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Corrosion Fundamentals

Concentration Cell Corrosion

Concentration cell corrosion occurs when two or more areas of a metal surface are in contact with different concentrations of the same solution. There are three general types of concentration cell corrosion:

  1. metal ion concentration cells
  2. oxygen concentration cells, and
  3. active-passive cells.

Metal Ion Concentration Cells

In the presence of water, a high concentration of metal ions will exist under faying surfaces and a low concentration of metal ions will exist adjacent to the crevice created by the faying surfaces. An electrical potential will exist between the two points. The area of the metal in contact with the low concentration of metal ions will be cathodic and will be protected, and the area of metal in contact with the high metal ion concentration will be anodic and corroded. This condition can be eliminated by sealing the faying surfaces in a manner to exclude moisture. Proper protective coating application with inorganic zinc primers is also effective in reducing faying surface corrosion.

Oxygen Concentration Cells

A water solution in contact with the metal surface will normally contain dissolved oxygen. An oxygen cell can develop at any point where the oxygen in the air is not allowed to diffuse uniformly into the solution, thereby creating a difference in oxygen concentration between two points. Typical locations of oxygen concentration cells are under either metallic or nonmetallic deposits (dirt) on the metal surface and under faying surfaces such as riveted lap joints. Oxygen cells can also develop under gaskets, wood, rubber, plastic tape, and other materials in contact with the metal surface. Corrosion will occur at the area of low-oxygen concentration (anode). The severity of corrosion due to these conditions can be minimized by sealing, maintaining surfaces clean, and avoiding the use of material that permits wicking of moisture between faying surfaces.

Active-Passive Cells

Metals that depend on a tightly adhering passive film (usually an oxide) for corrosion protection; e.g., austenitic corrosion-resistant steel, can be corroded by active-passive cells. The corrosive action usually starts as an oxygen concentration cell; e.g., salt deposits on the metal surface in the presence of water containing oxygen can create the oxygen cell. If the passive film is broken beneath the salt deposit, the active metal beneath the film will be exposed to corrosive attack. An electrical potential will develop between the large area of the cathode (passive film) and the small area of the anode (active metal). Rapid pitting of the active metal will result. This type of corrosion can be avoided by frequent cleaning and by application of protective coatings