Austenitic stainless steels are typically used in hydrogen environments due to their resistance to hydrogen embrittlement; however, the behavior of welds is not as well understood and can vary from wrought base materials due to chemical composition differences and the presence of ferrite in the fusion zone of the weld. Applications of welded austenitic stainless steels exposed to hydrogen are not limited to room temperature but also include sub-ambient environments, which can have an additional effect on the degradation. In this study, fracture thresholds were measured of three different austenitic stainless steel welds in the hydrogen-precharged condition. Forged 304L, 316L, and 21Cr-6Ni-9Mn stainless steels were gas tungsten arc welded with 308L filler metal and machined into 3-pt bend bars for fracture testing. Crack growth resistance (J-R) curves were measured of the three welds in the hydrogen-precharged condition at ambient (293 K) and sub-ambient (223 K) temperatures to determine the effects of temperature on fracture threshold. Fracture thresholds were determined using elastic-plastic fracture mechanics through development of J-R curves to determine the stress intensity factor following standard practice for determination of fracture toughness. Fracture threshold tests for the welds revealed significant susceptibility to subcritical cracking when tested in the hydrogen-precharged condition. The 21-6-9/308L and 304L/308L welds exhibited some variability in fracture thresholds that did not appear to trend with temperature, while the 316L/308L weld exhibited a reduction of over 50% in fracture threshold at the lower temperature compared to room temperature.
In addition to fracture testing, mini-tensile specimens were extracted from the weld region and tested at 293 K and 223 K in the hydrogen-precharged condition. Hydrogen-precharging slightly increased the yield strength relative to the as-welded condition for all three welds at both temperatures. For all three welds, hydrogen reduced the total elongation by 3–11% at 293 K, whereas reductions in total elongation from 50–64% were observed at 223 K (relative to room temperature without hydrogen). The role of slip planarity on hydrogen-induced degradation of ductility and fracture resistance is discussed as a function of temperature, nickel content, and hydrogen. The fracture surfaces were examined to elucidate the observed differences and similarities in mechanical properties.