Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram


Story: Hannah Tribe

EU funding acknowlegment


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  • RMIT Europe
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RMIT University acknowledges the people of the Woi wurrung and Boon wurrung language groups of the eastern Kulin Nation on whose unceded lands we conduct the business of the University. RMIT University respectfully acknowledges their Ancestors and Elders, past and present. RMIT also acknowledges the Traditional Custodians and their Ancestors of the lands and waters across Australia where we conduct our business - Artwork 'Luwaytini' by Mark Cleaver, Palawa.