Engineering: Fully Funded M2A EngD Scholarship: Understanding the role of thin film pre-treatments on steel surfaces

Closing date: 5 April 2021

Key Information

M2A logoEPSRC logoESF logo

Start date: October 2021

Academic supervisor: Professor Geraint Williams
Industrial supervisor: Dr Patrick Keil

Sponsoring company: BASF Coatings


BASF, the world’s foremost chemical company and a major vendor of coatings and surface technologies treatment solutions, wishes to generate a better understanding of corrosion processes. This will be crucial for developing advanced concepts for the next generation of corrosion protection, and for speeding up R&D for the development of novel corrosion protection formulations for coatings and surface treatment applications. This project forms part of a large collaborative research programme, involving a multidisciplinary team of experimental scientists and modelers who will explore the underlying mechanisms of corrosion by applying a variety of cutting-edge analytical technologies and algorithms for multi-scale modelling and simulation.

This project aims to fundamentally understand how the chemical nature of a metal surface influences its resistance to corrosion driven organic coating failure, when over-coated with a corrosion protective paint system. The principal intentions will comprise the following:

  • A comprehensive knowledge of how metal surface preparation using industry standard cleaning methods influences interaction with various state of the art pre-treatments.
  • A correlation of the chemical nature and surface composition of a cleaned and/or pre-treated substrate with resistance to corrosion driven organic coating failure.
  • An understanding of the interaction of the pre-treated surface with various organic coating types, and how factors such as adhesion and bonding at this interface affects organic coating failure rates.

Project Description:

The interface between a metal substrate and a protective organic coating plays a vital role in determining the long-term anti-corrosion performance of painted metal products. Prior to the application of an organic coating system to protect against corrosion, the metal surface is subjected to a cleaning regime, typically involving exposure to an alkaline environment, followed by a pre-treatment which deposits a thin inorganic film. This in turn provides an inert surface which improves adhesion with organic-based primer coatings, and in certain circumstances, also offers additional active corrosion protection at the metal-organic coating interface. This project forms part of a larger partnership involving BASF Coatings Ltd, in collaboration with Swansea University and Imperial College London, where the main theme will involve furthering the understanding of corrosion-induced failure of protective organic coatings when applied to metal surfaces. The principal focus of this project will be directed towards a fundamental understanding of the influence of the metal surface prior to the application of a corrosion protective organic coating system on durability.

The research will concentrate on two specific areas of interest:

  1. the chemical nature of the cleaned metal surface prior to pre-treatment and how this affects the formation and composition of current state-of-the-art inorganic conversion coatings.
  2. the influence of the topography and chemical composition of the pre-treated surface on the durability of a corrosion protective organic coating, initially concentrating on a simple model paint system.

The investigation will be carried out using comprehensive in-situ and ex-situ electrochemical characterization by means of Scanning Kelvin Probe (SKP), Scanning Vibrating Electrode Technique (SVET), alongside potentiodynamic and electrochemical impedance spectroscopy methods in the labs of the Swansea University corrosion research group. Surface chemical and structural characterization will be carried using a world class suite of instrumentation including X-ray-photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS), glancing angle X-ray diffraction (XRD), and field emission gun scanning electron microscopy (FEG-SEM).

Project Tasks:

  • Investigate the influence of various industry standard chemical cleaning technologies on the surface chemistry of cold-rolled galvanised steel and zinc-magnesium-aluminium (ZMA) alloy coated steel substrates.
  • Study the effect of cleaning regimes on the efficiency of thin inorganic film formation using current pre-treatment technologies such as phosphate, zirconate and titanate-based types.
  • Investigate the influence of both the cleaned and pre-treated surface on resistance to corrosion-driven failure when overcoated with an organic layer. For steel and galvanised steel surfaces, this will include an evaluation of organic coating failure via cathodic disbondment and anodic-driven organic coating failure.

The Materials and Manufacturing Academy (M2A) in the College of Engineering is a Swansea University initiative which provides postgraduate research training in partnership with industry; providing access to world-­class laboratories and a wealth of academic and industry expertise. The M2A is committed to providing top quality research opportunities within an inclusive environment, funded by the Welsh European Funding Office (WEFO), the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), Swansea University and Industry partners.

Interwoven through the research study are business, technical and entrepreneurial courses, designed to support and prepare participants for a senior role in industry or academia, on completion of their studies. Research Engineers may participate in our career mentoring system, offering opportunity to engage with M2A alumni and other senior staff from across the University.

The Athena SWAN charter recognises work undertaken by institutions to advance gender equality. The College of Engineering is an Athena SWAN bronze award holder and is committee to addressing unequal gender representation. Applications from women are particularly welcomed.

Before submitting an application for the project, please see our Hints & Tips document.


We welcome applications from candidates with a degree (minimum level 2:1) in Materials Science and Engineering and/or Chemistry, but will accept other physical sciences disciplines (Engineering, Physics). Equivalent relevant experience that would enable the candidate to fulfil the role may also be considered.

Previous experience using some of the techniques mentioned above, as well as a basic understanding of corrosion or how materials may degrade, are desirable.

Candidates should have strong communication skills, both verbal and written, and be keen to publish research and present at conferences.

We would normally expect candidates to have met the University’s English Language requirements (e.g. IELTS 6.5 overall with 5.5+ in each component) by point of application. 

Due to funding restrictions, this scholarship is not open to ‘International’ candidates.

Full eligibility criteria can be found at

NB: If you are holding a non-UK degree, please see Swansea University degree comparisons to find out if you meet the eligibility. 

If you have any questions regarding your academic eligibility based on the above comparison, please email with the web-link to the scholarship(s) you are interested in. 


The scholarship covers the full cost of UK tuition fees, plus a tax free stipend of £20,000 p.a. for a period of four years.

How to Apply

To apply for this scholarship, please complete the application pack.

Informal enquiries about this scholarship are welcome and should be directed by email to: