Date of Award

January 2014

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Chemical Engineering

First Advisor

Juergen Fischer


Aluminum plating is of considerable technical and economic interest because it provides an eco-friendly substitute for cadmium coatings used on many military systems. However, cadmium has been determined to be a significant environmental safety and occupational health (ESOH) hazard because of its toxicity and carcinogenic nature. Furthermore, the cost of treating and disposing of generated wastes, which often contain cyanide, is costly and is becoming prohibitive in the face of increasingly stringent regulatory standards. The non-toxic alternative aluminum is equivalent or superior in performance to cadmium. In addition, it could serve to provide an alternative to hexavalent chromium coatings used on military systems for similar reasons to that of cadmium.

Aluminum is a beneficial alternative in that it demonstrates self-healing corrosion resistance in the form of a tightly-bound, impervious oxide layer. A successfully plated layer would be serviceable over a wider temperature range, 925 oF for aluminum compared to 450 oF for cadmium. In addition, an aluminum layer can be anodized to make it non-conducting and colorable. In consideration of the plating process, aluminum cannot be deposited from aqueous solutions because of its reduction potential. Therefore, nonaqueous electrolytes are required for deposition.

Currently, aluminum can be electrodeposited in nonaqueous processes that use hazardous chemicals such as toluene and pyrophoric aluminum alkyls. Electrodeposition from ionic liquids provides the potential for a safer method that could be easily scaled up for industrial application. The plating process could be performed at a lower temperature and higher current density than other commercially available aluminum electrodeposition processes; thus a reduced process cost could be possible. The current ionic liquid based electrolytes are more expensive; however production on a larger scale and a long electrolyte lifetime are associated with a reduction in price. Advancements of this nonaqueous aluminum plating process have the potential to lead to a novel and competitive commercial aluminum deposition process.

In this investigation aluminum electrodeposition from ionic liquid based electrolytes onto steel, copper and magnesium substrates without conversion coatings or strike layers was evaluated in six different ionic liquid based electrolytes in two technical setups. Three of which are commercially available aluminum plating electrolytes, three of which, discussed in literature were created on site by research personnel in the laboratory. The three commercially available electrolytes were: 1-Butyl-3-methylimidazolium chloride ([BMIm]Cl) * 1.5 AlCl3 with proprietary additives from IoLiTec, 1-Ethyl-3-methylimidazolium chloride ([EMIm]Cl) * 1.5 AlCl3 with proprietary additives from IoLiTec, and BasionicsTM AL-02, an aluminum plating electrolyte containing [EMIm]Cl * 1.5 AlCl3 with additives from BASF. The three electrolytes created on site were based on the 1-ethyl-3-methylimidazolium chloride ionic liquid with added 1.5 AlCl3 and one with added sodium dodecyl sulfate.

Small scale plating tests in a 25-mL plating cell were conducted to provide a comparative analysis of the six different electrolytes considered. From these investigations, two were chosen to be evaluated in a larger 1-liter plating cell; designed and constructed to provide a more realistic evaluation of plating parameters with selected electrolytes to better portray industrial electroplating conditions. The effect of current density (10-40 mA/cm2), temperature (30-90o Celsius) and plating bath agitation on current efficiency, corrosion resistance by the ASTM B117 method, adhesion, microstructure, and chemical composition (evaluated with energy-dispersive x-ray spectroscopy) of the plated Al-layer was explored in both the 25-mL and 1-L plating cell investigations. In addition development of pre- and post-treatment processes for the metal substrates was attempted.

While previous investigations focused on one or two of these topics, this research seeks to investigate all discussed phenomena and characteristics. Additionally, there is little research that reports on the adhesion performance of aluminum coatings from ionic liquids. Also, corrosion investigations are limited to all but a few publications. So too, the deposition of aluminum in a larger, more realistic plating cell has never been thoroughly investigated. This is key if a practical application of the technology is ever to be realized.

In sum, correlations were drawn between electrolyte, current density, temperature and bath agitation with quality and characteristic of electrodeposited aluminum layers. The overriding goal to create an acceptably competitive aluminum coating process to replace cadmium and compete with other commercial aluminum deposition processes was not successful. Competitiveness was evaluated as per the discussed characteristics and so also, by a comparison to physical samples created in a more realistic plating cell to AlumiPlate aluminum coatings.