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Galvanic Corrosion with example of Couple between Steel and Brass

Galvanic corrosion refers to corrosion damage induced when two dissimilar materials are coupled in a corrosive electrolyte.

The bimetallic driving force causing galvanic corrosion was discovered in the late part of the eighteenth century by Luigi Galvani in a series of experiments with the exposed muscles and nerves of a frog that contracted when connected to a bimetallic conductor. The principle was later put into a practical application by Alessandro Volta who built, in 1800, the first electrical cell, or battery: a series of metal disks of two kinds, separated by cardboard disks soaked with acid or salt solutions. This is the basis of all modern wet-cell batteries, and it was a tremendously important scientific discovery, because it was the first method found for the generation of a sustained electrical current. The principle was also engineered into the useful protection of metallic structures by Sir Humphry Davy and Michael Faraday in the early part of the nineteenth century. The sacrificial corrosion of one metal such as zinc, magnesium or aluminum is a widespread method of cathodically protecting metallic structures.

In a galvanic corrosion when a galvanic couple forms, one of the metals in the couple becomes the anode and corrodes faster than it would all by itself, while the other becomes the cathode and corrodes slower than it would alone.
For galvanic corrosion to occur, three conditions must be present:

  • Electrochemically dissimilar metals must be present
  • These metals must be in electrical contact
  • The metals must be exposed to an electrolyte

The relative nobility of a material can be predicted by measuring its corrosion potential. The well known galvanic series lists the relative nobility of certain materials in sea water. A small anode/cathode area ratio is highly undesirable. In this case, the galvanic current is concentrated onto a small anodic area. Rapid thickness loss of the dissolving anode tends to occur under these conditions. Galvanic corrosion problems should be solved by designing to avoid these problems in the first place. Galvanic corrosion cells can be set up on the macroscopic level or on the microscopic level. On the microstructural level, different phases or other microstructural features can be subject to galvanic currents.

Galvanic Corrosion is also called ' dissimilar metal corrosion' or wrongly 'electrolysis'. Galvanic series relationships are useful as a guide for selecting metals to be joined, will help the selection of metals having minimal tendency to interact galvanically, or will indicate the need or degree of protection to be applied to lessen the expected potential interactions.

Example: Galvanic Corrosion Couple between Steel and Brass

Image of Galvanic Corrosion Couple between Steel and Brass

The difference in corrosion potential between brass and steel is quite important. This difference can be estimated by a cursory examination of the galvanic series for these metals when exposed to humid environments.