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The Response of Galvanic Protection Current to Environmental Changes

Steven Holmes

Department of Civil & Building Engineering, Loughborough University, Leicestershire, LE11 3TU, UK,

ABSTRACT An observed favourable feature of galvanic anodes used in concrete repair is the variation of their current output in response to changing environmental conditions, such as concrete moisture content, chloride content and temperature. This means that the anodes provide more protective current to the steel reinforcement when the environment is aggressive and less current when it is more benign, thus conserving sacrificial anode life. Over the last two years, the current outputs of several hybrid anode systems installed in lab samples and on a bridge in a concrete repair application have been monitored with respect to changes in temperature, moisture and chloride content (variable concrete resistivity). The aim was to investigate the relative effects of these parameters on the protective current output. The results confirmed that both the laboratory and site applied anode systems are responsive to changes in concrete resistivity brought about by variations in temperature, moisture and chloride, with the latter two having the greater effect. On site, this is a distinct advantage for both conservation of anode life and protection in aggressive conditions.

Keywords: Responsive behaviour; hybrid anode; variable resistivity.



Galvanic cathodic protection has recently received much attention as a method of protecting steel in concrete. When attached to the steel, these anodes effectively suppress the corrosion reaction at the surface, with anodic dissolution being shifted to the installed anode. Traditional galvanic anodes are used in topical applications following patch repairs, where they are attached to the steel and immersed in the repair mortar or concrete. The aim of these anodes is to counteract the incipient anode effect which can see reinforcement corrosion in areas adjacent to the patch due to the residual chloride contained within it and the relocation of the corrosion reaction [1]. Problems arise when the use of high quality, low conductivity mortars limits the current thrown by the anodes, or gradual loss of anode material over time results in loss of protective current and new corrosion. A hybrid anode system [2,3] has been introduced which combines elements of both chloride extraction/re-alkalisation and galvanic cathodic protection, in that, for a short period, a power

supply is used to drive a high current from the discrete sacrificial anode to re-passivate the steel and draw chloride to the anode. The same anode is then connected directly to the steel to provide maintenance free cathodic protection by means of a galvanic current. The impressed current (re-alkalisation) phase halts the corrosion at the steel surface by generating hydroxyl and neutralising the acid in the pit thus increasing the pH; whilst the galvanic phase sustains hydroxide production and maintains the high alkalinity (see Figure 1).

Figure 1. The two stages of the hybrid anode system. When applied to patch repairs, this system, instead of being immersed in the repair mortar is placed in adjacent un-repaired concrete to counteract the anodic behaviour of the steel, with the number of anodes being tailored depending on amount of steel and size of the patch. As well as patch and topical repairs, the hybrid system can be applied to whole structures (bridges, car-parks, piers and industrial structures) to repair and protect against rebar corrosion, using the same treatment methodology [4,5].


Responsive Behaviour

The current passed between an installed galvanic anode and the steel it is protecting very much depends on the resistivity of the concrete which separates them. The resistivity of the concrete can be influenced by the quality of the mix on casting (water to cement ratios, aeration, amount and size of aggregates, mixed in chlorides etc), features induced during service (cracking, and chloride diffusion during service) and environmental conditions (moisture content and temperature). Also, the distance between the anode and the steel will 2

determine the resistance to current flow due to the volume of concrete through which it must pass. Varying any of these conditions will have an effect on the resistance of the cell and in accordance with Ohms law the current passed will also change I = E/R Where I = Current (Amps); E = Potential (Volts); and R = Resistance (Ohms). This investigation has looked at the responsive behaviour of current output brought about by different temperature and moisture conditions as well as varying mixed-in chloride levels. Taking an electronic circuit approach, each of these factors can be seen as a variable resistor in an electrical circuit (see Figure 2), with the 3 variable resistances making up the total resistance of the concrete.

Figure 2. The resistance of concrete in a galvanic cell, represented by the variable resistances of the contributing concrete conditions. Resistivity has been used by several authors to evaluate the risk of steel reinforcement corrosion [6,7,8,9] with these authors proposing relationships between measured concrete resistivity and active corrosion, as well as the chloride concentration threshold for concrete of different resistivities. These studies have focussed on the influence of concrete resistivity on steel corrosion rates, with respect to humidity/moisture, concrete structure and chloride concentrations. None of these papers discuss responsive current behaviour when considering galvanic cathodic protection, where concrete resistivity has a huge part to play in the effectiveness and longevity of the system. The benefits of responsive current behaviour include:

1. Increased anode lifetime in less aggressive environments (i.e., dry, cold, low chloride), meaning replacement of sacrificial systems can be delayed due to reduced metal dissolution. 2. Increased protection in aggressive environments (i.e., hot, wet, high chloride), meaning that the protective current offered will increase where corrosion is more likely. The work presented charts the authors experience of responsive behaviour in the galvanic phase of the anode system over the last 2 years; taking results from both laboratory and site studies.

2.0 2.1

EXPERIMENTAL Whiteadder Bridge Application

773 days of current and temperature data has been recorded from a bridge over the Whiteadder River in Northumberland, UK. The bridge spans the river estuary and although it is fresh water, is affected by tidal fluctuations. The anodes were installed in the concrete cover in February 2007 during bridge maintenance and a variety of measurements have been taken over the subsequent 2 years. A data logger was used to collect galvanic current data at noon each day. This was calculated from the voltage drop measured across a 1 Ohm resistor. The temperature was measured using a T type thermocouple. Data was frequently downloaded from the logger using a GSM modem and software configuration. Galvanic current data was taken from 2 zones, each housing 25 anodes (5 rows of 5 anodes at 400 mm centres) connected together with a wire, which was riveted to the steel in a break-out zone. These zones were located on a west-facing pier section, as can we seen in Figure 3. Following installation a waterproof coating was applied to pier. The galvanic current data presented follows a one week impressed current phase whereby a high current density is driven from the anode to re-passivate the corroding steel (Figure 1). Current, charge and residual life data can be found in Table 2.

Upper Zone

Lower Zone

Figure 3. Plan of the west-facing pier section housing the two anode zones


Varying chloride blocks and environmental testing

In a separate lab-based study, concrete samples were prepared in late December 2007. These were made with an 8:1 (all-in 20 mm aggregate:opc) mix, at a water to cement (w/c) ratio of 0.6. The samples contained 0, 1, 2.5 or 5% chloride by weight of cement. NaCl (Sodium chloride) was used as the source of chloride and was hand-mixed into the water prior to its addition, ensuring complete dissolution. Mix details can be seen in Table 1.

Block Letter A B C D E F G H I

Cl % 0 0 1 1 2.5 2.5 2.5 5 5

New/old Cement Old Old Old New Old New Old New New

Table 1. Block concrete composition data. The concrete was cast in re-useable wooden moulds (dimensions 600 x 120 x 120 mm) with the 15 mm diameter mild steel reinforcing bar (rebar) being fed in from the centre at one end (Figure 4). The approximate surface area of the steel was 230 cm2. The samples were removed from the moulds between one and two days after casting and left to cure in the dry laboratory air (12-20C, ~50-70% Relative Humidity). After a period of six months had passed, a hole 30 mm diameter and ~90 mm deep was drilled into the block to house the anode which was 14.5 mm high and 17 mm in diameter (surface area 12.3 cm2). The steel had a surface area of 230 cm2. The anode was held in place with a lime mortar which was allowed to dry before treatment began. For 1 week a 12V power supply was used to deliver the impressed current phase of the treatment before the anode was connected to the steel galvanically by a rivet. Block F did not receive the impressed current treatment and the anode was connected to the steel galvanically throughout. Current readings were facilitated by recording the voltage drop across resistors of various sizes (depending on the chloride content of the block).

Figure 4. Test block schematic. Following the short term experiments detailed above, all of the blocks were placed outdoors throughout the winter/spring of 2008/2009. In May 2009, blocks B, E, D and H were placed indoors, leaving blocks A, C, F, G and I outdoors (i.e., one of each chloride concentration in either of the regimes). The blocks were thought to be fairly wet when this was done due to recent rainfall. Identical logger equipment was used to record the galvanic current by measuring the voltage drop across a resistor placed between the anode and steel on each block. The indoor and outdoor temperatures were also logged and rainfall/meteorological events noted so that the causes of major fluctuations could be identified. From these readings, the charge passed could be calculated and the residual life estimated (Table 2).


Short-term wetting experiment

Prior to the test, all nine blocks had been in laboratory air (~19C/~65% Relative humidity) for around 10 weeks, but were not thought to be excessively dry. A data-logger was used to record the voltage drop across a resistor connected between the anode and steel. The resistors varied between blocks due to the different amounts of current being passed. The temperature was also recorded using a thermocouple. 40 ml of tap water was poured into the anode hole of each of the blocks and the current response measured over a ten day period. Only blocks B, D, G and H were logged to see the

effect of chloride content on the response, although all nine blocks were watered in this manner.

3.0 3.1

RESULTS & DISCUSSION Whiteadder Bridge installation

Upper and lower zone current data along with temperature readings for a 733 day period can be seen in Figure 5.
18 16 14 45

Upper zone Lower zone Temp


10 8 6 4 2 0 0 100 200 300 400 500

25 20 15 10 5 0




Time (days) Figure 5. Current and temperature data for the Whiteadder river bridge, beginning in late March 2007.

Air temp ( C)

Current (mA)


River in flood causes high current to protect the steel

35 30

3.5 Upper Zone 3 Lower zone Temperature


25 2.5 Current (mA) 20 Temperature ( C)



1 10 0.5

0 28/05/2009 29/05/2009 30/05/2009 Date 31/05/2009 01/06/2009

5 02/06/2009

Figure 6. Current and temperature data from a 5 day period. Figure 5 clearly shows the fluctuation of temperature on a monthly/seasonal basis. The current response to the changes in temperature can also be seen, but is better highlighted in Figure 6. The effect of different moisture contents on galvanic current can also be seen clearly in Figure 5; the bottom row of anodes on the lower zone were frequently under water and upward diffusion of water from the river ensured that the lower zone concrete had a consistently higher moisture content (and therefore lower resistance to current flow) throughout the year. The decay in both the upper and lower zone currents in the first ~200 days can be explained by gradual drying after hydro-demolition and pressure washing during the repairs to the bridge deck. Figure 6 gives more detailed information about the effect of temperature on the resistance of the concrete. The secondary current peak seen on the lower zone, and less so on the upper zone is though to be a result of sunlight/shade effects due to the bridge geometry and the direction it faces. During the summer months the difference in current between the upper and lower zones is more pronounced, as the upper dries out more quickly due to the lesser influence of the river. This theory is backed up by the data from the winter months, which brings the current readings from the two zones much closer together, seemingly due to the upper zone becoming wetter.

On September 9th 2008, the river flooded. This can be seen by the large spike in protective galvanic current and the gradual drop as the flood subsided. The water rose high enough to significantly wet the concrete of the upper zone, reducing its resistance and increasing the current. It can be seen from Figure 7 that the lower zone recovered in a shorter period than the upper zone, probably due to the fact that the concrete held significant moisture prior to the flood. The upper zone concrete, as can be seen from the current prior to the flood, was drier than the lower at the time of the flood, so both the effect on its galvanic current and subsequent recovery after the flood subsided were more significant.
18 16 14 12 Current (mA) 10 10 8 6 4 -5 2 0 03/09/2008 13/09/2008 23/09/2008 Date 03/10/2008 -10 Upper zone Lower zone Temperature 5 20

15 Temperature ( C)

Figure 7. Current and temperature data taken from the upper and lower zones around the time of a flood. From the logged currents, the charge passed per anode was calculated for both the upper and lower zones. From this data, residual anode life was calculated. This data can be found in Table 2.


Calculation/Measurement Time Average Temperature Average current Average current per anode Average charge per anode Average charge per anode for 1 year Charge left per anode after initial treatment Calculated average anode life Steel surface area Current density applied to steel

Upper Zone

Lower Zone 773 12.1 0.62 2.71 0.03 0.11 1.17 7.71 1.06 6.97 362.3 361.1 340 50 2.05 1.92 0.30 1.42

Units days C mA mA kC kC kC years m2 mA/m2

Table 2. Relevant current and temperature data for the upper and lower zones Due to responsive behaviour, the residual life of the anodes in the lower zone is more than 6.5 times less than that of the upper as the charge delivered is representative of metal dissolution. This shows that in aggressive environments the anodes will pass more protective current to the steel at the cost of their effective life, whereas in less aggressive environments, metal dissolution is minimal and life conserved. The results take into account an efficiency and utilisation factor of 0.85.


Blocks with varying chloride content and environmental testing

The current and temperature from the indoor and outdoor blocks was logged for a 29 day period in May and June 2009. The anode current density was then calculated using the original anode surface area and was, as a result, a conservative estimate. The differences between the indoor and outdoor temperatures can be seen in Figure 8 and the current densities with respect to temperature over the four weeks can be seen in Figures 9 and 10.


45 40 35 Temperature (C) 30 25 20 15 10 5 0 22/05/2009 01/06/2009 Date 11/06/2009 21/06/2009 Indoor Outdoor

Figure 8. Temperatures indoors/outdoors.

400 350 Anode Current Density (mA/m2) 300 250 200 150 100 50 0 22/05/2009 01/06/2009 Date 11/06/2009 Block A Block F Block G Block I Block C Temperature 40 35 30 25 20 15 10 5 0 21/06/2009 Temperature (C)

Figure 9. Current density/temperature plot for the outdoor blocks.



60 Anode Current Density (mA/m2)

Block H Block D Block E Block B Temperature



50 20 40 0 30 -20 20 -40 Temperature (C)


0 22/05/2009 01/06/2009 Date 11/06/2009

-60 21/06/2009

Figure 10. Current density/temperature plot for the indoor blocks. It is clear from the results of the outdoor blocks in Figure 9 that the resistance of the concrete and therefore current delivered to the steel is heavily dependent on the amount of chloride in the concrete mix. The purely galvanic 2.5% chloride Block F had the lowest current followed by the blocks with 1, 2.5 and 5% chloride that had received the impressed current phase. It is also clear from Figure 9 that the amount of chloride in the concrete determined the degree to which the current was affected by temperature fluctuations. Block F showed variations of up to ~20 mA/m2 and Block I up to ~250 mA/m2. The moisture content of the blocks can be seen to have an effect between 6th and 9th June, where the current increases and then reaches a plateau despite a significant drop in temperature. The effect of moisture on concrete resistance is also highlighted in Figures 11 & 12. From Figure 9 it is also apparent that the current generally peaks 1-3 hours after the peak temperature has been recorded. This effect is due to the anode being mortared into concrete which takes time to heat up in contrast to the thermocouple which reads an air temperature. Interestingly the peak currents in the indoor blocks did not generally occur until 3-5 hours after the maximum temperature was reached. The blocks kept indoors showed somewhat anomalous results, with the currents measured for Block D being especially erratic. Blocks H and E produced similar current outputs throughout


the test period, despite having different chloride levels. The currents measured generally related well to the temperature indoors, although this would be expected without the influence of precipitation. What is not plainly evident from Figures 9 & 10 is the difference in magnitude of the current fluctuation, which is seemingly the result of increased moisture content in the outdoor blocks. Figures 11 & 12 represent two blocks with the same chloride content, one of which has been left outdoors. Assuming similar temperature trends (Figure 8), the very different current profile between 5th and 7th of June demonstrates the effect of rain and the resulting drop in concrete resistivity.

100 Anode Current Density (,A/m2)

Block E Block G





0 22/05/2009 01/06/2009 Date 11/06/2009 21/06/2009

Figure 11. Current of indoor/outdoor blocks, both containing 2.5% chloride by weight of cement.



Block B 20 Anode Current Density (mA/m2) Block A



0 22/05/2009 27/05/2009 01/06/2009 06/06/2009 Date 11/06/2009 16/06/2009 21/06/2009

Figure 12. Current of indoor/outdoor blocks, both containing 0% chloride by weight of cement.


Lab based moisture test

The current response to the water addition for blocks with different chloride levels can be seen in Figure 13.


1.8 1.6 1.4 1.2 Current (mA)



15 1 0.8 0.6 0.4 0.2 0 01/09/2008 03/09/2008 05/09/2008 07/09/2008 Date 09/09/2008 11/09/2008 0 Block B Block D Block G Block H Temperature 5 10

Figure 13. Current response to the addition of 40 ml tap water to the anode. All four blocks responded extremely quickly to the addition of the water, with the currents spiking immediately. The nature of the rise in current and the time taken to reach a peak after the addition varied considerably with the chloride contents of the blocks. In general it can be seen that irrespective of chloride levels the anode responds to the increased moisture in the concrete, producing more protective current as the environment becomes more aggressive. As the water diffuses through the concrete/drains through the bottom of the block, the current drops off and eventually reaches a relatively stable state which continues to respond to changes in temperature.

CONCLUSIONS The experiences gained over the last two years are summarised below: 1. The hybrid anodes installed on the Whiteadder Bridge remain active after more than 2 years, responding to changes in concrete resistivity brought about by temperature and moisture fluctuations as well as geometric effects.


Temperature ( C)

2. The differences in concrete resistivity between the upper and lower zones have resulted in a large difference in the charge passed. The result is that the anodes in the more aggressive lower zone have a predicted lifetime of 50 years and the upper zone 340 years, which highlights the ability of the anode to preserve its life in benign environments and offer extra current when the environment demands it. 3. Data from the indoor/outdoor samples highlights the responsive behaviour of the anodes to differing chloride levels in the concrete, with the anodes in the more aggressive environment (wet, high chloride, high temperature) delivering more current to the steel than the drier low chloride blocks. Increasing chloride also increased the degree to which the current was affected by temperature fluctuations 4. This study has shown that the varying influences of moisture, temperature and chloride content on the resistivity of concrete result in a dynamic current response which can be measured over the course of a few seconds or a few years.

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