University Researchers to Combat Corrosion with Microorganisms

Arum Han. Photo courtesy of Texas A&M.

Researchers at Texas A&M University (College Station, Texas, USA), Tufts University (Medford and Somerville, Massachusetts, USA), and the University of Oklahoma (Norman, Oklahoma, USA) are working on a project to combat microbiologically induced corrosion (MIC), especially corrosion affecting U.S. Air Force fuel tanks. 

The project, titled “Microbes Achieve Resistance to MicroOrganism-influenced Rust (μARMOR): An Integrated Platform for Defeating Corrosion,” recently received an $11.61-million grant from the U.S. Department of Defense’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

MIC Prevention Challenges

Microorganisms exist everywhere, the researchers explain—in soil, water, air, animals, plants, and even inside of human bodies. Because of this ubiquitous nature, along with the fact that so many different microbes exist, MIC is exceptionally difficult to prevent.

The μARMOR project’s goal is to reduce the negative effects by developing a new anticorrosion coating material that is a biofilm composed of microorganisms. 

By modifying the microbial biofilms found in corrosion sites, such as fuel tanks, to be non-corrosive, the living microbial coating will have the innate ability to survive in a natural environment while also maintaining resistance to corrosion-associated microorganisms.

Project Phases

In this strategy, the developed corrosion-resistant biofilm will not be genetically modified. Instead, it will be a modified biofilm composed of existing microorganisms from this environment, making this strategy more acceptable for many applications.

During the first project phase, the research team plans to develop its anticorrosion technology. In phase two, they will demonstrate that the technology works in a realistic environment—a feat not easily accomplished with an opponent as transformative and adaptive as microorganisms.

A combination of highly innovative technologies will enable this strategy, the researchers explain. To begin, the researchers will conduct computational modeling of how the corrosion-causing biofilms, as well as the developed corrosion-resistant biofilms, will behave under a variety of different conditions. 

Microfluidic Testbeds

In parallel, a large number of microfluidic testbeds will provide a realistic simulated environment while allowing the biofilm behaviors to be monitored with high accuracy over time. These will be developed and utilized to generate necessary data for the computational models to be highly predictive.

“Our microfluidic testbeds, each of which will include an array of sensors that can monitor both corrosion and microbial behaviors, can be utilized to conduct a large number of tests in a short period of time, greatly accelerating the development of the anticorrosion strategy,” says Arum Han, a Texas A&M engineering professor.

The project is funded by DARPA through Texas A&M’s engineering experiment station.

In that capacity, Han has pioneered the area of high-throughput microfluidics for microbiology applications and plans to use his expertise to combat these corrosion issues, alongside a number of collaborators.

Source: Texas A&M,

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