Over time, the demand for high-strength linepipe has increased significantly. One of the challenges for developing higher strength linepipe has been maintaining an appropriate level of fracture toughness, yield to tensile strength ratio, and weldability. Fortunately, significant progress has been made in the production of high strength line pipe steel. A major improvement in steel making has been the utilization of secondary steel treatments to refine the steel and accurately control alloy additions to achieve a higher level of steel cleanliness. In particular, these refining treatments have enabled the achievement of extremely low sulfur levels.
For most purposes, restricting sulfur content is desirable to help prevent a reduction in mechanical properties such as fracture toughness of the steel. Fortunately, steelmaking and desulfurization technologies have advanced to the point where pipeline steel with sulfur contents less than the requirements by API 5L are available on a large scale.
Extremely low sulfur contents, however, can lead to other problems when welding steels. These weldability problems are related to the fact that sulfur is a known surface active agent for steels. Low sulfur concentrations lead to a reversal of the Marangoni convection in the weld pool, which is responsible for the large differences in weld penetration on otherwise identical steels. Additionally, when welding heats of unmatched sulfur concentrations, the arc will tend to deviate towards the low sulfur heat and axially shift the root of the weld if one of the heats was below a critical value for the sulfur content and the other was above this value.
Although this phenomenon has been primarily observed in stainless steels, the increasing ability to produce linepipe steel with extremely low sulfur contents has led to the possibility that this phenomenon could also occur in low carbon pipeline steels. One pipeline system utilizing cellulosic consumables for shielded metal arc welding (SMAW) of X70 steel with sulfur contents an order of magnitude below that permitted by API 5L and with widely varying sulfur contents shows evidence of this effect. The profiles of the welds in this system exhibited a tendency for lack of penetration, asymmetric weld roots, and concave welds.
One approach to ameliorate this would be the specification of a lower permissible amount of sulfur.