What Are the Types of Cathodic Protection?

Metal structures, from bridges and pipelines to ship hulls and oil platforms, are persistently under the menace of corrosion. If left unchecked, corrosion can compromise the integrity of these structures, leading to potential catastrophic failures. Fortunately, corrosion can be effectively controlled using a process known as Cathodic Protection (CP). As a CP engineer or consultant, understanding the types of Cathodic Protection is pivotal in your career. This article sheds light on the two primary types of Cathodic Protection: Galvanic (or Sacrificial Anode) Cathodic Protection and Impressed Current Cathodic Protection.

Galvanic Cathodic Protection

The concept of Galvanic Cathodic Protection, also known as Sacrificial Anode Cathodic Protection, is rather straightforward. It operates on the principle of galvanic corrosion, where two different metals or alloys come into electrical contact through an electrolyte. In Galvanic CP, a sacrificial anode made of a more reactive metal than the structure to be protected is physically attached to the structure. This anode willingly sacrifices itself by corroding preferentially, thereby offering protection to the structure.

The sacrificial anode donates electrons to the structure, transforming it into a cathode and halting the corrosive electrochemical process. Commonly used sacrificial anode materials include zinc, magnesium, and aluminum. While Galvanic Cathodic Protection systems are generally simpler and require no external power source, they are typically best suited for smaller structures due to their limited driving voltage.

Impressed Current Cathodic Protection

For larger structures or where the environment is more corrosive, Impressed Current Cathodic Protection (ICCP) is often the preferred method. This technique involves the use of an external power source, or rectifier, which converts AC power to DC. This direct current is then impressed into the structure, making the entire structure a cathode within an electrolyte.

ICCP uses anodes made of corrosion-resistant materials like graphite, high silicon cast iron, or mixed metal oxides. As opposed to being sacrificed, these anodes merely act as a conduit for the electrical current. The current flow from the anodes creates a protective envelope around the structure, effectively hindering the corrosion process. Due to their ability to deliver a higher protective current, ICCP systems are more suitable for large infrastructures such as long pipelines, ship hulls, and large storage tanks.

The Role of CP Engineers and Consultants

As a CP engineer or consultant, your role in the application of these CP methods is essential. Starting with a thorough evaluation of the corrosion risk to the specific structure, you’ll determine the most effective CP method to apply.

For Galvanic CP, the selection and placement of the sacrificial anodes are critical aspects. For ICCP, in addition to anode selection and placement, designing the power output of the rectifier is a significant task. You’ll also be responsible for regular monitoring and system adjustments to ensure the continued effectiveness of the Cathodic Protection, thus maintaining the structural integrity and operational reliability of the protected assets.

In conclusion, both Galvanic Cathodic Protection and Impressed Current Cathodic Protection serve as essential tools in a CP engineer’s arsenal. The key to effective application lies in understanding the unique advantages of each method and appropriately utilizing them based on the specific demands of each structure. By mastering these CP methods, you can play an instrumental role in safeguarding critical infrastructure from the damaging effects of corrosion.