First-principles study of helium, carbon, and nitrogen in austenite, dilute austenitic iron alloys, and nickel

D. J. Hepburn, D. Ferguson, S. Gardner, G. J. Ackland

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An extensive set of first-principles density functional theory calculations have been performed to study the behavior of He, C, and N solutes in austenite, dilute Fe-Cr-Ni austenitic alloys, and Ni in order to investigate their influence on the microstructural evolution of austenitic steel alloys under irradiation. The results show that austenite behaves much like other face-centered cubic metals and like Ni in particular. Strong similarities were also observed between austenite and ferrite. We find that interstitial He is most stable in the tetrahedral site and migrates with a low barrier energy of between 0.1 and 0.2 eV. It binds strongly into clusters as well as overcoordinated lattice defects and forms highly stable He-vacancy (VmHen) clusters. Interstitial He clusters of sufficient size were shown to be unstable to self-interstitial emission and VHen cluster formation. The binding of additional He and V to existing VmHen clusters increases with cluster size, leading to unbounded growth and He bubble formation. Clusters with n/m around 1.3 were found to be most stable with a dissociation energy of 2.8 eV for He and V release. Substitutional He migrates via the dissociative mechanism in a thermal vacancy population but can migrate via the vacancy mechanism in irradiated environments as a stable V2He complex. Both C and N are most stable octahedrally and exhibit migration energies in the range from 1.3 to 1.6 eV. Interactions between pairs of these solutes are either repulsive or negligible. A vacancy can stably bind up to two C or N atoms with binding energies per solute atom up to 0.4 eV for C and up to 0.6 eV for N. Calculations in Ni, however, show that this may not result in vacancy trapping as VC and VN complexes can migrate cooperatively with barrier energies comparable to the isolated vacancy. This should also lead to enhanced C and N mobility in irradiated materials and may result in solute segregation to defect sinks. Binding to larger vacancy clusters is most stable near their surface and increases with cluster size. A binding energy of 0.1 eV was observed for both C and N to a [001] self-interstitial dumbbell and is likely to increase with cluster size. On this basis, we would expect that, once mobile, Cottrell atmospheres of C and N will develop around dislocations and grain boundaries in austenitic steel alloys.

Original languageEnglish
Article number024115
Number of pages26
JournalPhysical review B: Condensed matter and materials physics
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 22 Jul 2013



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