Following BP's announcement that it is to work with four universities to establish a $100 million international research centre to advance fundamental understanding of materials, BP Magazine finds out why greater knowledge of materials such as steel could be vital for the oil and gas industry.
Ever since humans ﬁrst learned to use wood and stones to create tools, we have manipulated the materials around us to build better products, such as stronger infrastructure, more efﬁcient appliances and warmer clothing. And, as our understanding of physics, chemistry, biology and mathematics has improved, so too has our ability to push the physical properties of those materials.
Take, for instance, steel. It’s what is known as a structural material, meaning it’s used to build things and today we ﬁnd it in the construction of railways, skyscrapers, bridges, cars, pipelines, tools, washing machines and ofﬁce furniture. It’s even been used in sculpture.
Over the years, we have learned that steel is an alloy that can display a very wide range of properties according to both the elements added to it and its ‘microstructure’, which can be controlled by deforming and heating it. Powerful electron microscopes have revealed that steels are made up of little crystals that can have many shapes, and contain defects that, in fact, make them very strong. The more we know about steel, the more we can manipulate its properties and the more uses we can ﬁnd for it.