Microbial induced corrosion is a recurring problem in many industries, such as waste management and aviation. It occurs when the bacteria that live on a pipe or on another important surface cause chemical reactions that lead to corrosion. In some cases, they cause the reaction directly as part of their normal life cycle. In other cases, they release a chemical waste product that causes the corrosion. Either way, the problem needs to be studied and understood so that it can be solved to prevent damage to important infrastructure.

It Provides Energy

The bacteria that cause corrosion do so because it is vital for their survival. Every organism needs energy to survive. While plants can get that energy from the sun, most other organisms need to get it by breaking apart chemical bonds. Humans do that when they digest their food, but the bacteria do it by interacting with compounds in the environment.

Sulfate-reducing bacteria are among the most common culprits. They break down organic chemicals for energy, and in doing so they also convert sulfate into hydrogen sulfide, in a process that resembles the way that humans use oxygen. The hydrogen sulfide can then react with many metals, which leads to corrosion. Other bacterial groups release acids or other chemicals as part of their metabolic processes, but the general process is the same.

It Targets Many Materials

When most people think about corrosion, they think about damage that is caused to metals, usually in the form of rust. Many metals are vulnerable to microbial induced corrosion, most often in the form of sulfide cracking, but the problem is not restricted to them. The microbes can release chemicals with the potential to damage a wide variety of substances, especially those which are organic.

The aviation industry often runs into problems with microbes that can survive in their fuel supply. Once they get into the fuel system, their chemical waste gets a chance to react with the plane’s metal parts, while the bacteria themselves will consume the hydrocarbons in any rubber or plastic components that they can find. This can lead to a significant increase in maintenance costs if it is left unchecked, and illustrates the importance of preventing corrosion of every type of surface.

It Can Be Prevented

This type of corrosion is a major problem, but it’s a problem that can be solved with a little bit of work and plenty of chemical engineering. Since microbes are responsible for the damage, purging those microbes from the system is sufficient to prevent this. There are a variety of biocides that can do that without causing damage to the system, but it is important to match the microbes with the right one. As such, research and preventative treatments remain vital for controlling corrosion.