The surface segregation of copper was investigated in laboratory and industrial non-oriented electrical steel sheets containing copper. The cold-rolled samples of Fe–Si–Al alloys were annealed in the temperature range 320–1 120 K in the ultra-high-vacuum chamber of a field-emission Auger electron spectrometer, and subsequently characterized by Auger electron spectroscopy (AES).
The Cu segregation rate was estimated based on the surface concentration of Cu after annealing at a given temperature. Not surprisingly, the AES analysis showed that the intensity of the surface segregation of copper increased with increasing annealing temperature. However, thermal desorption spectroscopy (TDS) showed that above 770 K the desorption of Cu started to reduce the surface concentration of Cu, thus making a reliable estimation of the segregation rate impossible.
During the annealings, in addition to the surface segregation of copper, the surface segregation of alloying and impurity elements was observed as well. Moreover, it appeared that some of these constituents compete for available surface sites. For example, it could be concluded that the surface segregation of copper hindered the surface segregation of carbon in the Fe–Si–Al alloys.