Researchers at the University of Newcastle are testing the DNA of sea-living bacteria in an effort to predict the reliability and durability of steel infrastructure in coastal regions.
Engineers, Professor Rob Melchers and Dr Robert Jeffrey, are leading Australian research into the detection of bacteria in rust which is causing the corrosion of steel infrastructure, including pipelines, ships and nuclear waste systems.
Professor Melchers said the research could hold the key to predicting the timing and extent of steel corrosion in coastal areas.
"Bacteria are a fundamental part of the corrosion process. We need to determine what type of bacteria is causing the damage and exactly when this is occurring."
The researchers have established a DNA testing facility at the University were they are examining sea-living bacteria samples from sites across Australia, including Lake Macquarie, Taylors Beach, Coffs Harbour, Jervis Bay, Ulladulla, Hobart and Port Arthur.
The researchers are also testing the corrosion of steels both in natural seawater and in specially sterilised seawater to see the effect of bacteria in the different types of water on the pitting of steel.
Professor Melchers said the Australian Research Council funded project had the potential to assist in determining the durability of current and future steel infrastructure in sea water.
Earlier this year, Professor Melchers was awarded the Guy Bengough Award from the Institute of Materials, Mining and Metallurgy in the United Kingdom for the best paper published in the internationally refereed journal, Corrosion Engineering Science and Technology.
Professor Melchers will fly to the United States at the end of the week to present the research at PRADS 2007 - The 10th International Symposium on Practical Design of Ships and Other Floating Structures.