Skip to main content

Microbiologically Induced Corrosion (MIC)

The CEIC-MIC team at Curtin University led by Dr. Laura Machuca Suarez is a cross-disciplinary research group involving microbiologist, molecular geneticists, Chemists, Chemical engineers and metallurgists. The team currently conduct research projects into the role of microorganisms in deterioration processes particularly, those relevnt to the oil & gas and marine industries.


The team has established national and international collaborations to address challenges relating deterioration and corrosion due to microorganisms which drive a worldwide market for microbial control that is worth billions of dollars annually. The MIC team is actively engaged with the industry to ensure research and developments in the field respond to industry needs and address issues of national significance. The best example of the high impact research that CCEIC provided to industry in 2012 is the research project ‘Sea water ingress to 316 lined pipes’ which studied Microbial Induced Corrosion (MIC) of common steel alloys used in the construction of subsea equipment. The project was sponsored by Chevron Australia and our research identified the likely risks of MIC in equipment which was laid dormant in the sea bed during construction stages. The project was awarded the highest impact project globally in 2012. Chevron ETC’s President and Chevron Australia’s Managing Director both commented on the immense impact of the project that delivered an estimated direct saving of $15M to the Gorgon development.

CCEIC will continue to build a profile of excellence in the field of MIC through ongoing investment in high quality research and the development of a critical mass of world-class scientists in the field.

Key research projects

Rusticles and microbial processes at the wrecks of the historical World War II ships HMAS Sydney (II) and HSK Kormoran in the deep Indian Ocean

Research team: Dr. Laura L. Machuca Suarez, Dr. Katerina Lepkova, Prof. Brian Kinsella, Dr. Ian MacLeod, Assoc. Prof. Elizabeth Watkin, Dr. Kylie Munyard

On 19 November 1941, the Australian light cruiser HMAS Sydney and the German auxiliary cruiser HSK Kormoran sank following a battle in Australian waters during World War II. The two ships were lost and their whereabouts discovered in 2008, 200 kilometres off the Western Australian coast, 2,500 metres deep and 21.1 km apart from each another. Corrosion processes taking place on these two iron-hulled wrecks have resulted in rusticle formation. Samples of rusticles and water surrounding the two shipwrecks were collected during the latest expedition to the wreck sites in 2015 to examine the morphology, mineralogy and microbiology of these formations in order to gain insights into their mechanisms of deterioration. Significant differences in the composition of rusticles, including the microbial consortium in the two shipwrecks have been found which point towards differences in steel specifications, protective paintings and/or the conditions of their exposure before sinking. Microorganisms recovered from rusticles and cultured in the laboratory are being characterized and the activity of the isolated microbes on corrosion of steel investigated under simulated conditions in order to predict their impact on the shipwrecks. This has offered an exceptional opportunity to forward our knowledge of deep-water corrosion, bio-mineralization and microbial ecology in deep-waters. Understanding the corrosion mechanism regarding the two vessels can be applied to preservation of steel structures and cultural heritage artefacts in the deep sea.

MIC PhD Research projects

1. Investigating the properties of complex multispecies biofilms on steel surfaces in seawater and their relationship with corrosion and corrosion inhibition

PhD candidate: Benjamin Tuck

This research will study fundamental aspects of biofilm formation on carbon steel in seawater and their relationship with corrosion. In particular, this research will focus on investigating the structure and properties of multispecies biofilms and their interactions with localized corrosion. This research is linked to an ARC discovery project in collaboration with Deakin University which aims at developing novel multifunctional, environmentally friendly inhibitor compounds to tackle both MIC and corrosion. Hence, this project will also assess the effect of such novel compounds on biofilms and biofilm-steel interactions. The synthesis and transformations of microbial extracellular polymeric substances (EPS) and their relationship with corrosion and corrosion control are of particular interest. Methods will be applied to study the global corrosion response and local electrochemical behaviour of steel in conditions of MIC as well as surface chemistry and detailed biofilm processes.

2. Subsea Biofilm Formation and Biomineralization on Metal Surfaces under Cathodic Protection: Towards Assessing and Predicting Calcareous Deposit Formation and Steel Degradation Rates at Different Ocean Depths in the NWS

PhD candidate: Lina Silva Bedoya

Although external corrosion is generally well addressed using properly designed CP and coatings, there remain challenges for deeper water pipelines where inspection, monitoring and repairs are very difficult and costly. The difficulty is also determining what is adequate for providing protection at different water depths with different environments. The establishment of microbial colonies on metal surfaces is a highly complex phenomenon, particularly in dynamic natural marine environments, and even more intricate in cases where steel is under CP for long-term corrosion control which is typically the case of offshore and subsea oil and gas infrastructure. This project will study the fundamental aspects of bacterial adhesion, biofilm formation and Biomineralization on steel surfaces under cathodic protection (CP) and how these affect the kinetics of calcareous deposits formation on steel at conditions simulating different water depths.

3. Development of a risk assessment tool to predict MIC in pipelines (Woodside Energy Ltd.)

PhD candidate: Silvia Juliana Salgar

This research project has been proposed to develop a risk assessment tool to predict MIC in pipelines considering not only abiotic corrosive parameters deemed important in biofilm growth but also to account for complex biofilm‐steel processes commonly found in oilfield systems including the presence of deposits and continuous exposure to biocides. Mechanistic studies will be conducted to investigate these biofilm processes on steel under conditions relevant to Woodside’s operations.

4. Application of electrochemical noise to study MIC and under-deposit corrosion process

PhD candidate: Yang Hou

Electrochemical noise measurement is considered to be a very powerful technique in corrosion studies because of its quickness, non-intrusiveness and sensitivity to the corrosion systems especially to localized corrosion systems. However, the interpretation of the typically complex corrosion dynamics from electrochemical noise data can be difficult. This project mainly considers the analytical methods for electrochemical noise signals on the basis of phase space reconstruction. These include the interpretation of phase space attractor, recurrence quantification analysis, and analysis of residuals from nonlinear models. The data required will be generated from under-deposit corrosion, microbiologically induced corrosion and their combination systems with carbon steels. Eventually, a diagnostic framework will be established for detection and monitoring of corrosion processes especially localized events.

5. Corrosion of carbon steel and its inhibition in the presence of deposits and microrganisms

PhD candidate: Erika Suarez Rodriguez

Microorganisms have been found to flourish within deposits accumulated inside oil transmission pipelines usually associated under-deposit corrosion (UDC). This study aims to establish the synergistic effect of microorganisms and mineral deposits on the corrosion of carbon steel by studying both microbial activity and corrosion mechanisms under UDC conditions. In addition, the efficiency of novel corrosion inhibitors with biocidal properties will be investigated to establish their efficiency in mitigating UDC on carbon steel surfaces in the presence of bacteria.

6. Mechanisms of MIC in oil production facilities: applying micro-computed tomography to study biofilm corrosion

PhD candidate: Mohammed Albahri

The aim of this project is to study the effect of fermenting, sulphidogenic microbes and methanogenic archaea typically found in oil reservoirs on corrosion using electrochemistry and 3D micro-computed tomography coupled to scanning electron microscopy with energy dispersive X-ray spectroscopy (SEM/EDX). 3D micro-computed tomography is being applied as a non-destructive imaging modality to study biofilm structure on corroding structures as a function of nutrients, fluid flow velocity and temperature.

Honours project

The role of microbial communities in the corrosion of carbon steel in deep waters

Student: Benjamin Tuck

The research aims to investigate deep water corrosion under laboratory simulated conditions. Microbial consortium recovered from rusticles of the HMAS Sydney (II) shipwreck at 2,500 m below sea level will be used. The study will aim to determine corrosion rates in carbon-steel by weight loss measurements and accelerated electrochemical techniques. In addition, biofilm population’s dynamics will be study to assess predominant populations in biofilms on corroding steel under these conditions.

MSc in Subsea Engineering

Research Project: Microbiologically-influence corrosion (MIC) in MEG/seawater mixtures during wet parking of subsea pipelines

Student: David Barrera

Wet parking is one of the subsea procedures that is used in the oil and gas industry for wet storage until commissioning of the parent facility. Industry has found that wet parking has two major concerns that need to be addressed; i.e. MIC associated with wet parking before commissioning and wet parked pipelines during shut-ins. Monoethylene glycol (MEG), typically use as a hydrate inhibitor, has been reported to have biostatic activity and, at sufficient concentration, biocidal properties. As such, it has been proposed to use MEG as the wet parking fluid. It is believe that MEG will be an effect biocide at concentrations of 50%. However, there is a probability of MIC during the tie in process where the ingress of raw seawater will introduce bacteria and oxygen that can lead into the formation of biofilms in the ends of the pipeline. There is also a risk of bacterial resistance and biodegradation in the event of MEG degradation. The aim of this study is to determine the risk of MIC at different MEG/seawater mixtures with particular emphasis on the ability of bacteria to develop resistant and biodegrading capabilities in the long term exposure to MEG.