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DCVG stands for Direct Current Voltage Gradient and is a survey technique used for assessing the effectiveness of corrosion protection on buried steel structures. In particular, oil and natural gas pipelines are routinely monitored using this technique to help locate coating faults and highlight deficiencies in their cathodic protection (CP) strategies.



The DCVG method was invented by the late Australian John Mulvany, an ex telecomms engineer, in the early 1980s. He developed and refined the technique in conjunction with Dr John Leeds, a professional corrosion engineer from Kent, England. Today, the DCVG technique is universally accepted and has its own method formally defined by NACE International.


Steel structures require protection if they are not to rapidly corrode, particularly if they are buried in moist soils or exposed to salt water. The primary form of corrosion protection is usually one or more protective coatings, such as paint, bitumen, resin etc. For buried pipelines (for example), this level of protection is insufficient in itself and is commonly supplemented by cathodic protection. As the pipeline ages and the coating(s) deteriorate, the cathodic protection becomes increasingly important in minimising corrosion damage. Assessing the condition of the pipeline coating(s) was previously only possible by excavating sections of the pipeline and the level of CP required was largely a matter of educated guesswork. The DCVG technique was developed to locate coating faults, quantify their severity and measure the effectiveness of the Cathodic protection used without having to disturb the pipeline.


Assuming that the buried pipeline is protected using Impressed Current Cathodic Protection (ICCP - as most are), then any defects in the coating will result in electrical current flowing from the surrounding soil and into the pipe. These currents cause voltage gradients to be set up in the soil, which can be measured using a voltmeter. By looking at the direction of these gradients, the location of coating faults may be identified. By plotting the direction of voltage gradients around a fault, the type and nature of faults may be deduced. By measuring the localised soil potentials with respect to remote earth, a measure of the effectiveness of the Cathodic protection may be calculated.

Practical Methods

  In theory, a standard analogue electronic multimeter could be used to perform a DCVG survey, but in practice it would be very difficult to take accurate readings and assess the direction of the voltage gradients correctly. A digital multimeter is completely unsuitable because of the difficulty in quickly assesing the direction of the voltage gradient. Specially designed DCVG meters are available, which have bespoke voltage ranges, specially designed transient response, rugged cases and (usually) a centre-zero meter movement for ease of use. The NACE method requires the measurements to be made using a pair of copper-copper(II) sulfate electrodes rather than simple metallic probes. In addition, the Cathodic protection is switched on and off repeatedly using an electronic switch commonly referred to as an "interrupter". Thus, two voltage readings (the "on" and "off" potentials) are taken at each fault position. Counter-intuitively, it is actually the "off" potential (measured with respect to remote earth) which is regarded as more indicative of the effectiveness of the CP applied to the pipeline. Standard surveyor's kits of DCVG equipment are available, together with training courses and software to organise and interpret the survey data.

Pipelines which do not have any form of CP may be surveyed by using a temporary DC supply and anode bed. Long pipelines frequently have more than one DC supply for their CP, requiring a number of synchronised interrupters to perform a survey. DCVG surveys are often combined with other techniques, such as CIPS and soil resistivity as part of a comprehensive corrosion protection program.

Performing a DCVG survey is relatively simple - students or recent graduates are frequently employed to collect the data. Interpreting the results is a little more complicated and this task is usually performed by a specially trained corrosion engineer.

DCVG surveys may be performed by pipeline companies themselves or, more usually, by independent specialists.

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "DCVG". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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