Podcast Transcript: New Research Efforts in Materials Degradation, Reliability

In this newly released episode, NACE International member Dr. Homero Castaneda-Lopez joins the MP Interview Series. Castaneda-Lopez is director of Texas A&M University’s National Corrosion and Materials Reliability Lab (NCMRL), which is a leader in research and technology efforts for materials degradation and reliability.

Topics discussed on the podcast include NCMRL projects; the mission/vision of the lab; challenges and success stories; aspects that make the NCMRL unique; and much more. See below for a complete transcript.

[introductory comments]

Rebecca Bickham: Hi, Homero. How are you doing today?

Homero Castaneda-Lopez: Thank you very much. Thanks for the invitation and having this opportunity.

RB: I’m so glad to have you. I had the opportunity to tour the corrosion lab back in 2019 while at A&M for a conference, and I found it very impressive, so I’m excited to have you here to give us a bit more information about it. The first thing I’d like to ask you is to introduce yourself to our listeners and give us a summary of your background as it relates to corrosion.

HC: Sure. I’ll be glad, and again, thanks for the invitation. In terms of corrosion, I think I’ve been having this nice and wonderful career. It started 19 years ago. I did my PhD in materials science and engineering from Penn State University in a very top-notch group. … From there, I went to industry. I started in Siemens, and I worked as a scientist in corrosion and electrochemistry. From there, I’ve been in many places, which it’s very illustrative and also very challenging to work in different environments, different countries.

From Siemens, I went to Mexico City, and I led the pipelines and materials group, which gave me the opportunity to interact with the oil and gas industry and corrosion-related problems. I was working for the Mexican Institute of Petroleum. From there, I went to Battelle Memorial Institute. Going back to the U.S., in Columbus, Ohio. So I was in the pipeline and materials group, and I just spent years solving and also doing basic research and doing applied research there.

From there, I joined academia, which was a very big step for me, because I realized how interesting, how things you can do in academic. I think that’s part of my, let’s say, uniqueness, because I would like to talk both languages, academia and industry. In the academia world, which I started in at the University of Akron, you know that they had the first degree in corrosion. I was the first professor to be hiring at Akron back in 2010. I spent five years there, and then I joined Texas A&M from there. So I’ve been in several sectors, from industry to national lab environment and academia. That’s my background in terms of corrosion-related aspects.


RB: Thank you, Homero. A&M’s National Corrosion and Materials Reliability Lab, or NCMRL for short, is a leader in research and technology efforts for materials degradation and reliability. Can you give us an idea about what sort of projects you participate in?

HC: Yes, definitely. We have a portfolio of projects, and we always try to evolve in a way that is helpful for not only individuals, industry, but also the local, national, and international economy. We divide the lab in several ways… from basic research, applied research, tech transfer, and also consortium. The basic research are projects like, are fundamental. We always search for the why, how, and explaining the mechanisms of corrosion degradation in certain environments. As you mentioned, we have a lab that we have very good capabilities, that we can simulate, and we can control different parameters to understand what is happening in certain materials or if the environment, how it’s going to affect that material. That’s very basic and fundamental aspects. From there, we have certain products, deliverables that we have in the lab.

Then the applied research. The applied research is more toward industry — and also we have for government that we focus, we target a specific problem, and we help to develop a tool, procedure, method that allows us to understand and apply the understanding in the lab, in the field, or in a macroscale. That’s another cluster or area that we have right now.

The next one is tech transfer. The tech transfer is something that is very innate from our standpoint because what we end up having in the lab, we can put it in the field. For example, we have a measurement or we have a set that was designed and performed in the lab. We are able to make that transition to the field or the lab that we are collaborating with. We understand — or we just help to understand, sorry — the implications of having maybe a new methodology, a new equipment, a new analysis for that lab.

I think that the final aspect or cluster or area is a consortium. Everything that I mentioned is comprised in this. Let’s call it a hybrid way of doing projects. We do basic, applied, tech transfer, and consortium, which comprises everything in a package, which makes the industry going toward this concept. That is a very old concept. I think there are many institutions, many labs that are doing this. Again, I think that our forte in these aspects that I mentioned in terms of research is the tech transfer. Some of the sponsors — which we are very happy to work with — are, for example, Department of Transportation, Department of Defense, in terms of government agencies. In terms of companies that I mentioned, applied or tech transfer, could be Con Ed [Con Edison], that’s a utility company. The headquarters are in New York City. Also with Hyundai, the automotive industry. Also the consortia is with the Big Four, the big oil and gas companies, which are Shell, BP, ConocoPhillips, and Chevron. We have different sectors going into our lab, having this value for them. These are the projects that we are doing right now and we’ve been doing since the time of the center — sorry, the lab — which was in 2015, full operation in 2015.


RB: Great. Thank you. That was a wonderful explanation. Next, what would you say is the mission or the vision of NCMRL?

HC: This is a very interesting question because I can define the lab, and then I will elaborate on the mission and vision. The National Corrosion and Materials Reliability Lab, where the acronym is NCMRL, we are in the concept of leading research and technology efforts for materials degradation and reliability. You know that corrosion is considered a $1 trillion problem. This, by definition, is a natural process, and it comes in a strategic area for us, that is corrosion. We have strategic areas to mitigate and control actions and having solutions.

The definition or the concept of NCMRL: focus on research, development in corrosion science and engineering, by providing materials selection, mitigation strategies, and lifetime prediction tools through research, education, training, and testing of materials. We look always to capture the academic expertise… in corrosion, attract not only in terms of students, but also in terms of collaborations. We are always pursued — or we are always looking to interact with other centers, other labs, and attract the best students. Because for us, that’s the best asset. It doesn’t matter how good the facilities you have, no expensive, how detailed, how important the facilities and how the concept of the lab is. But without the students, without that human set factor, we don’t think that we could be a successful lab.

In short, I think that the definition of the NCMRL is to become a world-class corrosion education and research, bridging the gap between fundamental research and technology, and giving unique solutions and high value to the energy and different sectors in industry. That’s what I can say about the definition of the National Corrosion and Materials Reliability Lab.

Now our mission. The mission is — we are an international recognized center of excellence in corrosion science and materials reliability. Also foster innovation, collaborative research, education, and training in corrosion science and materials reliability. They’ll develop the next generation of leaders in corrosion science and technology, provide industries and government agencies with answers to their corrosion needs, to optimize asset life, production efficiency, and the most critical thing, that is, worker safety, because corrosion is about all the aspects that I mentioned. Safety is one concern that we are always have in our projects, in our mentality and our vision. Also provide a form, of course, for the examination of state-of-the-art knowledge in corrosion and corrosion mitigation to individuals, industries, agencies, government entities, in not only the local area, like our city; but also Texas, our state; U.S., our country; and abroad, which is the international community.

To summarize, the mission will be accomplished by maintaining the highest quality research and facilities, which we are doing every time that we see something that is needed and it has a good opportunity to strengthen our values and our mission, then we go and do that investment. In terms of time, effort, and of course financially. The sectors that we want to comprise in corrosion, and that’s why I think it’s a national lab name, which I think, sometimes I hear it is very ambitious. But we don’t call it ambition. We call it a positive way, a positive perspective of searching for the most areas that we can cover. The sectors are a lot — energy, transportation, aviation, infrastructure, all kinds of sectors — that’s what we are looking for. Because we are a very dynamic lab and have very dynamic minds that we have in this lab. So we are looking for that mission and vision as well.


RB: Thank you for that explanation. That was great. One of the things you mentioned that stood out to me was how much you value the students in your program and that you say the students are the best asset. I think that’s wonderful. The next question I’d like to ask you is, What sort of challenges have you all faced at the NCMRL? I’d also like for you to give us a look at some of your greatest successes.

HC: Challenges are the same as corrosion. Corrosion is a natural process that you cannot, let’s say, avoid, escape. But you need to embrace that concept. Natural things you have to understand them, you have to live with them, and you have to be positive. Challenge is the same as corrosion. We have every day, or every short term, things to answer. The challenges are to answer, to respond to different problems that we face with industry, with government. You know, there are circumstances that we don’t foresee, but we need to see if we can help, we can interact, and we can be creative to have an answer. The challenge is that corrosion itself is the challenge, a natural process that instead of being seen as a problem, you need to embrace it, to see it as your way of thinking. That’s the biggest challenge. To think, to have a solution, and to be creative, to have solutions for corrosion. Challenges we have every day, we have every time that we see a problem, every time that we face a sponsor, every time that we interact with the nature. That’s the challenges. Everything is a challenge, but every challenge for us, we embrace it, and I think that’s the mentality that we would like to put in our students, in our human assets.

Successful stories are many. I remember one of the companies, we just sent a proposal, and then the proposal was selected. It was a problem that has been for, let’s say, 10 years or more at that time. We ended up having a solution, but that solution was in two ways. One way that I remember that I create or I had, and the other solution one of the students. So we had two solutions, one from me, one from the student. Individually, that’s what we did, but as a team we collected both ideas or concepts in one. The application was very interesting. Our success was not only solving or giving a direction to solve that problem. But our success is the trust that the company, from being — not skeptical — does not, I think, work to use — but a precaution of what, because this is problem for many years, and that two persons, of course a team, let’s say a team, they had a solution. After 15 years, it was difficult to release — either the news or whatever we did in the lab — release it in the field. That’s a success for me.

It’s not only getting a project, it’s not only giving a good deliverable or a deliverable that they expect or maybe an added value, it’s the trust. The real trust that you have in several applications or in several points from basic research, from applied research, from the tech transfer point of view. I think that this success was not only, of course, technical, but also in terms of human relationships, because that story that I mentioned, or that successful story, is that that student, which I remember that at the beginning he didn’t have any advisor; he was looking for an advisor. He ended up having an advisor that liked to not only do basic research but applied research and having a real problem. He joined the National Lab, the corrosion lab, and then we developed this concept, and as mentioned, he followed what we proposed at the beginning, but he had his own idea. We ended up having the two ideas implemented in the field. Of course, his idea was more cost-effective, more technically robust. He ended up having not only his thesis, his graduate stories also for learning, but also he set up the company. So now our sponsor is one of his sponsors, or he provides service to them. We have these stories, the stories that make me not only happy but very successful for the things that I think that we give to society, to the corrosion community, and in general to everyone that is in the corrosion field.



RB: Homero, what would you say are some unique aspects about the NCMRL?

HC: I like that question because you always want to say that you are unique in many ways. I see we are unique or trying to be unique, because this is our mentality, our concept is to bridge the gap between science and technology. I think that I mentioned in our vision, and I mentioned I think implicitly in several other things that I already talked about. Bridging the gap between science and technology is a step that is difficult to take due to the concept, objectives, goals, and each party. What I mean is that each party is like industry and academia, for example. That’s a real gap. Not a bad gap, but a gap that can be bridged and can be a very good way.

For example, the academic people, they would like to understand, go into the details, “let’s see why it happens, the degradation in a certain environment, what new materials we can story, characterize, quantify.” The final product will be a paper, the final product will be a conference lecture or a proceedings, something that has value for academic people. I embrace that because I’m in that world too. But I also was in the other world, which is industry. Industry’s also very focused, very into solving daily problems that they are facing during operation conditions. They want answers, even before the question. I always hear this statement from industry: We want this yesterday. They are right, because they are into the mode of every day is a continuous process. Time-wise and concept-wise, it’s very difficult to bridge this gap or this set of knowledge that everybody should appreciate.

I think that the lab is combining these two, I call it these two entities, and bridge the gap. For example, since I understand industry in a way that “Oh, we need this by yesterday, we need it very cost-effective, what is the solution that you can give us? We need a solution, again, fast.” The academic world is like, “Well, we take our time to understand and go in the direction that we think that is the best and is more robust in terms of fundamentals. We don’t want to go outside of the certain things.” Having that interaction and having that already in several projects, which I think I mentioned, like a tech transfer or applied research or basic research — has been very successful for us. I think that’s our forte or our uniqueness, that we bring every fundamental thing to try to challenge ourselves and to give solutions to industry.

And at the same time, industry should have the trust that I mentioned. The trust is not only the trust that I trust you because you are this name or because I hear that you are very famous — and there are people that way, and they are famous — but the trust is what we are looking for. I’m talking about the uniqueness and our uniqueness is we are looking for the trust of more parties. I think that’s what I ca’n describe for this question.


RB: It certainly does seem helpful that you’re able to see things from both the industry and the academia perspective. My final question for you is: I know you and your staff have set some goals for the NCMRL, the National Corrosion and Materials Reliability Lab. What are your short-, medium-, and long-term targets?

HC: Alright. I’m going to be short in this one. The short-term goal, I think, is to continue with our mission in educating, training, and doing research and development to give value to the corrosion community, by responding to local, state, country, international entities that approach the lab. That’s a real short-term goal. The circumstances right now that we have, it’s a good strategy in terms of short-term answers.

We need companies to create areas related directly and indirectly to corrosion science and engineering, because we’re going to give value, and the value in the short term may not be the same as in the medium term. We are creating areas; again, we put the name “National Corrosion” because we would like to see where we are able to go to different sectors — new sectors that are becoming now more important. It doesn’t mean that they didn’t exist, but they are more important now. Alternative energies, for example. They are very important now. Why? Because of the circumstances, nature, and everything that we are facing. That’s a medium term, create areas that are new to the lab, not new to the world, and respond to that area. How do we do that? By investing in new facilities. We always invest in new facilities, and we don’t bring very high expensive equipment because sometimes very detailed equipment might not help you in the medium term or in the long term because that equipment — and you know technology’s moving as fast as you hear that it’s happening. We do things very in-house. We invest in new facilities in terms of building our own equipment. We follow our concept. We build based on that need. Also forming strategic alliances with centers or labs that they have the same core values as us. We cannot form an alliance that only does basic research because maybe we’re not going to have a good point of collaboration. But we are open, of course, to see if we can have that alliance with other institutions. But that’s something critical for the medium-term goal.

In the long term, as everybody is I think looking for, is be sustainable in terms of state-of-the-art knowledge in corrosion, finding new ways to interact with industry, giving value to the academic world, to the industrial world, and both worlds, which should be not one but together. Again, be sustainable and have the highest level in terms of all the core values and the vision that I already described.


RB: Homero, thank you so much for joining me. I learned a lot from our discussion, and I’m sure our listeners did as well.

HC: Thank you very much, and I hope that you can visit us. If you have any questions, concerns, comments about corrosion, we would love to have new interactions, new collaborations, new perspectives. We know that we live in the world that communication is the main thing in the new generations. We have our web page. The web page I think is simple to say, difficult to find. Why? Because if you Google — well, everything is Google, sorry to use Google, I’m not trying to commercialize Google, but I use Google — but if you go to Google and put these key words, which is CIR, which is our affiliation. CIR stands for Center of Infrastructure Renewal.

Also put the word “Rellis.” Rellis is a new campus that A&M is creating, a state-of-the-art campus for engineering and industry and government entities. So Rellis. The last word will be “corrosion.” We are located in the CIR building, Rellis campus, and we are the Corrosion Lab. You Google that, and you’ll find our web page. Of course, my email, it’s hcastaneda@tamu.edu. And if you Google my name, it’s all over the place, the email. Thank you very much for the opportunity, again, and thank you very much for the listeners. We are very open to continue to do corrosion in every single way. Thank you.

RB: Thank you. Thank you for sharing your contact information and your website. I know you mentioned that there are videos up on the website and a 3D tour, so I encourage our listeners to check it out. It sounds like it’s a wealth of information.

HC: Yes, thanks for mentioning that. Because of the circumstances I mentioned before, the short-term challenge was to show our new sponsors or people who are interested in corrosion. We needed to be creative, so we created a 3D tour. You can go into the web page, and then you’ll see the tour. Then if you go and step in one of the labs, then it has a 3D view and a little explanation of what the labs are for and the uniqueness, again, of the facilities that we have.

RB: Great.

[Closing statements]