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Overview of Liquid Metal Embrittlement (LME)

Liquid Metal Embrittlement (LME), also referred to as liquid metal cracking (LMC), is an insidious form of cracking that occurs when molten metals come into contact with susceptible materials. The liquid metal gets absorbed into the material, causing its bond strength to decrease and cracking along its grain boundaries. LME most commonly occurs in austenitic stainless steels, but it can afflict other copper, nickel, and aluminum alloys. 

If susceptible equipment is exposed to molten metals, the cracking rates can be incredibly rapid and failure can occur within seconds of exposure. Zinc and mercury are particularly hazardous. For example, molten zinc from galvanized steel parts or inorganic zinc coatings has been known to drip down on stainless steel equipment and LME. Mercury contamination in crude oils has also been known to cause LME in crude overhead condensers, depropanizers, and debutanizers. 

The best way to prevent LME is to ensure that liquid metals never have an opportunity to come into contact with vulnerable metals. If metallic coatings or barriers are being used in a facility, be aware of the portential hazards and plan accordingly.

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