As part of an ongoing program to examine subcritical flaw growth in candidate steels for proposed coal gasifier pressure vessels, an initial study is made of characteristics of ultralow growth rate fatigue crack propagation in thick-section, normalized 2 1/4 Cr-1Mo pressure vessel steel (ASTM A387, Class 2 Grade 22). Crack propagation data are generated over a wide range of growth rates, from 10−8 to 10−2 mm/cycle, for load ratios between 0.05 and 0.80 at ambient temperatures in low pressure environments of moist air, dry hydrogen gas and dry argon gas. Particular emphasis is placed on behavior at near-threshold growth rates, below 10−6 mm/cycle, approaching the so-called threshold stress intensity for fatigue crack growth, ΔK0. Near-threshold growth rates, in addition to showing a marked sensitivity to load ratio, are found to be significantly enhanced in gaseous hydrogen compared to air. Similar environmentally-enhanced growth is observed in argon gas. To account for such results, previous models of threshold behavior based on environmental factors (e.g., hydrogen embrittlement) are questioned, and a new approach is presented in terms of the role of oxide debris from moist environments in promoting crack closure. This oxide-induced closure model is found to be consistent with most experimental observations of near-threshold fatigue crack propagation behavior and is proposed as a mechanism for environmental effects at ultra-low growth rates.

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