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1100 Fundamentals of Cathodic

Protection
Author: P.F. (Paul) Offermann

Abstract
The cost of corrosion in the U.S. in 1986 was estimated to be close to $180 billion.
Furthermore, estimates show that $70 billion worth of corrosion loss could have
been prevented in 1986 by applying modern corrosion control technology.
This section discusses the corrosion of metal in contact with moist soil or water, and
the tendency of some metals to corrode preferentially with respect to other metals
when located in the same environmental conditions. The use of a superimposed
current to prevent or reduce the rate of corrosion by making the entire metal surface
the cathode of an electrochemical cell and providing a separate anode is called
cathodic protection. This section discusses the mechanisms of cathodic protection
and the types of cathodic protection systems available for corrosion control. The
different types of cathodic interferences are covered along with the safety considerations. A glossary of cathodic protection terms is also included. Sections 1200-1600
discuss specific applications of cathodic protection systems.
The best cathodic protection system in the world is of no value if not properly
checked and maintained. See Section 1800 on maintenance for details.
Contents

Page

1110 Mechanism of Corrosion

1100-3

1111 Electrochemical Concept of Corrosion


1112 Fundamental Corrosion Reactions
1113 Corrosion Cells
1114 Galvanic Corrosion
1120 Mechanism of Cathodic Protection

1100-7

1121 Corrosion Cells and Cathodic Protection


1122 Basic Electrical Concept
1130 Types of Cathodic Protection Systems

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1131 Sacrificial Anodes


1132 Impressed Current System
1140 General Considerations

1100-12

1141 Polarization and Current Required for Cathodic Protection


1142 Metal Surface Area
1143 Effect of pH on Current Requirement
1144 Effect of Temperature
1145 Effect of Oxygen
1146 Effect of Relative Movement Between the Structure and Electrolyte
1147 Effect of Soil Salinity
1148 Effect of Time on Polarized Potential
1150 Criteria of Cathodic Protection

1100-14

1151 Potential Criterion


1152 Polarization Shift Criterion
1160 Secondary Effects of Cathodic Protection

1100-17

1161 Change in pH
1162 Calcareous Coating
1163 Electro-osmosis
1170 Cathodic Interference

1100-18

1171 Direct Current (DC) Interference


1172 Mitigation of DC Interference
1173 Alternating Current (AC) Interference
1174 Mitigation of AC Interference
1175 Communication Interference

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1180 Safety Considerations

1100-23

1190 Glossary

1100-24

1191 References

1100-28

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1100 Fundamentals of Cathodic Protection

1110 Mechanism of Corrosion


For a detailed discussion of corrosion mechanisms refer to Section 100 of this
manual.

1111 Electrochemical Concept of Corrosion


Corrosion of metal or alloy in an electrolyte (e.g., in contact with moist soil or
water) is basically an electrochemical reaction. The corrosion reaction usually
involves anodic areas (anodes) at which oxidation (corrosion) takes place, and
cathodic areas (cathodes) at which a reducing reaction (usually not affecting the
metal) occurs. Electric current flows from the anode to the cathode through the electrolyte and from the cathode to the anode through the metal. An area is anodic or
cathodic as determined by the tendency of the metal in that area to go into solution.

Electromotive Force Series


The initial tendency of a metal immersed in an electrolyte is to go into solution
(corrode). This tendency can be measured by the potential of the corroding metal
with respect to a reference electrode in the electrolyte. The metals position in the
electromotive force series is dependent on the concentration of the ions of the metal
in the solution, and the composition and temperature of the electrolyte. To compare
the characteristic potential of one metal with another, it is necessary to select a standard concentration and a standard reference electrode. When potentials are
measured under specific standard conditions, the different elements can be arranged
in a series in order of decreasing potentials. This forms the Electromotive Force
Series (shown in Figure 1100-1).
Figure 1100-1 illustrates that any metal having a high negative potential, when
placed in a solution containing ions of a metal of more positive potential, will tend
to go into solution and displace the ions of the more positive potential metal (for
example, zinc would displace and protect iron.

1112 Fundamental Corrosion Reactions


An understanding of the basic principles of cathodic protection requires some
knowledge of elementary corrosion reactions. Since this manual is primarily
concerned with the corrosion of iron in contact with moist soil or water, the fundamental corrosion reaction of iron in water solutions will be considered in detail (see
Figure 1100-2). Also refer to Section 100.

Corrosion of Iron
When iron is in contact with water solution containing (H+) and (OH-) ions, the iron
will tend to go into solution at anodic areas. At the anode, iron atoms lose electrons
and become positively charged iron ions which may combine with negatively
charged (OH-) ions in the solution to form, usually, ferrous hydroxide Fe(OH)2.
Ferrous hydroxide may react further to form ferric hydroxide Fe(OH)3, which is
familiar rust. The electrons migrate through the metal to the cathode.

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Fig. 1100-1 Electromotive Force Series


Metal (Ion) or Reference Electrode
Magnesium (Mg

++)

Potential
-2.34

Aluminum (Al+++)

-1.67

++)

Zinc (Zn

-0.76

Chromium (Cr+++)

-0.71

++)

-0.44

Iron (Fe

Cadmium (Cd++)

-0.40

++)

Nickel (Ni

-0.25

Tin (Sn++)

-0.14

++

Lead (Pb )

-0.13

Hydrogen (H++)

0.00

Saturated Calomel Half Cell

0.242

Silver Chloride Half Cell

0.288

Saturated Copper Sulfate Half Cell

0.315

Copper (Cu++)

0.34

Silver (Ag )

0.80

Platinum (Pt++)

1.20

Gold (Au
Note:

+++

1.42

The potentials vary with both concentration and temperature; in other concentration, these potentials
may deviate considerably from those shown. The standard electrode potential is not always a reliable
guide to the galvanic relationship of pairs of different metals. The above standard half cell potentials
are relative to a hydrogen electrode at 25C.

Fig. 1100-2 General Corrosion Mechanism

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1100 Fundamentals of Cathodic Protection

At the cathode, negatively charged electrons combine with positively charged


hydrogen ions from the solution to form hydrogen atoms.

Rate of Corrosion
The hydrogen atoms at the cathode tend to form a film on the surface of the cathode.
This film reduces the flow of the corrosion current and inhibits further corrosion.
This hydrogen is the basis of the polarization film commonly referred to in corrosion work. Therefore, the rate of corrosion will be governed by the rate of removal
of the hydrogen film. The hydrogen film can be removed by either of the following
reactions:
2H H2 (gas)
2H + 1/2 O2 H2O
The removal of the hydrogen as a gas requires that additional energy in the form of
an electrical potential be applied to the system to cause the hydrogen atoms to
combine to form gas molecules. This additional potential is called the hydrogen
over-voltage. Usually, this reaction does not take place in neutral solutions where
there is no externally applied voltage. However, there is sufficient energy available
in acidic solutions. For this reason, hydrogen gas normally is released when iron is
immersed in an acid solution.
In most neutral solutions, the second of the above reactions will control the rate of
corrosion of iron. Thus, in neutral solutions, the rate of corrosion is determined by
the availability of dissolved oxygen.

1113 Corrosion Cells


Galvanic Cell
When two metals having different solution potentials are immersed in an electrolyte, an electrical potential will exist between them. This constitutes a galvanic cell.
If the two metals are electrically connected, current will flow in the metallic circuit
from the more cathodic (electropositive) to the more anodic (electronegative). The
direction of current flow in the electrolyte will be from the anode to the cathode and
corrosion will occur at the anode.
An example of a galvanic cell is the common dry-cell battery, illustrated in
Figure 1100-3. In this cell, the carbon is the cathode (positive), the zinc is the
anode (negative) and the potential produced is about 1.5 volts. When the two terminals are connected, current flows in the external metallic circuit from the positive
terminal to the negative terminal. Within this cell current flow is from the zinc
anode to the carbon cathode and corrosion occurs at the zinc anode.

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Fig. 1100-3 Dry Cell Battery (Galvanic Cell)

Direction of Current Flow


Note that the direction of current flow is opposite to the direction of electron
flow. Current flows from positive to negative in metallic conductors and enters an
electrolyte at the anode and leaves an electrolyte at the cathode.

Electrolytic Cell
An electrolytic cell is a type of corrosion cell consisting of two electrodes
immersed in an electrolyte with an external electromotive force applied between
them. The external potential will cause current to flow into the electrolyte from the
electrode (anode) connected to the positive terminal of the external source of power
and back to the power source through the electrode (cathode) connected to the negative terminal. The anode is made more positive with respect to the cathode by the
externally applied current.
This reversal of the polarity of the external terminals of an electrolytic cell, as
compared with a galvanic cell, is sometimes a source of confusion. To avoid confusion, remember that in any electrochemical cell, current always enters the electrolyte at the anode and leaves the electrolyte at the cathode.

1114 Galvanic Corrosion


When different metals are in direct contact and surrounded by an electrolyte (e.g.,
moist soil and water, etc.) galvanic corrosion can occur. For further details refer to
Section 100 of this manual.

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Electrochemical Equivalent
The rate of corrosion at the anode of any corrosion cell is a function of current flow
and the electrochemical equivalent of the anode material. The electrochemical
equivalent of an element may be defined as the weight of an element dissolved at
the anode or deposited at the cathode of an electrochemical cell by the passage of
unit quantity of electricity in a given time. In cathodic protection work, it is convenient to express this in pounds per ampere-year. The electrochemical equivalent of
iron for the normal corrosion reaction is 20 lb/amp-yr. For every ampere of current
discharged from an iron or steel structure in an electrolyte, 20 pounds of metal will
go into solution per year.

1120 Mechanism of Cathodic Protection


1121 Corrosion Cells and Cathodic Protection
In all corrosion cells, corrosion occurs only at the anode. While various reactions
may occur at the cathode, the metal does not go into solution and is actually
protected from corrosion. If an entire structure buried in soil or immersed in water is
made the cathode of an electrochemical cell so that the entire surface picks up
current from the electrolyte, the structure will not corrode. Under these conditions,
the structure is said to be cathodically protected.
The cell which has the protected structure as the cathode may be either galvanic or
electrolytic. If it is galvanic, the current enters the electrolyte from galvanic anodes
more electronegative than the protected structure. If it is electrolytic, the anode is
electrically connected to the positive terminal of an external source of power. In any
cathodic protection system, the structure to be protected is made more negative with
respect to the surrounding medium so current from the electrolyte flows to the structure. This current is conducted through an external circuit to an anode system where
it enters the electrolyte.
On the surface of any structure corroding in an electrolyte, there will be cells
consisting of both anodic areas and cathodic areas. Current is discharged from the
metal surface to the electrolyte at the anodic areas and is returned to the metal structure in the cathodic areas. Qualitatively, when an external current is impressed on
the structure, the current from the external anode will tend to neutralize the current
leaving the structure at the anodic areas. If sufficient current is forced into the structure to completely neutralize the current leaving the surface at all anodic areas, the
structure will be cathodically protected and corrosion will cease.

1122 Basic Electrical Concept


The fundamental criterion for adequate cathodic protection is: Cathodic protection
is adequate when the cathode has been polarized to the open-circuit potential
of the anode.
To understand the mechanisms of cathodic protection, refer to Figures 1100-4 and
1100-5. Figure 1100-4 shows an anode and a cathode immersed in a solution and

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connected such that the potentials and currents involved in the corrosion reaction
can be measured. A reference electrode is used to measure open-circuit anode
potential Eao and then the open-circuit cathode potential Eco with both switches
(S1 and S2) open. In this situation no corrosion current flows in the circuit. The open
circuit potentials are shown in Figure 1100-5.
Fig. 1100-4 Electrical Circuit

Fig. 1100-5 Cathodic Protection of Elementary Corrosion Cell

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1100 Fundamentals of Cathodic Protection

When switch S1 is closed corrosion current Ia flows in the circuit. The magnitude of
this current can be varied with the adjustable external resistor R1. The anode potential Ea and the cathode potential Ec can be varied by adjusting the flow of corrosion
current Ia. Polarization gradually occurs on the electrodes (anode and cathode). This
polarization causes the potentials Ea and Ec to vary, altering the magnitude of corrosion current Ia for a fixed value of external resistance R1. The polarization voltage
always opposes the current flow.
When the electrodes (anode and cathode) are fully polarized, the external resistor R1
is reduced to zero. The magnitude of corrosion current Ia measured is the steady
state value. This occurs when the sum of the polarization potential drops at the
anode and the cathode is equal to the open circuit potential difference between the
anode and cathode (shown at point B in Figure 1100-5).
Ea + (-Ec) = Eao - Eco
(Eq. 1100-1)

The potential of the freely corroding system, Eb, then corresponds to equal polarized potentials of anode and cathode (including the voltage drops due to the flow of
current through the electrical resistance between electrodes and electrolyte as well
as potentials due to electrochemical reactions at the electrodes). In this case, the
cathode current Ic and anode current Ia are equal.
If switch S2 is closed, protective current Ip is applied to the system through the
cathodic protection anode. As the Ip current is increased, the corrosion current Ia
will decrease and the cathodic current Ic will increase. The cathodic current
Ic = Ia + Ip.
When complete protection is achieved, Ia = 0 and Ic = Ip. This is realized when
Ec = Eao.
In the case of large structures, complete protection is obtained when the entire
surface is polarized to the open-circuit potential of the most anodic area of the
structure.

1130 Types of Cathodic Protection Systems


Cathodic protection current can be obtained by two fundamental methods:

Sacrificial (Galvanic) Anodes


Impressed Current Systems

1131 Sacrificial Anodes


Cathodic protection with sacrificial anodes makes use of the basic electrochemical
nature of metals and alloys. Figure 1100-6 shows the galvanic series for some materials. Aluminum, zinc, and magnesium are more electrochemically active (i.e., more
electronegative) than steel and provide cathodic protection current when connected
to steel and placed in an electrolyte. The most widely used sacrificial anode

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materials are magnesium, zinc, and aluminum alloys. Cathodic protection using a
sacrificial anode is represented schematically in Figure 1100-7.
Fig. 1100-6 Galvanic Series for Materials in a Typical Neutral Soil
Potential, volts vs Copper/Copper Sulfate
Electrode

Material
Mg-1.4 Mn

-1.75

91 Mg-6 Al-3 Zn

-1.55

Zinc

-1.1

95 Al-5 Zn

-1.05

Aluminum

-0.8

Steel (Clean)

-0.7

Steel (Rusted)

-0.3

Gray Cast Iron

-0.5

Lead

-0.5

High Silicon Cast Iron

-0.2

Copper, Brass, Bronze

-0.2

Mill scale on steel

-0.2

Fig. 1100-7 Cathodic Protection Using a Sacrificial (Galvanic) Anode

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1100 Fundamentals of Cathodic Protection

1132 Impressed Current System


In contrast to sacrificial anode systems, an impressed current system uses an
external source of direct current to provide the cathodic protection current as shown
in Figure 1100-8. Rectifiers convert alternating current to direct current and are the
dc source most commonly used. For more information on rectifiers refer to
Section 1200.
Fig. 1100-8 Cathodic Protection Using an Impressed Current System

Power sources for impressed current cathodic protection can be:

Rectifiers
Batteries
Thermoelectric generators
Wind-driven generators
Engine-driven generators
Turbine-driven generators
Solar cells

Impressed current systems normally use anode materials which have low consumption rates (i.e., do not go into solution quickly). Some of these anode materials are
listed in Figure 1100-9. Materials having relatively high consumption rates (such as
aluminum, iron, and steel) are used under some circumstances.
The anodic reactions that occur at impressed current anodes involve both metal
dissolution and gas evolution. Typically, chlorine evolution predominates in saline
environments and oxygen evolution predominates in neutral soil and fresh water
environments.

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Fig. 1100-9 Impressed Current Cathodic Protection Anode Materials


Graphite or Carbon
High Silicon Cast Iron
High Silicon Chromium-Bearing Cast Iron
Platinum-Coated Metals
Lead-Silver
Magnetite (Fe3O4)
Ceramic-Coated Material
Conductive Polymer
Mixed Metal Oxide (Tubular) or (Mesh Woven) Coated Titanium

1140 General Considerations


1141 Polarization and Current Required for Cathodic Protection
Factors affecting polarization behavior and hence the current required for cathodic
protection are:

Metal surface area


pH of environment
Temperature
Oxygen
Relative motion at metal/environmental interface
Soil salinity
Effect of time on the polarized potential
Lack of dissolved solids in water

1142 Metal Surface Area


The current required for cathodic protection is directly proportional to the bare
metal surface area of the structure to be protected. For example, a coated pipeline
requires less cathodic protection current than a bare pipeline under similar environmental conditions. The effectiveness of the coating, therefore, is an important
parameter in cathodic protection. Coating disbondment, damage, and holidays
(imperfections or bare spots) should be avoided in order to minimize cathodic
protection current requirements. The effect of coating is discussed in Section 1200.
Under some conditions, it is necessary to estimate the current density required for
adequate protection. For bare steel in various media, use Figure 1100-10 as a guideline. It should be emphasized, however, that the values shown in Figure 1100-10 are
only approximations and, when possible, should be confirmed by field tests.

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1100 Fundamentals of Cathodic Protection

Fig. 1100-10 Approximate Cathodic Protection Current Requirements for Bare Steel
Electrolyte

Current Density

Remarks

500 A/ft2

Hot sulfuric acid

50

Sea Water (flowing)

25100 mA/ft2

510 ft/sec

Sea Water (flowing)

15

25 mA/ft2

35 ft/sec

Sea Water

515 mA/ft2

Sea Water

5 mA/ft2

Fresh Water (hot)

1020 mA/ft2

Fresh Water (hot)

5 mA/ft2

Fresh Water

25 mA/ft2

Initial requirement
Polarized (calcareous coating)
Well aerated
Deaerated
Well aerated

Soil

12 mA/ft

Soil

0.11 mA/ft2

1000 ohm-cm resistivity


10,000 ohm-cm resistivity

1143 Effect of pH on Current Requirement


The current required for cathodic protection of metals in acid environments is
generally greater than that required in basic and neutral environments. Increasing
acidity means increasing concentration of reducible hydrogen ions (H+).
An electrolyte (soil or water) is rarely neutral (i.e., 7 pH) due to the presence
of various ionic species in the electrolyte caused by the hydrolysis of salts
(e.g., sodium chloride, sodium carbonate, and ammonium sulfate). Depending on
the nature of salt, the pH can be shifted in either the acidic or basic direction.

1144 Effect of Temperature


Increased temperature has a depolarizing effect because it increases the rate of diffusion of oxygen to the cathodic areas. Since the rate of the reduction reaction (reduction of H+ to H) is increased, it decreases the level of polarization and increases the
cathodic protection requirement.

1145 Effect of Oxygen


Oxygen participates in the cathodic reduction reaction as shown:
O2 + 4H 2H2O
(Eq. 1100-2)

This reaction reduces polarization, increasing the current requirement. For this
reason, structures in well-aerated soils such as sand and gravel require greater
cathodic protection current than structures surrounded by deaerated soils such as
clay and muck.

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1146 Effect of Relative Movement Between the Structure and Electrolyte


An increase in the relative motion between the structure and the electrolyte results
in an increase in cathodic protection current requirements. This is due primarily to
the increased availability of oxygen ions at the structure surface.
Offshore structures in areas of high ocean currents, structures such as ship propellers, docks exposed to river flow or tides, and internal surfaces of heat exchanger
heads are good examples of this effect.
Current requirements are not a linear function of fluid velocity. The current requirements are lower for laminar fluid flow and higher for turbulent fluid flow. For
example, a ship under way requires a larger cathodic protection current than a ship
at rest. The stern area of a ship requires more current than the bow.

1147 Effect of Soil Salinity


In sea water and brines, the principal anodic reaction at impressed current anodes is
the oxidation of chloride ions (Cl-) to chlorine gas as shown below:
Cl- Cl + eCl + Cl Cl2
(Eq. 1100-3)

The above reaction does not occur at structure anodic areas or on the surface of
sacrificial anodes. In most sea water environments the chlorine gas easily escapes
and therefore does not cause significant anodic polarization. On the other hand, in
saline soils, anodic polarization occurs unless the produced gas is allowed to escape
through vents or carbonaceous backfills around the anode. As a result of the polarization, the voltage increases to maintain the same current.
Salt also reduces the electrical resistivity of soil, which increases the current
required to protect the structure.

1148 Effect of Time on Polarized Potential


The length of time that cathodic protection is applied affects the cathodic polarization of the structure. Polarization increases with time. This occurs in neutral and
alkaline environments because of the increasing concentration of OH- ions from the
cathodic reactions and the formation of calcareous deposits.

1150 Criteria of Cathodic Protection


The information in this section is based on the NACE publication Corrosion
Mitigation by Cathodic Protection.

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1100 Fundamentals of Cathodic Protection

There are several criteria for determining if a structure has adequate cathodic
protection. Once a testing method is adopted, it should continue to be used. The
following methods are discussed:

Potential Criterion
Polarization Shift Criterion

1151 Potential Criterion


The most common criterion used for determining the adequacy of cathodic protection is the potential of a structure to a reference electrode in the electrolyte
surrounding the structure. This potential is commonly called the structure-to-soil
(or structure-to-water) potential.
Current flow from the anode to the structure makes the structure potential more
negative with respect to the reference electrode. If all parts of the structure meet the
criterion, then the structure is protected. The potential criterion is a function of the
type of metal and the temperature.
Figure 1100-11 shows the potential criteria for cathodic protection of some common
metals and alloys at 77F (25C).
Fig. 1100-11 Potential Criterion
Metal/Alloy 77F (25C)

Potential
Criterion mV vs Cu/CuSO4

Iron, Steel, Stainless Steel


Aerobic Conditions
Anaerobic Conditions

-850
-950

Lead

-700

Copper

-500

Aluminum

-950

Potential criteria are less valid as temperature increases and must be adjusted more
electronegatively to compensate. More electronegative potentials are also required if
anaerobic bacteria activity exists.
In a structure cathodically protected by an impressed current system, the voltage
drop can be minimized by turning off the power supply and immediately taking
steel-to-soil potential measurements. The surface potential does not change immediately when the power source is removed. Hence, an instantaneous off measurement is a true indication of steel-to-soil potential. The reason for reading potential
instantaneously is that the structure begins to depolarize with time. This technique
has the added advantage that the metallic path voltage drop in the external circuit is
also eliminated. On structures having multiple current sources influencing the
potential reading it may be difficult to interrupt all the sources simultaneously.
(Refer to Section 1700 for more information on Instant-off testing.)

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When multiple current sources cannot be interrupted simultaneously, sound engineering practice should be used to assess measurement errors from voltage drops
(other than those across the structure to electrolyte boundary). Sound engineering
practice includes:

measuring or calculating the voltage drop(s),

reviewing the historical performance of the cathodic protection system,

evaluating the physical and electrical characteristics of the pipe and its
environment,

and determining whether or not there is physical evidence of corrosion activity.

1152 Polarization Shift Criterion


While structure-to-soil readings are the most common, the 100 mV polarization
shift criterion is sometimes used for steel structures.
A minimum of 100 mV of cathodic polarization between the structure surface and a
stable electrode contacting the electrolyte is considered sufficient to protect a
metallic structure from corrosion. In some situations, such as the presence of
sulfides, bacteria, elevated temperatures, acid environments, and dissimilar metals, a
100 mv polarization shift may not be sufficient to protect the metallic structure from
corrosion damage.
Note: When this criterion is applied, it is assumed that the corrosion cells on the
structure are operating under cathodic control.

Polarization Shift Measurement Technique


There are two methods to apply this criterion:
1.

Raise the polarized potential at least 100 mV over the base (static) potential.
Static potentials are pipe to soil potentials measured before the energization of
the cathodic protection system. If the polarized potentials, measured at the same
locations as the recorded static potentials, are greater than a 100 mV electronegative shift, this criterion has been satisfied. Since polarization is a function of
time, on bare structures it is recommended that the cathodic protection system
be energized for a period of time before conducting the polarized potential
survey.
It is also necessary that all potentials measured after energization be free of
ohmic voltage drop (by momentarily disconnecting the power source and
taking potential measurement) so that a valid comparison to the base corrosion
potentials can be made. (See previous discussion on Potential Criterion.) If
baseline corrosion potential data were not recorded prior to energization, the
cathodic protection system can be turned off to allow the structure to depolarize to obtain the baseline data. The disadvantage of this is that the structure
could remain unprotected for an extended period of time.

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2.

1100 Fundamentals of Cathodic Protection

Prove that a minimum polarization decay of 100 mV exists on the structure


being protected. This method requires that the cathodic protection systems be
turned off, the instant off polarized reading is recorded, and the polarization
decay is monitored. If more than 100 mV of polarization decay is noted
between the instant off polarized and the base (static) potential reading, the
polarization shift criterion is satisfied. The advantages of this method are that
the structure does not have to be completely depolarized, the structure will not
be left unprotected for an extended period of time, and it may not be necessary
to turn off all of the cathodic protection systems that are affecting the area
being tested.

1160 Secondary Effects of Cathodic Protection


1161 Change in pH
Since a structure under cathodic protection becomes the cathode of an electrochemical cell, hydrogen will be deposited over the entire surface of the metal. The
hydrogen is produced by reduction of hydrogen ions in the electrolyte at the
cathode. As a result of the removal of hydrogen ions from the electrolyte, the pH of
the solution adjacent to the structure will rise because of the accumulation of an
excess of hydroxyl ions in the vicinity of the cathode. Under most conditions, this
will result in a gradual increase (in the negative direction) of the potential of the
metal with respect to the solution. In the case of steel, this has a beneficial effect
since it will usually permit a reduction in the total current required to provide
adequate cathodic protection. In the case of other metals, however, this increase in
pH may not be advantageous. Amphoteric metals such as lead, tin, aluminum, and
zinc are subject to corrosion in alkaline solutions and may be damaged by the alkaline environment created by an excessive level of cathodic protection. It is therefore
essential that when cathodic protection is applied to these metals, considerable care
be used to ensure they are not over-protected to the extent that cathodic damage
may occur.

1162 Calcareous Coating


In the case of cathodic protection of steel in sea water, the creation of the alkaline
environment has an especially beneficial effect. When the pH of an electrolyte such
as sea water containing calcium and magnesium salts is increased, there is a gradual
precipitation of these salts. Therefore, when the pH of sea water adjacent to a metal
surface increases as a result of applying cathodic protection, a calcareous coating
consisting of calcium and magnesium hydroxides and carbonates will be precipitated on the surface of the metal.
The composition of this coating will depend upon the composition and temperature
of the sea water, and the current density on the surface of the steel. More dense coatings are formed initially at relatively high current densities. When such coatings
have been formed, the current requirements to maintain adequate cathodic

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protection on the surface of the metal are considerably decreased. See Section 1400
for additional information.

1163 Electro-osmosis
Electro-osmosis is frequently associated with cathodic protection. This effect causes
a conductive solution to flow through a porous membrane or a capillary opening
filled with the solution when an electric current passes through the membrane or
capillary opening. The direction of flow is toward the cathode.
Electro-osmosis may occur at anodes in certain types of clay soils (and at cathodes
with permeable coatings). Electro-osmosis is undesirable because it drives moisture
away from the anode. In some cases, the soil around the anode may be dried to the
point that its conductivity is seriously reduced. This results in an excessively high
anode resistance and a reduction in the flow of protective current. At the cathode,
the reverse effect occurs; moisture tends to flow toward the cathodically protected
surface. If the surface is covered by a permeable paint or coating, the penetration of
moisture will be accelerated by electro-osmosis; the bond between the coating and
the surface may be loosened, and the coating may be damaged.

1170 Cathodic Interference


The information in this section is based on the NACE publication Corrosion
Mitigation by Cathodic Protection.
A metallic structure in contact with an electrolyte may be subjected to stray current
corrosion, sometimes referred to as electrical interference. A stray current is considered to be any current flowing in a path other than the intended path. Metallic materials have electrical resistivities that are many orders of magnitude smaller than the
resistivity of Earth. Consequently, they provide low resistance current paths. Stray
current enters the metallic structure from the Earth and flows along the structure
where it either discharges to Earth or transfers to another metallic structure. Corrosion occurs where stray currents discharge to the electrolyte.
Typical sources of stray direct current include:

Cathodic protection system


High voltage dc transmission lines
Electrified traction systems
Electric welding equipment

Stray currents can cause the following effects:

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Corrosion may be observed at locations where stray currents leave the structure

Structures may be a shock hazard, depending on the magnitude of the voltage


associated with the stray current

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Cathodic protection system interference due to stray currents are of two types:

Anode field
Cathode field

See Section 1700 for further information on cathodic protection interference.

1171 Direct Current (DC) Interference


Anode Field Interference
Anode field electrical interference occurs when a foreign metallic structure is close
to cathodic protection anodes protecting a Company structure or vice versa. Current
flows from the anodes to the foreign structure, and then discharges at some distance.
Damage to the foreign metallic structure can occur only at the discharge sites. Pipeline coatings are often damaged by high cathodic current density at the pick-up site.
Bare pipes receive some cathodic protection by cathodic polarization at the current
pick-up area.

Cathode Field Interference


A foreign metallic structure that crosses a cathodically protected structure picks up
stray current at a point remote from the crossing. The current then flows to the
crossing, into the Earth, and back onto the cathodically protected structure. As a
result, the foreign structure may have a high corrosion rate, depending upon whether
or not it is cathodically protected and upon the location of the resulting potential
relative to the protection criterion.

High Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) Transmission Line Interference


HVDC transmission is becoming more common where long distance power transmission is involved. The power line is designed with a single positive and negative
circuit (called bipolar operation) with a large ground electrode at each terminus.
During a fault either on the positive or the negative circuit, current in the order of
thousands of amperes is transmitted via the Earth through the electrodes. Therefore,
a structure subjected to stray current from an HVDC source can exhibit either a
positive or a negative potential shift at the same location depending on the direction
of current flow between the HVDC ground electrodes.
The deleterious effects on underground structures can be particularly severe with
HVDC stray current because of the large currents involved.

Traction System Interference


Electrified traction systems such as subways, street cars, electrified railways, and
electrified ore cars in mines produce dynamic electrical interference because the
magnitude of stray currents vary with time. Also, the load is usually moving and
changing its location. The transit vehicle acts as a moving dc stray current source.

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The stray current discharge area normally is in the vicinity of the transit system
substation. Where multiple substations operate, stray currents may transfer from one
substation to another.
On ductile and cast-iron piping, which is often electrically discontinuous, the stray
current can discharge around discontinuities (e.g., at each bell and spigot joint),
causing corrosion damage.

Welding Equipment
Electric welding equipment is another source of stray dc current. It is common practice to ground one welding electrode to a metallic structure at the construction site.
This superimposes dc stray current on the buried metallic structure (such as a pipeline or tank). Considerable corrosion is observed at discharge points of the buried
structure where the stray current leaves the structure.
Offshore platforms have reported corrosion damage caused by welding operations.
This damage occurs during the time the welding machines are mounted on a barge
or vessel with the machines negative ground attached to the vessel and the positive
electrode used for welding.

1172 Mitigation of DC Interference


There are several effective methods for mitigating the damaging effects of stray dc:

Remove the source (or diminish its current output)

Cathodic shielding

Galvanic anodes

Electrical bonding

Application of coatings to stray current pick-up areas on the foreign structure or coating the cause of the interference

Removal of Source
Although unacceptable in most cases, the most effective method of preventing stray
current interference is to remove the source.
Some possible solutions for interference source:

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Electrified transit system owners may be persuaded to operate the system in an


ungrounded mode

A pipeline cathodic protection rectifier may be reduced in output to minimize


stray current interference

HVDC systems can be operated in a bipolar mode, with a minimum of imbalance, or total time of monopolar operations can be limited

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Cathodic Shielding
Interference damage can be minimized by reducing stray current flow. The technique of cathodic shielding can be used to prevent much of the stray current from
entering the foreign structure. A bare metal shield is connected to the negative
terminal of the rectifier, providing a very low resistance shunt path for the stray
current. This method is effective for structures of amphoteric materials such as
aluminum, zinc and lead which can be damaged at both pick-up and discharge sites.
Amphoteric materials corrode at high rates in both basic and acidic environments.

Galvanic Anodes
Galvanic anode(s) can be installed at current discharge locations on the interferedwith structure (particularly at crossings with the interfering structure). These anodes
provide a lower-resistance path that is more negative than the structure. This
provides a path for the discharge of the stray current because of the relatively low
resistance of the anodes when compared to the structure.
Care must be taken in designing galvanic anode mitigation systems since the
cathodic protection current as well as the stray current must be taken into account
when calculating the galvanic anode life.

Electrical Bonding
An electrical conductor is installed between the interfered-with and interfering
structure at a mutual crossing to mitigate dc interference. See Section 1800 for more
information on bonding.
Forced drainage bonds are utilized for draining dc stray currents by inserting a dc
source in series with the bond. This is often used in electric traction systems for
mitigating dc interference.

Protective Coatings
The application of a protective coating to the stray current pick-up sites on the interfered-with or interfering structure will reduce the magnitude of stray current dramatically. This method is effective but expensive after the structure installation. Cost is
minimized if protective coatings are provided during the design stage.

1173 Alternating Current (AC) Interference


The concept of utility corridors and the difficulty of obtaining utility rights-of-ways
have brought many underground structures and pipelines into proximity with ac
power transmission and distribution systems.
AC stray currents are not known to cause corrosion problems, but may create an
electrical shock hazard to pipeline personnel.
There are three basic methods by which ac currents and voltages appear on metallic
structures near ac power lines:

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Electrostatic induction
Electromagnetic induction

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Resistive coupling

Electrostatic Induction
A structure close to an ac power line acts as one side of a capacitor with respect to
ground. This situation often occurs with pipelines supported on skids.

Electromagnetic Induction
A structure close to an ac power line acts as single-turn secondary of an air-core
transformer in which the overhead power line is the primary. Structures both above
and below ground can be affected. Heavily loaded single phase ac distribution
power lines produce significant ac stray currents.
Interference currents of an ac origin can be identified easily by measuring the structure ac voltage-to-ground potential. The reference electrode used for cathodic
protection measurements can be utilized as the ground contact.

Resistance Coupling
During power line faults to ground, large ac currents are transmitted to Earth and
nearby underground structures. These currents have large magnitudes (in the range
of several thousand amperes) that can cause substantial physical damage to the
structure coating. In extreme cases where the current density is high, steel piping
has been known to melt.

1174 Mitigation of AC Interference


Induced voltage caused by ac interference can be mitigated by use of distributed
sacrificial anodes on the structure that provide:

Cathodic protection current


Lower resistance than the structure with respect to Earth

Even with distributed anodes, hazardous voltages still may exist at the separation
points and require more extensive sacrificial anode installations to reduce the ac
voltage to 15 volts or less.
Corrosion personnel must be made aware of potential shock hazards on a structure
subjected to high voltages due to ac coupling. Other precautions that can be taken
include:

Incorporating nonmetallic dead-front test stations into the cathodic protection


system to prevent personnel shock hazards

Protecting cathodic protection rectifiers from overvoltages. Protective devices


include metal oxide varistors, polarization cells and zinc grounding cells

See Section 1200 and NACE International RP0177, Mitigation of Alternating


Current and Lightening Effects on Metallic Structures and Corrosion Control
Systems for a further discussion of ac interference mitigation methods.

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1175 Communication Interference


Occasionally, telephone interference is encountered with an impressed current
cathodic protection system. The output of a cathodic protection rectifier is not pure
direct current; it contains a substantial ac ripple superimposed on the direct current.
If the drainage cable or anode cable is parallel to and in close proximity with a telephone line for a considerable distance, the ac ripple in the current flowing in the
cathodic protection cable may induce a hum in the telephone system. This usually is
a problem only if the telephone line is a ground-return system and the cathodic
currents are relatively large. However if it can be avoided, neither cathodic protection anodes nor drainage cables should ever be installed parallel to and in the immediate vicinity of telephone lines.

1180 Safety Considerations


Hazards
The voltage existing on a structure cathodically protected by means of an impressed
current system may be sufficient to cause sparks capable of igniting flammable
vapors. Such a system can create a potentially dangerous spark under any of the
following conditions:

The anode cable, drainage cable, or a bond is severed while the dc power
source is operating, particularly if there is no low-resistance current path in
parallel with the severed cable

A line cathodically protected by such a system is cut or a flange (particularly


one not insulated) in such a line is opened

An insulated flange isolating a pipeline, tank, or other facility cathodically


protected by such a system is accidentally short circuited

When two cables carry current in parallel, significant sparks usually will not occur
when one of the cables is broken. Similarly, where two or more parallel pipelines
are bonded together in a cathodic protection system, the hazard in either opening the
line or short-circuiting insulating flanges is minimized.

Precautions
The following precautions should be observed when working with impressedcurrent cathodic protection systems where flammable vapors may exist:

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Any work involving electrical connections should be performed with the


cathodic protection power source turned off

The edges of insulated flange assemblies should be covered with electrical tape
to minimize accidental short-circuiting of the flange

Before a cathodically protected line is cut or a flange (not insulated) in the line
is opened, a bonding wire should be connected across the section of the line to
be opened, after the nearest cathodic protection power supply on each side of
the section to be opened is turned off

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Before an insulated flange isolating a line, tank or other facility cathodically


protected by means of an impressed current system is opened or short-circuited,
the cathodic protection power supply must be turned off. In the case of a pipeline, only the cathodic protection power supply nearest the flange need be
turned off

The dc potentials involved in cathodic protection systems usually are so low that no
electric shock hazard exists.
Shock hazard exists on structures subjected to ac interference. Shock hazards are
decreased by incorporating nonmetallic dead-front test stations with a cathodic
protection system. DC rectifiers of impressed current systems should be protected
from ac fault currents with devices such as capacitors and metal oxide varistors.
Contact a qualified electrical engineer for more information.

1190 Glossary
anode: 1: the electrode of an electrochemical cell at which oxidation occurs
(electrons flow away from the anode, conventional current toward the anode in the
normally metallic external circuit; the anode is usually the electrode where corrosion occurs and metal ions enter solution) 2: in cathodic protection, an electrode that
discharges current to the electrolyte, where it flows to the cathodically-protected
surface
anode bed: see ground bed
anode cable: in an impressed-current cathodic-protection system, the cable from the
positive terminal of the dc power source to the ground bed
anode field: the electric field in the electrolyte around an anode or ground bed
generated by the flow of current from the anode through the electrolyte
anode lead: the insulated wire or cable connected to an individual anode
attenuation: the decrease of current and voltage with distance from the drain point
on a cathodically-protected pipeline
backfill: low-resistivity material placed around an anode
bond: see continuity bond
casing: (pipelines) a larger pipe through which the pipeline passes, sometimes
installed at road and railroad crossings
casing: (wells) a tubular used in oil, gas, and water wells to isolate various downhole formations from the well bore
cable: a flexible, insulated electrical conductor (or group of conductors)
cathode: an electrode at which electrochemical reduction of its surface or some
component of the electrolyte occurs; in a cathodic protection system, the cathode is
the cathodically protected surface

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cathode field: the electric field in the electrolyte around a cathode or cathodically
protected structure generated by the flow of current through the electrolyte to the
cathode
cathodic disbondment: the coating disbondment caused by the products of a
cathodic reaction
cathodic polarization: the change of electrode potential in the electronegative
direction resulting from current transfer between the electrolyte and electrode
coating: a dielectric material applied to a structure to separate it from the
environment
coating disbondment: the loss of adhesion between a coating and the structure
surface
conductor: a material, bare or insulated, suitable for carrying an electric current
continuity bond: an intentional metallic connection that provides electrical
continuity
corrosion: the deterioration of a material, usually a metal, by reaction with its
environment
corrosion potential: the mixed potential of a freely corroding metal surface with
reference to an electrode in contact with the electrolyte
corrosion rate: the rate at which corrosion proceeds, expressed as either weight loss
or penetration, per unit time
criterion: standard for assessment of the effectiveness of a cathodic protection
system
current: in this manual current means conventional current, i.e., the reverse of electron flow. Electrons flow away from the anode, conventional current flows toward
the anode in the normally metallic external circuit. The anode is usually the electrode where corrosion occurs and metal ions enter solution.
current density: the current per unit area
current span: a length of pipe of uniform cross-section between two test leads
(usually 100 to 200 feet apart or more) used to determine current flow by measuring
voltage drop
deep ground bed (or deep-well ground bed): one or more anodes installed vertically at a depth of 50 ft or more below the Earths surface in a drilled hole, for the
purpose of supplying cathodic protection current
depolarization: reduction or elimination of polarization by physical means or by
change in environment
drain cable: the conductor, connected to a cathodically protected structure, through
which current flows from the structure to the negative terminal of a dc power
source, or to a galvanic anode

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drain point: the point on a cathodically protected structure where the drain cable is
connected
dual casing: two concentric casing strings
electrode: an electronic conductor used to establish electrical contact with an electrolyte part of a circuit
electro-osmosis: passage of a charged particle through a membrane under the influence of a voltage; soil and coatings may act as the membrane
electrolyte: a chemical substance or mixture containing ions that migrate in an electric field; in this manual, the soil or liquid, including the moisture and other chemical contained therein, adjacent to and in contact with a buried or submerged
metallic structure
foreign structure: any structure that is not intended as a part of the system to be
protected
galvanic anode: a metal which, because of its relative position in the galvanic
series, provides protection to metal or metals that are more noble in the series, when
coupled in an electrolyte
galvanic cell: a cell in which chemical change is the source of electric energy,
usually consisting of two dissimilar conductors in contact with each other and with
an electrolyte or two similar conductors in contact with each other and with dissimilar electrolytes
galvanic series: a list of metals and alloys arranged according to their relative
potentials in a given environment
ground bed: one or more anodes installed in the Earth or water to supply cathodic
protection current
half cell reference electrode: see reference electrode
holiday: a discontinuity in a coating
impressed current: direct current supplied by a cathodic protection system utilizing
an external power source
instant-off potential: a structure-to-electrolyte potential measured immediately
after the protective current is interrupted
interference: any electrochemical disturbance on a structure as a result of stray
current
interference bond: a metallic connection designed to control electrical current
interchange between metallic systems
IR drop: the voltage across a resistance, expressed in Ohms Law
line current: the direct current flowing on a pipeline
lead wire: an insulated metallic connecting wire

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local cell: a galvanic cell resulting from differences between adjacent areas on a
metal surface in an electrolyte; these differences may be physical or chemical, either
in the metal or its environment
mixed potential: a potential resulting from two or more electrochemical reactions
occurring simultaneously on one metal surface
open-circuit potential: the measured potential of an electrode from which no
current flows
oxidation: loss of electrons by a constituent of an electrochemical reaction
oxygen scavenger: a chemical used to react with or remove dissolved oxygen
pipe-to-electrolyte potential: the difference in potential between the pipe and electrolyte, measured with reference to an electrode in contact with the electrolyte; also
called pipe-to-soil potential, pipe-to-water potential
polarization: the deviation from the corrosion potential of an electrode resulting
from the transfer of current between the electrode and the electrolyte
polarization tests: the procedure of taking pipe-to-soil potentials at different time
intervals after cp has been applied to determine the effect of time on readings
obtained
protective current: dc current picked up by the protected structure from the
electrolyte
rectifier: a device for converting alternating current to direct current
reduction: gain of electrons by a constituent of an electrochemical reaction
reference electrode: a reversible electrode with a potential that may be considered
constant under similar conditions of measurement (examples: saturated coppercopper sulfate, saturated calomel, and silver-silver chloride)
remote cell: a reference electrode placed in an area over which the IR drop in a
pipe-to-soil reading is constant
remote earth (or remote soil): earth sufficiently removed from a cathodic protection system that the potential is not sufficiently affected by the operation of the
cathodic protection system
resistivity: the resistance measured between two parallel faces of a cube of the
substance under consideration (the usual unit is ohm-centimeters, the resistance, in
ohms, of a cube one centimeter on a side)
reworks: the work done to a well to restore production. May include pulling casing,
tubing rods, and pump
sacrificial anode: see galvanic anode
shallow ground bed (or surface ground bed): a ground bed installed at a depth of
less than 50 feet (usually less than 10 feet)

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shielding: preventing or diverting the flow of cathodic protection current


static potential: initial structure-to-soil potential before applying any cathodic
protection
shorted pipeline casing: a casing in direct metallic contact with the carrier pipe
stray current: current in paths other than the intended circuit
stray current corrosion: corrosion resulting from stray current transfer between a
structure and electrolyte; it occurs where current leaves the structure
structure-to-electrolyte potential: the difference in potential between a structure
and electrolyte, measured with reference to an electrode in contact with the electrolyte (also called structure-to-soil potential, structure-to-water potential)
test lead: a lead wire connected to a structure, to which a test instrument may be
connected
test station: the enclosure and support for a test lead or group of test leads, usually
including terminals connected to the test leads
voltage: an electromotive force or a difference in electrode potentials, expressed in
volts
voltage spiking: an operating cathodic protection device connected to a pipeline
will have inductive and capacitive electrical characteristics. Upon interruption, these
electrical characteristics will cause a momentary voltage surge (spike), which may
be incorrectly recorded as an off pipe-to-soil measurement. This effect lasts for
only a few milliseconds and is usually more pronounced near the connection of the
cathodic protection device to the pipeline
well completion: a practice in drilling operations concerned with how the well has
been completed for oil or gas production. Usually involves running and cementing
casing, perforating the casing, and running production tubing
wire: a slender rod or filament of drawn metal; smaller gage conductors (10 Awg or
smaller)

1191 References

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1.

Szeliga, M. J., Understanding Corrosion Maintenance Technology,


October 1988.

2.

Gartland, P.O., E. Bardal, R. E. Anderson, and R. Johnsen, Effects of Flow


on the Cathodic Protection of a Steel Cylinder in Seawater Materials
Performance, Vol. 40, No. 3, March 1984.

3.

Pipeline and Gas Journal Staff Corrosion Control Report February 1988.

4.

Osborn, O., C. F. Schrieber, W. B. Brooks, R. C. Jorgensen, and B. Douglas,


Cathodic Protection Handbook Hydrocarbon Processing, June 1957.

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5.

National Association of Corrosion Engineers Cathodic Protection (Theory


and Data Interpretation) 1986.

6.

NACE International RP-0169-92, Control of External Corrosion on Underground or Submerged Metallic Piping Systems. NACE International.

7.

Sudrabin, L. P. and F. W. Ringer, Some Observations on Cathodic Protection


Criteria Corrosion, Vol. 13, No. 5, May 1957.

8.

Speller, F. N., Corrosion-Causes and Prevention (Book). McGraw-Hill, Third


Edition, 1951.

9.

Uhlig, H. H., Corrosion Handbook John Wiley and Sons, 1948.

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