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FUNDAMENTALS OF CATHODIC PROTECTION


Corrosion is the deterioration of a metal because of a reaction with its
environment. For the purpose of this report, corrosion is the result of an
electrochemical reaction that occurs between two different metal surfaces placed
in contact with a common conductive environment. The reaction that occurs is
commonly referred to as a reduction-oxidation reaction.
Corrosion occurs because an electrical potential difference (voltage) exists
between two sites on the metal surface in the environment. The difference may
be the result of variations in the metal or in the environment. Variations in the
metal may be the result of temperature, stress, metal composition or the
presence of impurities. Corrosion may occur between two different sites on a
single metal, or between two different types of metal placed in electrical contact
with one another. Differences in the environment may be the result of variations
in chemical composition, temperature, velocity and oxygen concentration.
An electrolyte is a solution or substance that may conduct electrical
current as an ionic charge. Water and soil are both electrolytes.
The term "anode" refers to the metal surface at which corrosion occurs
and from which current leaves the metal surface to enter the electrolyte. The
reaction that occurs at the anode is called oxidation.
The term "cathode" describes the metal surface from which current leaves
the electrolyte to enter the metal. The reaction at this surface is called reduction.
Typically oxygen reduction or hydrogen evolution occurs at the cathode.
The term "electrolysis" refers to changes that occur in the electrolyte as a
result of the corrosion process.
During the corrosion process, a metal molecule leaves the metal surface
and enters the electrolyte to combine with a free ion at a lower valence state.
This is oxidation. Electron flow occurs in the metal between the anode and
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cathode. Simultaneously, a reduction reaction occurs at the cathode. Electrical
current flows onto the cathode surface and off of the anode surface by means of
ion exchange.
A corrosion cell is a circuit consisting of an anode, a cathode, an
electrolyte, and an electrical contact between the anode and cathode. The
diagram below represents a simple corrosion cell between a copper cathode and
an iron anode placed in a beaker with electrolyte solution.
In relation to the subject structure, the water is an electrolyte and the steel
surface is the metal. Both anodic and cathodic sites exist on the steel surface
due to variations in the alloy and in the water.
Cathodic protection is an electrical means of mitigating corrosion on
buried and submerged structures. CP involves the application of a DC (direct
current) onto the surface of a metal structure. Since corrosion only occurs at
locations where current discharges from a metal surface, corrosion control may
be achieved by applying a net DC current flow onto the entire surface of a
structure. In those areas where current collects, corrosion is controlled.
Two types of cathodic protection systems exist. The first type uses
galvanic anodes for protection. When metals such as magnesium or zinc are
placed in the environment in contact with a more noble metal such as steel, a
current flows from the more active anode to the nobler cathode. This is similar to
the operation of a dry cell battery. Current flows because a potential difference
CURRENT
FLOW
CURRENT FLOW
IONIZED ELECTROLYTE
WIRE
ANODE
(IRON)
CATHODE
(COPPER)
CURRENT FLOW
(- TO +IN ELECTROLYTE)
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(voltage) exists between the two metals relative to their electrolyte. Galvanic
systems are most suitable for use with low resistivity environments, well-coated
structures and relatively small surface areas. No external power source is
required. Galvanic systems tend to have a high initial cost with minimal
maintenance costs. The diagram below depicts a galvanic anode installed on a
pipeline with a test station.


The second type of system is an impressed current system. These utilize
an external power source to develop a high potential difference between the
surface to be protected and an anode. A series of anodes installed in the ground
are referred to as a groundbed. Impressed current type systems are
advantageous because high driving voltages can be developed with an external
power supply. This makes it possible to achieve a much higher current output
from an anode, than from an equivalent size anode on a galvanic system. Fewer
anodes are required for impressed current systems than are required for a
galvanic system of equal current capacity. Impressed current systems tend to
have a low initial cost with higher operating and maintenance costs than a
galvanic system. The following diagram depicts an impressed current system for
a pipeline.

Pipeline
Test Terminal Board
Anode
Test Lead
GALVANIC ANODE SYSTEM
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Impressed current systems typically use a power source known as a
rectifier. The rectifier converts AC power to DC power and provides adjustability
to the system. The current output may be increased by increasing the voltage. A
transformer is used to adjust the output voltage of the rectifier. This is
accomplished by adjusting tap bars on the front panel of the unit. A rectifying
element, such as a diode bridge circuit, is used to convert AC power to DC power
(ripple). In place of standard diodes, silicon controlled rectifiers (SCRs) may be
used in conjunction with a circuit card to maintain a specified level of protection.
Automatic rectifiers with SCRs may be adjusted to maintain a set voltage, current
output or structure potential. Rectifiers are commonly equipped with meters to
read current and voltage outputs. Circuit breakers, lightning arrestors and fuses
are used to protect the unit from power surges and faults. Shunts are calibrated
resistors used to measure current flow. Filters, chokes and capacitors are
sometimes used to increase efficiency and limit radio frequency (RF)
interference.
The anodes of both galvanic and impressed current type CP systems
corrode and are eventually consumed. When conventional anode materials such
as graphite and zinc corrode, the anode gets smaller and the resistance of the
electrical circuit increases. By Ohm's Law (V=IR), an amount of current (I in
Anode Groundbed
Rectifier
Negative Cable
Positive Cable
AC Power Supply
Pipeline
IMPRESSED CURRENT SYSTEM
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amps) will flow equal to the driving voltage (V in volts) of the circuit divided by the
resistance (R in ohms) of the circuit. As the anodes corrode, the circuit
resistance increases and the current output decreases. With impressed current
systems, the voltage output may be adjusted in order to maintain protection.
Adjustments are typically required on an annual basis. Dimensionally stable
anodes, such as platinized niobium wire remain relatively consistent in size and
may not require adjustment as frequently.
The amount of current required to protect a structure is proportional to the
surface area of bare metal being protected and environmental conditions.
Coating quality influences the amount of bare metal exposed to the environment
tremendously. A bare structure requires current flow onto the entire surface. A
well-coated structure requires minimal current flow except at holidays (coating
flaws). A well-coated tank may have a current requirement of less than 1% of an
equivalent bare tank. As the coating deteriorates, the amount of current required
to maintain protection increases. New systems frequently operate well below
their maximum designed current output capacity, which is intended for later use
in the structure's design life.
If changes occur in the structural or environmental conditions, the current
output and/or level of protection may be affected. Typical examples are changes
in soil condition that vary the moisture content due to rain, and freezing of the
ground, either around the anodes or structure. Factors which increase the soil
resistivity (make it less conductive) reduce the current output; those which
decrease the resistivity (make it more conductive) increase the current output.
Examples of change in structural factors may be the amount of tank bottom in
contact with the earth based on the fill level of a tank or changes in the electrical
isolation of a pipeline system. The primary changes in a water tank system occur
due to water level fluctuations.
Reference cells are used to measure the level of cathodic protection being
received on the structure surface. A half-cell consists of a metal rod immersed in
a specific environment. The half-cell serves as a standard against which the
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structures potential is measured. The level of protection may be evaluated
based on industry established criteria. Reference electrodes are metal rods
placed in the environment for the same purpose; however, they have not been
placed within a stable environment and respectively may not be as accurate.
Reference cells may be permanently installed or portable. Reference cells may
not function when frozen.
The most popular type of reference half-cell utilized is the copper-copper
sulfate (CSE) reference half-cell. It consists of a copper rod in a closed container
filled with a saturated copper sulfate solution. The vessel has a porous plug that
permits electrical contact when placed on the ground or in water, but does not
permit the solution to be lost.
A structure-to-electrolyte potential measurement is recorded by placing a
reference cell in direct contact with the electrolyte (soil surface or water) and
measuring the DC voltage between the reference cell and structure. If the
negative meter lead is connected to the half-cell and the positive lead is
connected to the structure, the proper polarity will be read. The voltmeter used
should have high input impedance (2 mega-ohms minimum). The following
diagram depicts the use of a reference cell.

+ -
Pipe
Soil
Half Cell
DC Volt
Meter


Potential measurements recorded with the cathodic protection current
turned on include a component referred to as IR-drop. When CP current (I) flows
through the environment (which has a resistance (R)) between the reference cell
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and structure, a voltage drop occurs in the soil. Electrolyte IR-drop caused by
CP always makes the structure-to-electrolyte reading appear more negative than
the actual polarized potential of the structure. When the current is turned off, the
current goes to zero (I=0 amps) and so does the IR-drop. IR-drop free potential
measurements may be recorded immediately after turning off the CP current, but
before the structure has time to depolarize. These are referred to as instant off
potential measurements. They are considered more accurate than readings
recorded with the current on, and are commonly used to evaluate the level of
protection achieved.
It is the job of the corrosion engineer to design a system which provides sufficient
current, adequately distributed on the structure surface to control corrosion, while
providing a reliable and safe system of suitable design life. It is the responsibility
of the CP system operator to assure an adequate level of cathodic protection
continues to be provided and the equipment is maintained in good working
condition.