Materials for Steam Turbines

Steam Turbine Blade. Superalloys (typically face-centered cubic austenitic alloys) based on Co, Ni, and Fe are capable of being engineered to be highly resistant to creep, and have thus arisen as an ideal material in high-temperature environments. Source License: CC BY-SA 3.0

Most of nuclear power plants operates a single-shaft turbine-generator that consists of one multi-stage HP turbine and three parallel multi-stage LP turbines, a main generator and an exciter.  HP Turbine is usually double-flow reaction turbine with about 10 stages with shrouded blades and produces about 30-40% of the gross power output of the power plant unit. LP turbines are usually double-flow reaction turbines with about 5-8 stages (with shrouded blades and with free-standing blades of last 3 stages). LP turbines produce approximately 60-70% of the gross power output of the power plant unit. Each turbine rotor is mounted on two bearings, i.e. there are double bearings between each turbine module. The range of alloys used in steam turbines is relatively small, partly because of the need to ensure a good match of thermal properties, such as expansion and conductivity, and partly because of the need for high-temperature strength at acceptable cost.

  • Material for turbine rotors. They rotors of steam turbines are usually made of low-alloy steel. The role of the alloying elements is to increase hardenability in order to optimize mechanical properties and toughness after heat treatment. The rotors or are required to handle the highest steam conditions therefore the alloy most commonly used is CrMoV steel.
  • Material for casing. The casings of steam turbines typically are large structures with complex shapes that must provide the pressure containment for the steam turbine. Because of the size of these components, their cost has a strong impact on the overall cost of the turbine.The materials used currently for inner and outer casings are usually low-alloy CrMo steels (e.g. the 1-2CrMo steel). For higher temperatures, cast 9CrMoVNb alloys are considered to be adequate in terms of strength.
  • Material of turbine blading. For gas turbines, the turbine blades are often the limiting component.  The highest temperature in the cycle occurs at the end of the combustion process, and it is limited by the maximum temperature that the turbine blades can withstand. As usual, metallurgical considerations (about 1700 K) place an upper limits on thermal efficiency. Therefore turbine blades often use exotic materials like superalloys and many different methods of cooling, such as internal air channels, boundary layer cooling, and thermal barrier coatings. The development of superalloys in the 1940s and new processing methods such as vacuum induction melting in the 1950s greatly increased the temperature capability of turbine blades. Modern turbine blades often use nickel-based superalloys that incorporate chromium, cobalt, and rhenium.
  • Steam turbine blades are not exposed to such high temperatures, but they must withstand an operation with two-phase fluid. High content of water droplets can cause the rapid impingement and erosion of the blades which occurs when condensed water is blasted onto the blades. To prevent this, for example, condensate drains are installed in the steam piping leading to the turbine. Another challenge for engineers is the design of blades of the last stage of LP turbine. These blades must be (due to high specific volume of steam) very long, which induces enormous centrifugal forces during operation. Therefore, turbine blades are subjected to stress from centrifugal force (turbine stages can rotate at tens of thousands of revolutions per minute (RPM), but usually at 1800 RPM) and fluid forces that can cause fracture, yielding, or creep failures.

Material Problems of Turbines


Creep, known also as cold flow, is the permanent deformation that increases with time under constant load or stress. It results due to long time exposure to large external mechanical stress with in limit of yielding and is more severe in material that are subjected to heat for long time. The rate of deformation is a function of the material’s properties, exposure time, exposure temperature and the applied structural load. Creep is a very important phenomenon if we are using materials at high temperature. Creep is very important in power industry and it is of the highest importance in designing of jet engines. For many relatively short-life creep situations (e.g. turbine blades in military aircraft), time to rupture is the dominant design consideration. Of course, for its determination, creep tests must be conducted to the point of failure; these are termed creep rupture tests.

Erosion Corrosion

Erosion corrosion is the cumulative damage induced by electrochemical corrosion reactions and mechanical effects from relative motion between the electrolyte and the corroding surface. Erosion can also occur in combination with other forms of degradation, such as corrosion. This is referred to as erosion-corrosion. Erosion corrosion is a material degradation process due to the combined effect of corrosion and wear. Nearly all flowing or turbulent corrosive media can cause erosion corrosion. The mechanism can be described as follows:

  • mechanical erosion of the material, or protective (or passive) oxide layer on its surface,
  • enhanced corrosion of the material, if the corrosion rate of the material depends on the thickness of the oxide layer.

Erosion corrosion is found in the systems such as piping, valves, pumps, nozzles, heat exchangers and turbines. Wear is a mechanical material degradation process occurring on rubbing or impacting surfaces, while corrosion involves chemical or electrochemical reactions of the material. Corrosion may accelerate wear and wear may accelerate corrosion.

Steam Oxidation

Steam oxidation behavior is directly linked to implementing ultra-supercritical steam power generation for improved efficiencies and reduced CO2 emissions. Higher temperature means higher efficiency; however, higher corrosion rates occur in a steam atmosphere when ferritic, ferritic‐martensitic, or medium Cr–Ni steels are used.

The materials that were developed over 50–60 years ago are no longer currently suitable for ultra-supercritical regimes due to poor corrosion resistance and inadequate high‐temperature creep and strength properties. These technologies require advanced austenitic steels and nickel (Ni)‐based alloys with superior steam oxidation resistance.


In materials science, fatigue is the weakening of a material caused by cyclic loading that results in progressive, brittle and localized structural damage. Once a crack has initiated, each loading cycle will grow the crack a small amount, even when repeated alternating or cyclic stresses are of an intensity considerably below the normal strength. The stresses could be due to vibration or thermal cycling. Fatigue damage is caused by:

  • simultaneous action of cyclic stress,
  • tensile stress (whether directly applied or residual),
  • plastic strain.

If any one of these three is not present, a fatigue crack will not initiate and propagate. The majority of engineering failures are caused by fatigue.

Although the fracture is of a brittle type, it may take some time to propagate, depending on both the intensity and frequency of the stress cycles. Nevertheless, there is very little, if any, warning before failure if the crack is not noticed. The number of cycles required to cause fatigue failure at a particular peak stress is generally quite large, but it decreases as the stress is increased. For some mild steels, cyclical stresses can be continued indefinitely provided the peak stress (sometimes called fatigue strength) is below the endurance limit value. The type of fatigue of most concern in nuclear power plants is thermal fatigue. Thermal fatigue can arise from thermal stresses produced by cyclic changes in temperature. Large components like the pressurizer, reactor vessel, and reactor system piping are subject to cyclic stresses caused by temperature variations during reactor startup, change in power level, and shutdown.


Materials Science:

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See above:
Material Problems