Transgranular Stress Corrosion Cracking of 304L Stainless Steel Pipe Clamps in Direct Use Geothermal Water Heating Applications

Michael F. Hurley, Boise State University
Christopher R. Olson, Boise State University
Logan J. Ward, Boise State University
Brian J. Jaques, Boise State University
Kent A. Johnson, City of Boise Geothermal Department
Jonathan K. Gunnerson, City of Boise Geothermal Department
Darryl P. Butt, Boise State University

NOTICE: this is the author’s version of a work that was accepted for publication in Engineering Failure Analysis. Changes resulting from the publishing process, such as peer review, editing, corrections, structural formatting, and other quality control mechanisms may not be reflected in this document. Changes may have been made to this work since it was submitted for publication. A definitive version was subsequently published in Engineering Failure Analysis, Volume 33, (2013). DOI: 10.1016/j.engfailanal.2013.05.015.


Direct use geothermal heating relies on heat extracted from naturally occurring geothermal water sources to provide heating needs for commercial and residential use. The city of Boise, Idaho maintains the largest district geothermal heating system in the United States, utilizing a source of geothermal water at 80 °C. 304 Stainless steel (UNS S30400) pipe clamps are used throughout the system as repair seals and for new service connections. Occasionally unexpected fracture of the stainless steel clamps occurs with time-in-service periods as short as 1 year. A failure analysis was conducted, including visual, microstructural, compositional, and mechanical characterization, to determine the cause and source of the degradation. Cracking of the clamps was limited to localized regions with the remainder of the clamp unaffected. Branched, brittle cracks were observed in the failure region and exhibited transgranular propagation. Based on the temperature, available moisture, stress level, and type of material used it was determined that the likely cause of failure was neutral pH, dilute chloride-induced stress corrosion cracking. Based on this failure analysis, geothermal or other buried heated water systems must consider protective measures or more SCC-resistant materials to prevent susceptible conditions from developing, compared to conventional water systems, to ensure maximum lifetime performance.