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Cathodic protection

  Cathodic protection (CP) is a technique to control the corrosion of a metal surface by making that surface the cathode of an electrochemical cell.

It is a method used to protect metal structures from corrosion. Cathodic protection systems are most commonly used to protect steel, water/fuel pipelines and storage tanks; steel pier piles, ships, offshore oil platforms and onshore oil well casings.

A side effect of improperly performed cathodic protection may be production of molecular hydrogen, leading to its absorption in the protected metal and subsequent hydrogen embrittlement.

Cathodic protection is an effective method of preventing stress corrosion cracking.



The first use of CP was in 1824, when Sir Humphry Davy, of the British Navy, attached chunks of iron to the external, below water line, hull of a copper clad ship. Iron has a stronger tendency to corrode (rust) than copper and when connected to the hull, the corrosion rate of the copper was dramatically reduced.

Galvanic CP

Today, galvanic or sacrificial anodes are made in various shapes using alloys of zinc, magnesium and aluminium. The electrochemical potential, current capacity, and consumption rate of these alloys are superior for CP than iron.

Galvanic anodes are designed and selected to have a more "active" voltage (technically a more negative electrochemical potential) than the metal of the structure (typically steel). For effective CP, the potential of the steel surface is polarized (pushed) more negative until the surface has a uniform potential. At that stage, the driving force for the corrosion reaction is halted. The galvanic anode continues to corrode, consuming the anode material until eventually it must be replaced. The polarization is caused by the current flow from the anode to the cathode. The driving force for the CP current flow is the difference in electrochemical potential between the anode and the cathode.

Impressed Current CP

For larger structures, galvanic anodes cannot economically deliver enough current to provide complete protection. Impressed Current Cathodic Protection (ICCP) systems use anodes connected to a DC power source (a cathodic protection rectifier). Anodes for ICCP systems are tubular and solid rod shapes or continuous ribbons of various specialized materials. These include high silicon cast iron, graphite, mixed metal oxide, platinum and niobium coated wire and others.

  A typical ICCP system for a pipeline would include an AC powered rectifier with a maximum rated DC output of between 10 and 50 amperes and 50 volts. The positive DC output terminal is connected via cables to the array of anodes buried in the ground (the anode groundbed). For many applications the anodes are installed in a 60 m (200 foot) deep, 25 cm (10-inch) diameter vertical hole and backfilled with conductive coke (a material that improves the performance and life of the anodes). A cable rated for the expected current output connects the negative terminal of the rectifier to the pipeline. The operating output of the rectifier is adjusted to the optimum level by a CP expert after conducting various tests including measurements of electrochemical potential.

Telephone wiring uses a form of cathodic protection. A circuit consists of a pair of wires, with forty-eight volts across them when the line is idle. The more positive wire is grounded, so that the wires are at 0 V and -48 V with respect to earth ground. The 0 V wire is at the same potential as the surrounding earth, so it corrodes no faster or slower than if it were not connected electrically. The -48 V wire is cathodically protected. This means that in the event of minor damage to the insulation on a buried cable, both copper conductors will be unaffected, and unless the two wires short together, service will not be interrupted.

If instead the polarity were switched, so that the wires were at 0 V and +48 V with respect to the surrounding earth, then the 0 V wire would be unaffected as before, but the +48 V wire would quickly be destroyed if it came into contact with wet earth. The electrochemical action would plate metal off the +48 V wire, reducing its thickness to the point that it would eventually break, interrupting telephone service. This choice of polarity was not accidental; corrosion problems in some of the earliest telegraphy systems pointed the way.


Electrochemical potential is measured with reference electrodes. Copper-copper(II) sulfate electrodes are used for structures in contact with soil or fresh water. Silver chloride electrodes are used for seawater applications.

Galvanized Steel

Galvanizing (or galvanising, outside of the USA) generally refers to hot-dip galvanizing which is a way of coating steel with a layer of metallic zinc. Galvanized coatings are quite durable in most environments because they combine the barrier properties of a coating with some of the benefits of cathodic protection. If the zinc coating is scratched or otherwise locally damaged and steel is exposed, the surrounding areas of zinc coating form a galvanic cell with the exposed steel and protect it from corrosion. This is a form of localised cathodic protection - the zinc acts as a sacrificial anode.


  • EN 12068:1999 - Cathodic protection. External organic coatings for the corrosion protection of buried or immersed steel pipelines used in conjunction with cathodic protection. Tapes and shrinkable materials
  • EN 12473:2000 - General principles of cathodic protection in sea water
  • EN 12474:2001 - Cathodic protection for submarine pipelines
  • EN 12495:2000 - Cathodic protection for fixed steel offshore structures
  • EN 12499:2003 - Internal cathodic protection of metallic structures
  • EN 12696:2000 - Cathodic protection of steel in concrete
  • EN 12954:2001 - Cathodic protection of buried or immersed metallic structures. General principles and application for pipelines
  • EN 13173:2001 - Cathodic protection for steel offshore floating structures
  • EN 13174:2001 - Cathodic protection for harbour installations
  • EN 13509:2003 - Cathodic protection measurement techniques
  • EN 13636:2004 - Cathodic protection of buried metallic tanks and related piping
  • EN 14505:2005 - Cathodic protection of complex structures
  • EN 15112:2006 - External cathodic protection of well casing
  • EN 50162:2004 - Protection against corrosion by stray current from direct current systems
  • BS 7361-1:1991 - Cathodic Protection
  • NACE SP0169:2007 - Control of External Corrosion on Underground or Submerged Metallic Piping Systems
  • NACE TM 0497 - Measurement Techniques Related to Criteria for Cathodic Protection on Underground or Submerged Metallic Piping Systems
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Cathodic_protection". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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