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Engineering Failure Analysis 33 (2013) 381386

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Engineering Failure Analysis

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Corrosion failure analysis of galvanized steel pipes in a water irrigation system

C.A. Della Rovere a,, R. Silva a, C. Moretti b, S.E. Kuri a
a LC/DEMa/UFSCar, Corrosion Laboratory, Department of Materials Engineering, Federal University of So Carlos, Rodovia Washington Luis, Km 235, 13565-905 So Carlos, SP, Brazil b CCDM/DEMa/UFSCar, Laboratory of Electron Microscopy, Center for Characterization and Development of Materials, Department of Materials Engineering, Federal University of So Carlos, Rodovia Washington Luis, Km 235, 13565-905 So Carlos, SP, Brazil

a r t i c l e

i n f o

a b s t r a c t
The premature failure of a water irrigation system made of galvanized steel pipes installed in the orange orchards of a citrus farm located in the interior of the state of So Paulo, Brazil, was investigated by onsite visual inspection, microstructural characterization of the Zn coatings based on SEM/EDS analysis, and chemical and physical analysis of the water used in the system. The irrigation water comes from a creek that runs through the farm, and the rst pipe leakages were detected after the system had been in operation for only 2 years. The ndings of this investigation indicate that the failure of the pipes before their expected service lifetime was caused by acid corrosion, which rapidly attacked the Zn coating of the inner walls of the pipes, exposing the entire steel surface in the rst months of use. The deterioration of the pipes was intensied by the mechanical wear resulting from a substantial amount of suspended solids in the owing water. In addition, the SEM/EDS analysis of the Zn coating suggested that some points of the galvanized pipes exhibited manufacturing defects, further impairing the corrosion performance of these pipes. 2013 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Article history: Received 5 June 2013 Received in revised form 22 June 2013 Accepted 25 June 2013 Available online 3 July 2013 Keywords: Galvanized steel pipes Irrigation system Creek water Acid corrosion Impingement

1. Introduction Only in two specic periods in history, during the sugar and coffee cycles, has Brazil been in strong control of the global trade of an agricultural product, as is currently the case in the global citrus market. Today, 70% of the orange juice consumed in the world is grown or processed in this country. This sector employs approximately 400 thousand people, generating annual export revenues of 1.52.5 billion American dollars and accounting for more than half of the orange juice produced in the world and 85% of the juice concentrate traded on the international market [1]. In addition to Brazil, the United States, Mexico, Italy and Spain rank among the worlds major citrus producers. One of the main factors that have enabled Brazil to achieve its high citrus production volume is its tropical and subtropical climate. The ideal temperature range for orange orchards is 2233 C, and an adequate annual rainfall is around 2100 mm well distributed throughout the year. However, since citrus production is strongly affected by low rainfall or its irregular distribution, eventual water decits during periods of drought must be corrected through articial irrigation [2]. To offset the water decit in their orange orchards, most Brazilian farmers use a drip irrigation system usually made of zinc-coated (galvanized) steel pipes. Zinc (Zn) coatings are generally regarded as the most economical means of protecting steel against corrosion. They improve the water corrosion resistance of steel by two methods, barrier protection and galvanic protection. In barrier
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E-mail addresses:, (C.A. Della Rovere). 1350-6307/$ - see front matter 2013 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.


C.A. Della Rovere et al. / Engineering Failure Analysis 33 (2013) 381386

protection, the Zn coating, which separates the steel from the corrosive environment, will corrode rst before the corrosive environment reaches the steel. In galvanic protection, zinc is less noble or anodic to iron in ambient conditions, and will corrode sacricially to protect the steel substrate, even if some part of the steel is exposed, such as cut edges or scratches in the coating. In addition, Zn coatings are normally very corrosion resistant in natural waters due to their ability to form dense, adherent basic corrosion product lms on the metal surface. For this reason, galvanized steels are widely used in natural waters and have a fairly long lifetime. However, it should be kept in mind that when they are subjected to more aggressive environments their service life can be substantially decreased [36]. According to the American Galvanizers Association [7], the application of galvanized steel must be carefully designed because the various types of water found in nature differ greatly. Moreover, corrosion rates are very difcult to predict because several factors affect the corrosion of metals in aqueous environments, such as pH levels, oxygen content, temperature and uid velocity, to name but a few. Despite these difculties, however, galvanized steel is one of the best methods to protect against corrosion caused by natural waters and can perform awlessly for 812 years. Nevertheless, the rst step in any decision to use galvanized steels for a given application is to identify the characteristics of the water to which they will be exposed. This paper analyzes the corrosion failure of galvanized pipes used in a drip irrigation system installed on a Brazilian citrus farm. Because the underlying steel structures were protected against corrosion by galvanized zinc coating, the contractor estimated the service life expectancy of the irrigation system at 10 years; however, countless leaks were detected along the water pipes after only 2 years of use. As a result, the farmer, who considered the job was poorly done and the inbuilt material was not suitable, led a lawsuit against the contractor. However, as mentioned earlier, the use of galvanized pipes in natural water is supported by the literature, so the contractor decided to conduct a thorough investigation to discover the cause of the leaks. Therefore, the purpose of this paper is to elucidate the reasons for the decreased service life of these galvanized steel water pipes. 2. Sampling and eld ndings The drip irrigation system, which was made of galvanized steel water pipes, was installed in the orange orchards of a citrus farm located in the interior of the state of So Paulo, Brazil, approximately 2 years before the rst leaks were detected. The system was fed from a creek that runs through the farm and distributed water to all the orchards on this farm. Fig. 1a and b, respectively, depict a portion of the creek from which water was collected and the water distribution system. A visit to the area of the farm where the failure occurred was required for a visual inspection. Fig. 2 shows three photographs of portions of the irrigation pipes most severely damaged by corrosion. As can be seen, the inner surface of the Zn coating of the pipes was strongly attacked and its rust protection completely destroyed, while the Zn coating on the outer surface showed no signicant attack. Careful removal of sediments and corrosion products revealed fairly uniform corrosion of the entire inner surface of the pipes, as well as some pits of various depths in a few areas, indicating that the corrosion process which caused the leakage occurred from the inside out. In addition, some failures of the systems components, mainly at pipe elbows, (Fig. 2c) appeared to be directly related to impingement [810]. Fig. 2c clearly shows that the pipe ends were relatively unaffected, but the metal failed where the direction of the water ow was diverted. Since the creek water was not treated prior to its distribution, the next step in this investigation was to analyze the characteristics of the water (particularly in terms of its pH, hardness and suspended solids content). Water samples were collected at ve different points of irrigation system and were analyzed by two different laboratories. All the samples were collected in bottles, which were previously washed and cleaned in the laboratory. At the sampling sites, the bottles were rst washed with the same water to be analyzed (thus removing any traces of detergents or residue) and then lled to the top and tightly sealed. In addition, samples of unused galvanized pipes were extracted for microstructural and compositional analysis by scanning electron microscopyenergy dispersive spectroscopy (SEM/EDS).

Fig. 1. (a) The creek that fed the irrigation system, and (b) the water collector and distribution system.

C.A. Della Rovere et al. / Engineering Failure Analysis 33 (2013) 381386


Fig. 2. Main eld ndings: (a) heavily corroded inner surfaces of pipes; (b) leakage occurring from the inside out; (c) impingement.

3. Results and discussion 3.1. Analysis of the galvanized Zn coating An unused pipe was analyzed by SEM to verify the quality of the Zn coating on the galvanized pipes. The SEM micrographs in Fig. 3 depict a cross section of the unused galvanized pipe, showing details of the inner and outer Zn coatings and their microstructures. Note that both the inner and outer Zn coatings are quite uneven, presenting an average thickness of around 89.6 lm (measured by SEM at 5 different points). It is well known that Zn coatings can be applied by several methods, e.g., hot-dip galvanization, electrogalvanation, metallization, mechanical plating, painting, etc. These methods produce coatings with different types of structures and characteristics, such as thickness, microstructure, uniformity, density, composition, surface nish and type of bond between Zn and steel substrate [11]. The characteristics of the Zn coatings shown in Fig. 3 indicate that they were produced by hot-dip galvanization. In this process, many chemical reactions take place between the Fe of the workpiece and the molten Zn, forming distinct layers of intermetallic compounds and producing a metallurgical bond between the Zn coating and the steel substrate. Fig. 4 depicts the typical morphology of a Zn coating on steel produced by hot-dip galvanization, which generally consists of four well dened layers. The rst three layers are composed of intermetallic compounds [gamma (C), delta (d) and zeta (f)], which vary in Zn content (with increasingly higher Zn content in each consecutive layer on the steel), with the outermost layer [eta (g)] typically composed of pure Zn [3,1214]. However, note the clear and sharp contrast between this gure and Fig. 3c, in which the microstructure contains numerous regions darkened by the presence of sulfur-rich compounds, as indicated by the EDS microanalysis performed in a more detailed dark region (Fig. 3d). In general, the incorporation of sulfur in Zn coatings applied by hot-dip galvanization on steel is linked directly to residual oil on the workpiece surface, resulting from incorrect or inadequate surface preparation prior to galvanizing. An analysis of Fig. 3c also suggests that, at some points, the adhesive bond between the Zn coating and the steel substrate was impaired by the presence of sharp cracks at the steel substrate/zinc coating interface. Although the corrosion performance of the Zn protective coating was undoubtedly affected by these imperfections at some points of the galvanized pipes, it should be kept in mind that Zn also acts as a sacricial anode [36]. This means that


C.A. Della Rovere et al. / Engineering Failure Analysis 33 (2013) 381386

Fig. 3. Analysis of the galvanized Zn coating: (a) unused galvanized pipe analyzed by SEM/EDS, (b) cross section view, (c) Zn coating microstructure and characteristics, and (d) EDS microanalysis.

Fig. 4. Typical microstructure of a hot-dip galvanized Zn coating [4].

even if some parts of the Zn coating became detached prematurely, the exposed steel would still be protected cathodically from corrosion by the remaining Zn coating. This fact does not allow the premature failure of these pipes to be attributed mainly to the aforementioned manufacturing defects. 3.2. Chemical and physical analysis of water It is well known that natural waters are seldom pure, and that their characteristics are strongly inuenced by the topography and geological composition of the areas through which they run. Thus, as water ows across the lands surface, it dissolves some of the minerals (and gases) from the soil, and the force of the owing water carries along nely divided particles of eroded soil and organic matter in suspension [15,16]. Therefore, since the creek water was not pretreated prior to its distribution through the irrigation system, it was subjected to a chemical and physical analysis to measure its pH, hardness and suspended solids content. Table 1 describes the results of the water analysis made by the two laboratories, which determined that the water circulating in the irrigation system is slightly acidic, with an average pH of 5.33 and hardness of around 18.4 ppm (as CaCO3), indicating that it is soft water [17,18]. According to the literature [46,16], in the absence of reducing or passivating agents, the corrosion of Zn in aqueous solutions is determined primarily by their pH. Fig. 5 shows the variation of the Zn corrosion rate, measured in centimeters of penetration per year (cm/year), as a function of pH. Note that the corrosion penetration rate of Zn is relatively low in the pH range of 712, which is mainly due to the formation of a protective lm of corrosion products on the Zn surface; however, the penetration rate increases considerably on either side of the 612 pH range because Zn is an amphoteric metal that

C.A. Della Rovere et al. / Engineering Failure Analysis 33 (2013) 381386 Table 1 Results of the analysis by two different laboratories of the water collected from ve distinct points of the irrigation system. Position 1 2 3 4 5 Average
a b


Laboratory 1 1 2 2 2

pH 5.15 5.62 5.4 5.2 5.3 5.33

Hardnessa (ppm) 18 21 19 16 18 18.4

TSSb (mg/L) 20 21 19 22 19 20.2

Water hardness in ppm of calcium carbonate (CaCO3). Total suspended solids in the water.

Fig. 5. Zn corrosion rate in water as a function of pH [5].

dissolves readily in acidic or strongly alkaline solutions. This indicates that galvanized pipes are suitable only in water with near-neutral pH; in other situations, the pH level of circulating water would require strict control because variations could occur, leading to high Zn corrosion rates. In this graph (Fig. 5), also note that, at a pH level of about 5.3, which is the average pH of the water circulating in this irrigation system, the Zn coating underwent considerably uniform corrosion, with a penetration rate of 0.05 cm/year (20 mpy). Based on this penetration rate and the highest and lowest Zn coating thicknesses measured by SEM, it is possible to estimate the durability of the Zn coating on the galvanized pipes of this irrigation system. Table 2 presents the estimated durability of the Zn coating. Note that the Zn coating shows low durability, and that the steel surface at some points of the pipes would already be exposed to the circulating water after just 1.5 months of use. In addition, since the water under analysis is soft (18.4 ppm as CaCO3), the corrosion attack described above is further aggravated because water hardness is another important variable in Zn corrosion. The literature indicates that the corrosion rate of Zn in hard water may be as low as 15 lm/year (0.6 mpy), but corrosion attack is much more aggressive in soft water, and can reach 150 lm/year (6 mpy). Hard waters tend to be less corrosive toward Zn because they deposit a protective scale on the metallic surface, while softer waters do not deposit these scales [5,6,16]. Table 1 also indicates that the creek water contains about 20 mg/L of total suspended solids, determined gravimetrically, indicating that considerable quantities of ne solid particles circulate through the irrigation system. As mentioned earlier, creek or river waters contain large amounts of suspended solids because they interact directly with the ground over which they ow, carrying along different particles such as eroded solids (sand), decaying vegetation, solid pollutants and colloidal and suspended matter. Therefore, in pipes that carry owing water, these suspended solids are ung against the inner walls of the pipes, damaging or mechanically removing the corrosion product lms. This erosion corrosion process allows more metal to go into solution, increasing the wear of the pipes inner walls. Therefore, when water owing through pipes contains suspended solid particles, they must be removed by ltration to reduce this type of deterioration.

Table 2 Estimated durability of Zn coating as a function of coating thickness measured by SEM, considering a corrosion penetration rate of 0.05 cm/year. Measurement Lowest thickness Highest thickness Average thickness Coating thickness (lm) 62.89 116.37 89.63 Durability (months) 1.51 2.79 2.15


C.A. Della Rovere et al. / Engineering Failure Analysis 33 (2013) 381386

Moreover, since the total volume of water required by these orange orchards is about 5800 m3/day and the creek water contains about 20 mg/L of suspended solids, the water owing through the irrigation system contains approximately 116 kg/day of suspended solids. The collision of this large volume of solid particles against the inner walls of the pipes causes high mechanical wear, diminishing the durability of the pipes. As shown earlier in Fig. 2c, some cracks, particularly at the pipe elbows, occurred due to impingement, which was probably greatly intensied by the substantial suspended solids content in the owing water. Therefore, the relatively low pH of the owing water and the erosive effect caused by suspended solid particles are probably the main factors that caused the irrigation pipes to fail before they reached their expected service lifetime. 4. Conclusions The results of this investigation indicated that the use of galvanized pipes was not a suitable choice for the natural irrigation system of this citrus farm. Galvanized pipes are suitable only when the pH of the natural water is about 7 or moderately basic (between 8 and 12). Therefore, such pipes should not have been used for this application, whose water has an average pH of 5.3. Protective zinc coating is not resistant to corrosion in acid pH and therefore its service life under such conditions is very limited. In general, the durability of galvanized pipes in natural water can reach up to 12 years, but in this case, the irrigation system began to leak after only 2 years of use. In addition to its acid pH, the natural water used in this irrigation system contains substantial amounts of suspended solids, which contribute to aggravate the deterioration of galvanized pipes due to erosion corrosion and impingement attack. The SEM/EDS analysis also indicated that the Zn coating exhibited some manufacturing defects, which further impaired its corrosion performance, although these defects were probably not the main cause of the systems premature failure. The recommended solution to solve the problem is to install a water treatment plant and adjust the pH level to the proper range via chemical treatment before the water is distributed. In addition, a ltration system is required to reduce the waters suspended solids content. References
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