Chemistry » Electrochemistry » Corrosion

Summarizing Corrosion

Key Concepts and Summary

Corrosion is the degradation of a metal caused by an electrochemical process. Large sums of money are spent each year repairing the effects of, or preventing, corrosion. Some metals, such as aluminum and copper, produce a protective layer when they corrode in air. The thin layer that forms on the surface of the metal prevents oxygen from coming into contact with more of the metal atoms and thus “protects” the remaining metal from further corrosion.

Iron corrodes (forms rust) when exposed to water and oxygen. The rust that forms on iron metal flakes off, exposing fresh metal, which also corrodes. One way to prevent, or slow, corrosion is by coating the metal. Coating prevents water and oxygen from contacting the metal. Paint or other coatings will slow corrosion, but they are not effective once scratched.

Zinc-plated or galvanized iron exploits the fact that zinc is more likely to oxidize than iron. As long as the coating remains, even if scratched, the zinc will oxidize before the iron. Another method for protecting metals is cathodic protection. In this method, an easily oxidized and inexpensive metal, often zinc or magnesium (the sacrificial anode), is electrically connected to the metal that must be protected.

The more active metal is the sacrificial anode, and is the anode in a galvanic cell. The “protected” metal is the cathode, and remains unoxidized. One advantage of cathodic protection is that the sacrificial anode can be monitored and replaced if needed.


cathodic protection

method of protecting metal by using a sacrificial anode and effectively making the metal that needs protecting the cathode, thus preventing its oxidation


degradation of metal through an electrochemical process

galvanized iron

method for protecting iron by covering it with zinc, which will oxidize before the iron; zinc-plated iron

sacrificial anode

more active, inexpensive metal used as the anode in cathodic protection; frequently made from magnesium or zinc

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