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Corrosion Fundamentals

Why Metals Corrode

Gold Statue from Bangkok, ThailandMetals corrode because we use them in environments where they are chemically unstable. Only copper and the precious metals (gold, silver, platinum, etc.) are found in nature in their metallic state. All other metals, to include iron-the metal most commonly used-are processed from minerals or ores into metals which are inherently unstable in their environments.

This golden statue in Bangkok, Thailand, is made of the only metal which is thermodynamically stable in room temperature air. All other metals are unstable and have a tendency to revert to their more stable mineral forms. Some metals form protective ceramic films (passive films) on their surfaces and these prevent, or slow down, their corrosion process. The woman in the picture below is wearing anodized titanium earrings. The thickness of the titanium oxide on the metal surface refracts the light and causes the rainbow colors on her earrings. Her husband is wearing stainless steel eyeglasses. The passive film that formed on his eyeglasses is only about a dozen atoms thick, but this passive film is so protective that his eyeglasses are protected from corrosion. We can prevent corrosion by using metals that form naturally protective passive films, but these alloys are usually expensive, so we have developed other means of corrosion control.

Examples of Corrosion Resistant Metals

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