3 things are required for galvanic corrosion to occur:
A common scenario is marine equipment in a saltwater environment. When salt dissolves in water, it releases electrolytes which are attracted to the electrons of the nearby metals.
An electrical contact or flow occurs when the electrolytes attach to both metals, creating the conditions for galvanic corrosion.
The damage from galvanic corrosion can be extensive and even result in failure of a structure or a joint.
A classical example is the Statue of Liberty which has a copper surface on a cast iron frame.
The two metals were originally separated by an insulating material which eventually failed resulting in significant galvanic corrosion.
Repairs and improvements done in the 1980’s took two years and while originally estimated at $103 million, was actually much more.
The most severe corrosion occurs where the metals are in contact – like a joint or around fasteners.
This site gives an example of a mild steel and aluminum joint with significant corrosion and perforations in the aluminum after 2 years.
You can also see an example of brass and steel in contact.
Fasteners are a common source of galvanic corrosion. The fastener typically has a smaller surface area than the material it is fastening, so if the fastener is the anode, corrosion can be very rapid.
To avoid issues, consider the following when planning a project or assembly:
This table can help with the selection of fasteners for a sheet metal fabrication project.
|Base Metal||Fastener Metal|
|Zinc, galvanized steel||Aluminum and aluminum alloys||Steel and cast iron||Brasses, copper, bronzes, monel||Stainless steel type 410||Stainless steel type 302/304, 303, 305|
|Zinc, galvanized steel||A||B||B||C||C||C|
|Aluminum and aluminum alloys||A||A||B||C||Not recommended||B|
|Steel and cast iron||AD||A||A||C||C||B|
|Teme (lead tin) plated steel||ADE||AE||AE||C||C||B|
|Brasses, copper, bronzes, monel||ADE||AE||AE||A||A||B|
|Stainless steel type 430||ADE||AE||AE||A||A||A|
|Stainless steel type 302/304||ADE||AE||AE||AE||A||A|
A: Corrosion of the base metal is not increased by the fastener
B: Corrosion of the base metal is marginally increased by the fastener
C: Corrosion of the base metal may be marginally increased by the fastener material
D: Plating on the fasteners is rapidly consumed, leaving the bare fastener metal
E: Corrosion of the fastener is increased by the base metal
Electrolytes are preferentially attracted to highly chemically active metals – called anodes.
When a current flow is created between a highly active and a less active metal, the electrolytes move the electrons from the anode towards the less active metal, causing the anode to corrode more quickly and the cathode corrode more slowly.
This process is used to slow galvanic corrosion by intentionally introducing a highly active metal to act as a sacrificial anode.
Galvanic corrosion can often be prevented through good design and planning. Start by choosing compatible metals to potentially avoid the problem altogether.
If that’s not possible, coatings and non-conductive barriers are an option.
If possible, choose metals that are compatible and less likely to create conditions favorable to galvanic corrosion.
There are two things to consider: their distance on a galvanic table, and their difference in anodic index.
A galvanic tableranks metals based on their tendency to interact galvanically, with galvanic corrosion more likely when the metals are further apart on this table.
The galvanic table is meant as a guide as it doesn’t take into consideration other factors that might impact the corrosive potential of the metals.
The table lists the most active anode metals first and the least active cathodes last and different versions of the table are available for different environments or electrolyte solutions.
Included below is the table for low oxygen seawater.
Galvanic series table for stagnant (low oxygen) seawater
7. Stainless steel 316 (passive)
8. Stainless steel 304 (passive)
9. Silicon bronze
10. Stainless steel 316 (active)
11. Monel 400
12. Phosphor bronze
13. Admiralty brass
16. Red brass
17. Brass plating
18. Yellow brass
19. Naval brass 464
20. Uranium 8% Mo
21. Niobium 1% Zr
25. Stainless steel 304 (active)
27. Chromium plating
28. Nickel (passive)
30. Nickel (active)
31. Cast iron
35. Uranium (pure)
38. Zinc plating
The anodic indexshows the electro-chemical voltage between a metal and gold.
|Gold, solid and plated; gold-platinum alloy||−0.00|
|Rhodium-plated on silver-plated copper||−0.05|
|Silver, solid or plated; monel metal; high nickel-copper alloys||−0.15|
|Nickel, solid or plated; titanium and its alloys; monel||−0.30|
|Copper, solid or plated; low brasses or bronzes; silver solder; German silvery high copper-nickel alloys; nickel-chromium alloys||−0.35|
|Brass and bronzes||−0.40|
|High brasses and bronzes||−0.45|
|18%-chromium-type corrosion-resistant steels||−0.50|
|Chromium plated; tin plated; 12%-chromium-type corrosion-resistant steels||−0.60|
|Tin-plate; tin-lead solder||−0.65|
|Lead, solid or plated; high lead alloys||−0.70|
|2000 series wrought aluminum||−0.75|
|Iron, wrought, gray, or malleable; low alloy and plain carbon steels||−0.85|
|Aluminum, wrought alloys other than 2000 series aluminum, cast alloys of the silicon type||−0.90|
|Aluminum, cast alloys (other than silicon type); cadmium, plated and chromate||−0.95|
|Hot-dip-zinc plate; galvanized steel||−1.20|
|Zinc, wrought; zinc-base die-casting alloys; zinc plated||−1.25|
|Magnesium and magnesium-base alloys, cast or wrought||−1.75|
Coating either or both metals can protect it from electrolytes and therefore galvanic corrosion.
This can work in 2 different ways:
1. A metallic coating becomes the sacrificial anode to protect the metal it is coating – which is a common use for zinc coatings.
2. A non-conductive materialseparates the two metals, removing the electric connection between them.
Read more about sheet metal fabrication processes: