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GRC Transactions, Vol.

34, 2010

Welding Technology Solutions

to Geothermal Energy Production Challenges
Bill Amend, P.E.
DNV Columbus, Inc.
Yorba Linda, CA


to evaluate susceptibility to both burning though of thin wall pipe

caused by excessive heat input, and the susceptibility to hydrogen
cracking associated with the formation hard heat affected zones of
welds made under conditions that promote fast cooling rates.

Corrosion, corrosion resistant alloy, cracking, stress corrosion

cracking, strip lining, postweld heat treatment, weld heat affected zone, weld modeling, weld overlay, welding

Welds Can Represent the Weak Link

in the Chain of Equipment Integrity

Operators of geothermal resource production and power generation facilities face a large number of technological challenges,
not the least of which is optimizing the performance of the various
materials of construction. With regard to metallic materials, degradation mechanisms include pitting corrosion, general corrosion,
erosion, various forms of stress corrosion cracking, embrittlement,
fatigue, and potential for exposure to large strains from seismic
activity. In many cases, the welded connections represent a possible weak link in the chain of mechanical integrity. In other
cases, welding represents a form of life jacket that can cost effectively increase the service life components by either reducing
the rate of degradation or restoring the integrity of components
that are already degraded.
This paper describes the ways in which welding can inadvertently promote accelerated degradation of welded fabrications
in geothermal service and approaches toward minimizing the
susceptibility to those forms of welding-related degradation. The
approaches include optimizing the selection of weld filler metals,
careful control of welding procedure parameters including heat
input, and using beneficial surface treatments or postweld heat
treatments in selected locations.
Methods of using welding to extend the serviceability of degrading components include the use of welded cladding, including
conventional metallurgically-bonded weld overlays of corrosion
resistant alloys, and techniques originally pioneered by other
industries, including use of corrosion resistant alloy wall paper
lining and direct deposition welding.
Finally, this paper describes advances in weld cooling rate
modeling that have resulted in the development of user-friendly
software that allows staff to optimize welding procedures intended
for use on in-service, pressurized piping. The models allow users

The vulnerability of welds to failure caused by the presence of

workmanship flaws is typically minimized by use of nondestructive
examination to detect the flaws. Welds having flaws that exceed
applicable industry or company standards are repaired or removed
before the weldment is placed into service. However, even welds
that meet workmanship standards can be more vulnerable to inservice degradation than the adjacent metallic surfaces (Table 1).
Table 1. Examples of Weld Features and Related Degradation Modes.



Carbon and Composition differences

low alloy
between weld and base metal
Microstructural differences
between weld, heat affected
zones and base metal
Geometric irregularities at
changes in cross section (fillet
welds, large weld caps, joints
between components of
different thickness)
Hard heat affected zones
Undermatching weld metal
yield strength
Residual stress
steels and

Carbide precipitation (sensitization) in heat affected zone

Residual stress

Degradation Mode
Localized corrosion
Localized corrosion

Stress concentrations promoting

fatigue cracking,
Increased potential for localized
corrosion or erosion
Sulfide stress cracking
Reduced axial strain capacity
Stress-oriented hydrogen induced cracking, other cracks
Intergranular cracking
Stress corrosion cracking

Composition differences and microstructural differences can

promote localized corrosion of weld metal, heat affected zones
(HAZ), or base metal immediately adjacent to heat affected


zones[1][2]. Even though the composition of the weld heat affected zone is the same as the composition of the adjacent base
metal, the different microstructures in each area have different
resistance to corrosion. The effects of microstructural differences are difficult to eliminate, although microstructures can be
influenced by adjusting weld procedure heat inputs, interpass
temperatures and, when necessary, postweld heat treatment
(Figure 1). For steel assemblies that are stress relieved after
welding, the stress relief heat treatment can also produce some
beneficial modification of weld zone microstructures in addition
to relieving stress. Note, however, that the corrosion resistance
of many CRAs (corrosion resistant alloys), including most
austenitic stainless steels and some Ni-Cr-Mo alloys can be
significantly degraded by exposure to stress relief temperatures
typically applied to mild steel and low alloy steels. For those
alloys, postweld heat treatments designed to solution anneal
the weld zone are preferred, but are generally impractical and
uneconomical to perform in the field. Solution annealing is
sometimes performed as part of manufacturing since it not only
makes the HAZ microstructure more similar to the base metal
microstructure, but it also improves the corrosion resistance of
the weld metal by making the distribution of the alloying elements within the weld metal more homogenous.

adjoining areas are relatively depleted in those same elements.

The differences in alloy element distribution promote formation
of anodic and cathodic sites, with related susceptibility of the
anodic sites to initiation of pitting corrosion. Where solution annealing is not practical, a common approach to minimizing the
susceptibility of the weld metal to corrosion is to use a more highly
alloyed weld metal. For example, NiCrMo-3 or NiCrMo-4 are
often used as filler metals for the highly alloyed austenitic (i.e.,
superaustenitic) stainless steels such as UNS S31254 (i.e., 254
SMO *). New filler metals have been developed to provide weld
metal corrosion resistance comparable to the wrought Ni-Cr-Mo
alloys such as UNS N10276 (Alloy C276) and UNS N06625 (Alloy 625) [3]. The increased alloy content compensates for alloy
segregation within the weld metal. Use of highly alloyed nickel
alloy filler metal also addresses the challenge of obtaining the
proper austenite/ferrite ratio in welds made with duplex stainless
steel weld metal in duplex stainless steel substrates.
For carbon-manganese steels the addition of small amounts
of alloying elements to weld metal has been found to minimize
the susceptibility to selective corrosion of weld metal [2]. For
example, the addition of 0.9% chrome to weld metal reduces selective corrosion of weld metal in steel base metals containing 0.6%
chromium when used in environments where CO2 is a primary
corrodent. Additions of small amounts (1% or less) of nickel or
nickel in combination with copper is also beneficial at minimizing
weld corrosion in carbon-manganese steel.
With respect to accelerated corrosion of the weld heat affected
zone in steel, experience in geothermal brines in the Imperial Valley showed that there was somewhat better resistance observed
in silicon killed steel fittings compared to adjoining pipe that was
not silicon killed.
In addition to microstructural differences and differences in
composition, the characteristics of the oxide films adjacent to the
weld metal are different from those on the as-manufactured surface
and can also lead to galvanic potential differences that influence
susceptibility to corrosion. The effects of oxide film differences
can be minimized by abrasive blasting or pickling (more typically
performed on CRAs rather than on steel). Pickling can be done
by immersion in chemical baths (for small components) or by
localized application of pickling paste. During the welding of
CRAs, effective shielding of the weld zone by inert gas on both
sides of the weld joint also minimizes the formation of detrimental
oxide films.
Geometric irregularities associated with weld roots, weld
caps and fillet welds can promote fatigue cracking, accelerated
corrosion, or erosion associated with localized turbulence. Geometric irregularities are minimized by ensuring that detrimental
features detected during visual examination or during nondestructive testing (NDT) are corrected. Often the weld profile can be
significantly improved by minor to moderate amounts of manual
grinding. Testing has shown that the fatigue life of welds can be
significantly improved by grinding to improve the profile of a weld
toe, even if the grinding slightly reduces the wall thickness of the
pipe or plate at the weld toe. However, grinding wheels (or wire
wheels) used on CRA surfaces should not have previously been
used on steel. Small particles of iron embedded in the grinding
wheel or brush can be transferred to the CRA surface where they
act as pit initiation sites.

Figure 1. Comparative corrosion resistance of the weld zone in a low alloy

steel test sample containing a circular weld bead on the opposite side of
the sample. Sample was cut in half after welding but before corrosion
testing. Top half is as-welded. The bottom half was postweld heat treated
before corrosion testing.

In an as-welded microstructure the alloying elements are

susceptible to segregation (nonuniform distribution) within the
dendritic grain structure during the solidification process. As a
result, there are micro-areas within the crystal structure of the
solidified weld metal that are enriched in some elements while


Even if the base metal and weld metal deposits have adequate
corrosion resistance, designers need to be aware of the effect of
welding on the susceptibility of some alloys to stress corrosion
cracking. Stress corrosion cracking relies upon the simultaneous
presence of a susceptible alloy, specific environmental conditions,
and an adequate level of tensile stress. Since the residual stress
at a weld can often approach the yield strength of the metal, the
residual stress from weld metal solidification and shrinkage, or
the stress concentration associated with welded connections can
be enough to cause stress corrosion cracking that would not occur
remote from the welds. In the absence of stress relief heat treatments it is difficult to ensure that the stresses at welds are below
the threshold to avoid cracking. Therefore, the preferred solution
is to avoid using susceptible alloys. Alternatively, ensure that the
process upset conditions or transient conditions do not produce
the environmental characteristics needed to produce cracking.
Examples include limiting chloride carryover into steam and
ensuring the absence of oxygen intrusion into neutral pH brine.
However, maintaining strict control on the environment is not
always easy or reliable. Single upsets can have long lasting effects o material performance.

1. Weld metal build up of corroded or eroded surfaces

2. Deposition of corrosion or erosion resistant alloy weld
metal on selected areas of low cost substrates
3. Application of corrosion resistant sheet metal cladding
(wall papering or strip lining).

Weld Build-up of Corroded or Eroded Surfaces

Direct weld metal deposition is used to rebuild areas of localized corrosion and has been shown by the pipeline industry to
be effective at restoring both the pressure capacity and fatigue
resistance of areas of metal loss on tees, and ells, in addition to
straight pipe sections. Work sponsored largely by the Pipeline
Research Council International (PRCI) has demonstrated that
carefully controlled weld deposition sequences and heat inputs
can effectively restore the strength of components that have
experienced significant localized metal loss from corrosion or
erosion [4][5]. The work even demonstrated the effectiveness of
using weld metal deposition on the outside surface of in-service
piping to restore the pressure containing capacity of pipe having
corrosion pits on the inside surface.
The deposition method typically includes deposition of a single
weld bead (perimeter bead) that bounds the area of metal loss,
followed by deposition of side by side, overlapping stringer beads
(beads made with little or no weaving) that start and stop on the
perimeter bead. The deposition of layers of side-by-side weld
beads continues until the full thickness of the component has been
restored. Finally a second perimeter bead is deposited on top of
the first perimeter bead (with careful placement of the weld toe
within about 1/16 inch (1.6 mm) of the outside edge of the first
perimeter bead) to ensure that the heat affected zone formed by
the first perimeter bead is effectively tempered. The method is
particularly effective for fittings such as elbows and flanges where
the irregular shape of the component precludes the use of standard
repair clamps or full encirclement repair sleeves.

Selective Use of Welded Overlays

Corrosion resistant or wear resistant weld metal can be deposited in localized areas of components in the same way that
weld metal can be used to restore the thickness and strength of
areas where metal loss has already occurred. Weld overlays can
represent an alternative to metallurgically bonded clad plate or
resistant coatings when those options are unfeasible or uneconomical. Examples where welded overlays have been used include
portions of pump and valve components and the end areas of
cement-lined pipe. For cement-lined pipe, the corrosion resistant
weld metal provides insurance against corrosion if process fluids
migrate behind the lining at pipe end connections.
The corrosion resistance of an as-welded weld metal microstructure, and the effect of weld metal dilution by the substrate both
need to be considered when selecting the alloy for the weld overlay. As described above, weld metal tends to have less corrosion
resistance than wrought components of comparable composition.
In addition, the chemical composition of the weld metal deposit
is influenced by the mixing of the filler metal with the portion
of the base metal that is melted in the welding process. Weld
metal deposits made by the shielded metal arc welding (SMAW)
process, (i.e., stick welding) can have dilution rates of about

Figure 2. Transverse cross section of a welded Ni-Cr-Mo alloy pipe showing intergranular cracking of the HAZ after excessive weld heat inputs
caused intergranular carbide precipitation. The weld metal deposit was
located immediately to the left of this photograph. Shown approximately
12x magnication, polished and unetched.

Welding Can Extend the Service Life

of Components
Although we have shown how welds can be the limiting factor in the long term performance of equipment, when welding
is carefully applied and controlled it can be used to extend the
service life of many of the same types of equipment. Specifically, welding is an integral part of the following approaches to
service-life extension:


35-45%, meaning the weld deposit consists of 55-65% filler metal

and 35-45% base metal. In contrast, gas tungsten arc welding
(GTAW) can produce about 15% dilution, pulsed gas metal arc
welding (P-GMAW) processes can achieve dilution rates in the
range of 5-8% and even lower dilution rates are possible using the
plasma transferred arc welding (PTAW) process. In one test by
the author two layers of cobalt alloy hardfacing deposited using
gas tungsten arc welding (GTAW) were required to achieve the
same hardness obtained when a single layer was deposited using the PTAW process at low welding current. Therefore, while
the effect of dilution can be minimized by using multiple layers
of weld metal, increased layers of weld metal can significantly
increase the fabrication cost.

piping with a remaining wall thickness of as little as 0.125-0.156

inch (3-4 mm).
To avoid hydrogen cracking and related problems in the weld
heat affected zone, ensure that the hardness does not exceed a
threshold safe hardness. The acceptable hardness varies depending upon steel composition, as expressed by the carbon equivalent
or CE, and the hydrogen content of the deposited weld metal.
Acceptable hardness limits can range from about 300 HV10 to
about 425 HV10 . As weld metal hydrogen contents decrease, for
example by using low hydrogen welding processes, a higher heat
affected zone hardness can be tolerated. Likewise, for a given
weld metal hydrogen content, the acceptable hardness is greater
for steels of higher CE.
Susceptibility toward the formation of hard heat affected
zones varies inversely with weld cooling rate; faster cooling rates
increase susceptibility toward forming hard microstructures. In
turn, fast cooling rates are promoted by low weld heat inputs,
and higher heat sink capacity of the pipe material. The heat sink
capacity is influenced by steel thickness, mass flow rates through
the in-service piping, and preheat.
In view of the large number of variables affecting both burning
through and hydrogen cracking, it is difficult to optimize welding
procedures using engineering judgment alone. However, various
software programs (examples, references [8][9]) enable users to
quickly determine combinations of welding variables for a specific combination of pipe attributes, weld joint configurations and
welding processes, and operating conditions. The methodology
exemplified by reference 7 uses descriptions of the weld joint
design, base metal composition and dimensions, fluid flow rate
and temperature, preheat, and welding parameters to calculate
estimates of the heat affected zone hardness and the maximum
inside surface temperature to allow users to assess the likelihood
of either burning through or susceptibility to heat affected zone

Installation of Welded Corrosion Resistant

Wall Paper or Strip Lining
Geothermal operators can capitalize on the corrosion control
experience of industries that use an air pollution mitigation measure known as flue gas desulfurization (FGD). One method of
controlling the corrosion in the FGD process has been to attach
relatively thin sheets of CRA to low cost substrates in a process
commonly referred to as strip lining orwall papering[6]. The
wall papering is attached to the substrate by a combination of
fillet welding and plug welding. NACE International Standard
RP0292 describes recommended approaches toward welding
pieces of CRA sheet to the substrate in a pattern similar to laying
shingles[7]. In geothermal applications the method is typically
used for protection of large surface areas such a vessel internals or
large diameter piping. The pattern prevents any CRA-to-substrate
weld from being exposed to the process environment since those
welds would be expected to have relatively low corrosion resistance resulting from the corrosion resistant weld filler metal being
diluted with the unalloyed steel substrate.

User-Friendly Software Can Provide Guidance

for Welding on In-Service Piping

Weld zones represent metallurgically inhomogeneous areas of
a fabrication that can be susceptible to localized degradation from
increased susceptibility to corrosion or cracking. On the other
hand, repair by welding can enable geothermal operators to extend
the serviceability of degraded fabrications exposed to aggressive
environments. In addition, for new construction of geothermal
facilities welding can cost effectively improve the corrosion or
erosion resistance of localized areas of piping, pipe components
and vessels where use of full-thickness corrosion resistant alloy
pipe or plate can be impractical or uneconomical.

Welding on in-service piping requires that users address two

applicable hazards;
1) Burning through the pipe wall resulting in loss of pressure
containment. Burning through is caused by excessive heating of localized areas of pressure containing equipment
having relatively thin wall, and
2) Hydrogen cracking of hard heat affected zones resulting
from process fluids conducting heat away from the weld
at an accelerated rate.
Burning through is typically managed by ensuring that the
welding heat input does not cause the inside surface of the pipe to
exceed a predetermined safe temperature. The safe temperature
is related to the welding process used, and is approximately 1800
F (982 C) for SMAW using low hydrogen electrodes (i.e., E7018
and similar electrodes). Under normal welding conditions, burning
through is highly unlikely if low hydrogen SMAW electrodes are
used and the remaining wall thickness under the welding arc is
0.25 inch (6.4 mm) or greater. With special precautions and under
some conditions SMAW can be used successfully on in-service

1. Amend, B., Considerations in the Testing and Selection of Materials for
Corrosive Geothermal Environments, Geothermal Resource Council
Transactions, 2009, v.33 p 633-637
2. Smart, J. , Weld Corrosion in Lines Deserves Closer Attention, Pipe Line
& Gas Industry, June 1996
3. Thornton, C., Cooper, C, Overmatching Superalloy Consumable
Inco-weld 868CPT Broadens its Applications to Include Welding
Superaustenitic and Super Duplex Stainless Steels Stainless Steel World
2004, KCI Publishing, 2004



4. Bruce, W. A. , Guidelines for Weld Deposition Repair on Pipelines PRCI

Project number PR-185-9734, catalog number L51782, Pipeline research
Council International, February 24, 1998

8. Cola, H.L. , W.A. Bruce, Development of Simplified Weld Cooling

Rate Models for In-service Gas Pipelines PRCI Project PR-185-914,
catalog L51660, Pipeline Research Council International, March 6,

5. Wang, Y. , W.A. Bruce, Examination of External Weld Deposition Repair

for Internal Wall Loss PRCI project PR-185-9633, catalog number
L51781, Pipeline Research Council International, March 1, 1998

9. Bruce, W.A. , V. Li, R. Citterberg, Thermal Analysis Model for Hot-Tap

Welding Version 4.2 PRCI Project PR-185-9632, catalog L51837,
Pipeline Research Council International, May 7, 2002

6. Shoemaker, L.E. , J.R. Crum, Experience in Effective Application of

Metallic Materials for Construction of FGD Systems http://www., May 3, 2010
7. Anon., NACE-International Standard Recommended Practice RP02922003, Installation of Thin Metallic Wallpaper Lining in Air Pollution
Control and Other Process Equipment,, NACE International, 2003

*254 SMO is a trademark of Outokumpu