he actual corrosion process is an electrochemical reaction. Depicting a steel bar in a liquid, Fig. 2, shows how this reaction takes place. In the diagram, corrosion is attacking the anode, with iron ions being released into the solution, while hydrogen is being generated at the cathode. Water (H2O), is made up of two hydrogen ions and one oxygen ion. The iron ions from the anode (the Fe symbols) will ultimately unite with oxygen in the water, whereupon several different types of rust can form.
At the cathode site of the piece, atomic hydrogen is being released. Most of those hydrogen ions then mate with another hydrogen ion and form molecular hydrogen, the readily flammable gas we’re used to thinking about. But some of the ions remain solitary and they are the cause of the many forms of hydrogen damage including hydrogen embrittlement, cracking, and blisters.
For wet corrosion, a liquid must be present to provide the complete circuit required by the electromechanical reaction. Electrons that flow from the cathode to the anode have to eventually return to the cathode, and they do so by traveling through the liquid.
Chemicals such as road salt are in the silt. As the moisture in it evaporates, the chemical concentration increases. The chemicals, in turn, make the water more electrically conductive and significantly increase the rate of corrosion.
Temperature is a third important factor in corrosion. Below freezing, ice can’t conduct corrosion currents. But, as the temperature increases, the corrosion rate increases. A good example is the rapid attack on hot piping with moist insulation. The exact solution chemistry has a major effect, but up to about 175 F (80 C), the corrosion rate usually rapidly increases, then drops off and ceases when the liquid vaporizes.
TYPES OF CORROSION
Uniform corrosion causes about 80% of all corrosion. It occurs where anode and cathode sites relatively uniformly swap position. Examples include the railroad-bridge-support column shown in Fig. 1, buried steel water lines, nooks and crannies on vehicles where deposits build up, and machine frames and bases in damp areas.
Pitting corrosion manifests as isolated areas of attack. With carbon steel, it may take years before leakage occurs while stainless-steel pitting might progress at a rate of 0.001 in. (0.025 mm)/day. Steel examples frequently include water and wastewater tanks. Stainless-steel examples include external areas with dirt deposits on them.
Galvanic corrosion occurs when two chemically different metals are joined. One is always the anode and continuously attacked, protecting the other piece. A common example involves a joint between steel and copper pipe, where the steel will always be attacked.