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Great recognition for research on corrosion : Professor Herman Terryn wins European award

The European Corrosion Medal has been granted to Professor Herman Terryn of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB). The materials science professor receives the award for his outstanding contribution in understanding and preventing corrosion of metals - popularly called “rust”. Professor Terryn is an expert in the field of sustainable materials. In September, the biennial award will be presented at the congress Euro Corr in Pisa by the European Federation of Corrosion.

Professor Terryn receives this important award for his excellent research in the field of corrosion, electrochemistry and the study of surfaces. Within the research group SURF of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, to which Terryn belongs, very versatile corrosion research is done: from the atomic structure of metal to online monitoring of corrosion, eg in wind turbines.

Predictive models
The VUB is also working on the development of models that predict corrosion. The great difficulty is to exactly simulate changing circumstances. Yet companies like Airbus particularly are interested in these simulations to guide their maintenance in a better way.

Chrome 6+ replacement as corrosion pigment
Many protective layers against corrosion are on the basis of Cr6 +. Cr6 + blocks the corrosion, when a defect in a coating is created. But the fabric is also a carcinogen. In the film “Erin Brockovich” with Julia Roberts in 2000, the heroine started a legal battle over this stuff with the Pacific Gas Electric Company. Currently, the aerospace industry, in contrast to the automotive industry, still uses this technology massively. These layers with Cr6 + can be recognized by the yellow / green colors shown by wreckages of an aircraft fuselage. One of the specialties of the research group SURF is researching environmentally friendly alternatives.

Mending paint
A final breakthrough found by SURF are self-healing coatings on metals. On this topic SURF worked together with Professor Filip De Prez of the University of Ghent. These new paints - still in prototype - ensure that the metal with scratches or other minor damage repairs itself, thus reducing maintenance.

Success in the industry
A spin-off of SURF is Zensor (, which focuses on online monitoring of corrosion using special warning sensors. The expertise of the VUB are appreciated by numerous Flemish (Arcelor Mital, Bekaert, Aleris, ..) and international companies (Henkel, Akzo, Constellium, Toyota) in both Flemish and European studies.

Start of corrosion
Corrosion - popularly called “rust” - is a phenomenon that everyone knows from a leaking tap or a water heater. Corrosion is the process in which metal returns to its original state in ionic form, this is the state of the least energy. In this process, metal loses its structure and with it all of its desired properties.

Huge cost
In the United States in 1999, the overall cost of corrosion in the industry is estimated at 3.14% of gross national product. In absolute figures that is 275 billion dollars. In the meantime, that number will not have decreased. Such a study does not exist in Europe, but if we extrapolate the data, then this equates to 250 billion euros. The budget for the EU Commission - for example - was 133,8 billion in 2009. A rough estimate is that we pay to corrosion about ten cents hourly per capita. These figures express only the direct loss and not additional costs like production losses, accidents and extra insurance. A glaring example is the carbonation of the viaduct Reyers in Brussels.

SURF is a large research group of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, which employs fifty people (three full-time professors, three part-time research professors, nine postdocs, 25 PhD students and 12 technical, scientific assistance and administrative staff). The research area is electrochemical and surface engineering. SURF concentrates its research on five cross-linked areas, each supported by academic members. The electrochemically hatch is led by Professor Annick Hubin, head of the group and currently the first female dean of the engineering faculty at the VUB. The other research areas include electrochemical modeling, functional surface engineering, nano surface structure and of course corrosion technology. More can be found at
Professor Herman Terryn is also part-time professor at the Technical University of Delft. In Materials innovation institute (M2i) he is the leader of cluster “Durability” gaining fundamental knowledge on corrosion and adhesive bonding, with research projects that lead to life extension materials for the Netherlands. Photos are available on Flickr:

More information
Herman Terryn, 0478-881705,