Bainite is a combination of ferrite and cementite in ferrous metals that is harder than pearlite. Bainite contains needlelike grain structures, and it requires an initial rapid cooling followed by gradual cooling. Bainite is an acicular microstructure (not a phase) that forms in steels at temperatures of 250–550 °C (depending on alloy content).
First described by E. S. Davenport and Edgar Bain, it is one of the decomposition products that may form when austenite (the face centered cubic crystal structure of iron) is cooled past a critical temperature of 727 °C (1340 °F). Davenport and Bain originally described the microstructure as being similar in appearance to tempered martensite.
A fine non-lamellar structure, bainite commonly consists of cementite and dislocation-rich ferrite. The high concentration of dislocations in the ferrite present in bainite makes this ferrite harder than it normally would be.The temperature range for transformation to bainite (250–550 °C) is between those for pearlite and martensite.
When formed during continuous cooling, the cooling rate to form bainite is more rapid than that required to form pearlite, but less rapid than is required to form martensite (in steels of the same composition). Most alloying elements will lower the temperature required for the maximum rate of formation of bainite, though carbon is the most effective in doing so. The microstructures of martensite and bainite at first seem quite similar. This is a consequence of the two microstructures sharing many aspects of their transformation mechanisms. However, morphological differences do exist that require a TEM to see. Under a light microscope, the microstructure of bainite appears darker than martensite due to its low reflectivity.
Bainite is an intermediate of pearlite and martensite in terms of hardness. For this reason, the bainitic microstructure becomes useful in that no additional heat treatments are required after initial cooling to achieve a hardness value between that of pearlitic and martensitic steels.