The 8 Forms of Corrosion
Brett A. Anderson
December 20, 2001
Corrosion is a costly and potentially life threatening problem in any industry.
Wherever there is metal the potential for a corrosive reaction exists. It is a natural part of
nature, there is no escaping it. That doesn’t mean that we are doomed though. Through a
careful analysis of the process and the design we can mitigate most of the costs of
corrosion, both actual and potential, before the first pipe is in place.
The science of corrosion engineering is viewed by many as magic, or art, but once
the basics of how a corrosion cell works and a little understanding of chemistry almost
anyone can learn to decipher the clues to the causes of a corrosion problem. Most
corrosion problems encountered fall into five basic categories:
• Uniform or general corrosion: this is the most common form of
• Localized corrosion: as the name implies this form of corrosion occurs
in discreet areas on the surface of the metal.
• Metallurgically induced corrosion: this form of corrosion attacks the
metal’s physical and chemical makeup.
• Mechanically assisted corrosion: the physical parameters of the system
play an important part in this form of corrosion.
• Stress corrosion cracking: this form of corrosion results in cracks in
the metal that are induced by both stresses and corrosive elements.
With this information we can hopefully reduce the costs of replacing expensive assets
before they have fully depreciated, but our ultimate goal is to reduce the chances of a
catastrophic failure or loss of life due to a corroded system.
Thermodynamic and Electrochemical Processes
The corrosion process of metals is a natural result of the inherent tendency to
revert to a more stable compound, such as an oxide. Metal ore that is mined must be
refined and then alloyed for use. Energy is required to refine these ores into useable
metals. Entropy, a thermodynamic property, drives these metals to corrode. “Every
system which is left to itself will, on the average, change toward a condition of maximum
probability.” (G. N. Lewis) Energy is required to keep these metals in the refined state
and when left alone they will, over time, revert back to the more stable compounds in
which they occur naturally.
An example of this is iron. Hematite is the principle ore of iron. Hematite is a
form of iron oxide, its chemical composition is FE2O3. Processed iron ore, coke, and
limestone are added to the top of a blast furnace (Figure 1-1).1
The coke is the source of
the chemical energy in the blast furnace. When it is burnt by the hot air it releases both
heat energy and the main reducing agent, CO.
2C + O2
2CO ∆H = -394 kJ/mol
The limestone is decomposed by the heat into calcium oxide, CaO, and additional
2CaO + 2CO + O2
The main chemical reaction takes place, and the calcium oxide combines with the
impurities in the ore to form slag.
Fe2O3 + 3CO ∆H
3CO2 + 2Fe
The refined iron then runs down and out of the blast furnace to form pig iron. The
pig iron is then combined with other alloys to get different kinds of steels.
U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Fossil Energy website (December 14, 2001).
Figure 1-1. The blast
furnace is used to turn
iron ore into pig iron for
the steel making process.
At this point, the second law of thermodynamics and free energy come into play.
The second law of thermodynamics quite simply states: “The stable, equilibrium state of
a system is the state of minimum free energy.”2
Iron in the processed form, Fe, has a
greater amount of free energy than iron oxide. That energy was added when the ore was
heated in the blast furnace. The system, in this case the processed iron, will always be
headed towards its most stable state, which is the state of minimum free energy. When
moisture and oxygen are present the iron will undergo a chemical reaction to reduce the
amount of free energy available. This redox, reduction oxidation, reaction produces
hydrated iron oxide:
(aq) + O2(g) + [(4 + 2x)H2O](l) [2Fe2O3 · xH2O](s) + 8H+
The resulting iron oxide, Fe2O3, is one of the most stable states for iron to be found in.
This simple example of an electrochemical reaction demonstrates one of the most
important principles of metallic corrosion: the rate of oxidation equals the rate of
It is important to note that when alloys are corroded more than one oxidation
and one reduction reaction can occur.
Another way of looking at the corrosion process is as a series of anodic and
cathodic reactions. In this situation four elements are necessary for corrosion to occur:
• An anode.
• A cathode.
• An electrolyte (water)
• A metallic path for electron flow.
When all four of these elements are present a corrosion cell is formed. It is
important to remember that the anodic and cathodic reactions do not have to occur at the
same spot on the material. As long as an electrolyte and a metallic path exist, these half-
cells can exist and corrosion will occur. Figure 1-2 is an example of the corrosion cell
with the four elements labeled.4
Davis, Neil T. (2001) page 37.
Fontana, Mars G. (1986) page 15.
Allen, Thomas O., Roberts, Alan P. (1993) page 10-1, 10-2.
Figure 1-2. Corrosion
cell diagram depicting
the current flow from the
The same redox reactions that occurred in the afore mentioned example are
occurring in the corrosion cell. The oxidation reaction takes place at the anode, and the
reduction reaction takes place at the cathode. It is this series of oxidation and reduction
reactions that make up the electrochemistry of the corrosion process.
It is important to note that there is a flow of electrons from one half-cell to the
other during the corrosion process. The electric current flows from the anodes to the
cathodes of the reaction through the electrolyte. The flow of electric current in the
corrosion cell per unit area is referred to as the Corrosion Current Density (icorr). As each
oxidation reaction occurs a transfer of electrons to the electrolyte occurs. Since icorr is a
measure of current flow per unit area per unit time it can be seen that icorr can be related to
units of metal loss per unit time. Corrosion rates are generally expressed in mils per year
of metal thickness reduction (MPY), so icorr is a good representative of the corrosion rate
in the cell.5
Armed with this information it is possible to slow down or even prevent the
corrosion from occurring by increasing the resistance in the electrochemical corrosion
circuit. Adding chemical inhibitors and coatings to the materials to reduce the current
flow will help to increase the circuit resistance.
The free energy available in the metal and in the electrolyte creates a potential at
the anode and at the cathode. It is the difference in potential between these two sites that
causes the electron flow. Most corrosion reactions are considered wet and occur in the
presence of a liquid. Marcel Pourbiax, a well-known Belgian scientist, developed a
diagram which relates the stability of a metal in a given pH environment in 1938. By
plotting the potential of a metal and the pH of the environment it is possible to determine
if the metal is in a region where the possibility of corrosion is high, the possibility for
corrosion is non-existent, or the possibility exists but there is a tendency for the
development of a protective film. Figure 1-3 is the Pourbiax diagram for an iron-water
system at 25 degrees Celsius.6
The gray zone represents the area where the base metal,
iron, is stable. This is the region where the possibility of corrosion is non-existent. The
orange zone is where rust, the non-protective form of corroded iron, is expected. The
blue zone is where the most stable iron species, Fe(OH)2, is encountered. This species is
called blue rust and is fairly rare and highly soluble. The white areas are where corrosion
is most probable.
Rohrback Casaco Systems website (December 14, 2001) page 3.
Corrosion Doctors website (December 13, 2001).
Figure 1-3. Pourbiax diagram for an
iron-water system at 25û C.
These Pourbiax diagrams are time consuming to create and a new diagram must
be created for each metal or alloy that is being used and the environment it is in. There
are software programs available that can produce these diagrams for the student of
It is not enough to determine if the possibility for corrosion exists, a corrosion rate
must also be determined. It is entirely possible for the probability of corrosion to be high
and resultant corrosion rates to be very low. In these cases the corrosion might not be a
Corrosion rates are determined through polarization curves. Polarization curves
are produced through the application of a current to the metal surface. If the potential of
the metal surface is polarized by the current in a positive sense it is referred to as being
anodically polarized; a negative sense signifies that it is cathodically polarized. The
degree of polarization is a measure of how the rates of the anodic and cathodic reactions
are hindered by various environmental and surface process factors. The environmental
factors (the concentrations of metal ions, dissolved oxygen in the solution, etc.) are
referred to as the concentration polarization. The surface process factors (film formation,
adsorption, etc.) are referred to as the activation polarization. The polarization curve is a
graph of the variation of the potential as a function of the current, which allows the
effects of the concentration and activation processes on the rate at which the anodic or
cathodic reactions can give or receive electrons to be determined. This allows for a rate
determination for the reactions that are involved in the corrosion process, in effect a
Corrosion Doctors website (December 13, 2001).
Encyclopedia of Electrochemistry website (December 13, 2001) page 5.
Figure 1-4. General
Polarization curve for a
material with both anodic
and cathodic polarization
The polarization curve above shows the polarization curves for both anodic and
cathodic reactions. The potential, E, is plotted as a function of the logarithm of icorr.
Ecorr, the corrosion potential, is determined by the intersection of the extrapolation of the
linear portions of the anodic and cathodic polarization curves. The value of the current at
the intersection is the rate of corrosion expressed in current density, icorr.
From this polarization curve the Evans diagram can be extrapolated. Evans
diagrams are useful in determining if the anodic, cathodic, or both reactions control the
rate of the corrosion. Figure 1-5 shows the three types of Evans diagrams that can be
extrapolated from the polarization curve, (a) shows that the rate is controlled by the
anodic reaction, (b) is controlled by the cathodic reaction, and (c) is controlled by a
combination of both reactions. This information is used by corrosion engineers to allow
the evaluation of the effects of measurable factors, which can be controlled, on the rates
Another determining factor in the corrosion rate is the phenomenon of passivity
and passive films. Passivity generally refers to materials that form insoluble films, which
inhibit the anodic reactions and cause a polarization of the anode.10
These films can
markedly reduce the rate of corrosion as long as they are not breached. These films can
experience breakdowns from both electrochemical reactions and mechanical
mechanisms. Those discrete sites where a breach in the film occurs can experience an
accelerated rate of corrosion. One of the major causes of the breaching of the passive
films is the chloride ion, which is readily available in nature.
Encyclopedia of Electrochemistry website (December 13, 2001) page 6.
Atkinson, J.T.N., Van Droffelaar, H. (1995) page 54.
Figure 1-5. Evans
from the polarization
curve (a) shows that the
rate is controlled by the
anodic reaction, (b) is
controlled by the
cathodic reaction, and (c)
is controlled by a
combination of both
An interesting process that some alloys undergo is repassivation. This process is
very effective for combating localized corrosion. These alloys form a passive film that
resists the breakdown process in a fairly effective manor, and are capable of repassivating
at a rate high enough that once a breach has occurred the exposure to the corrosive
environment is reduced to a minimum.11
Forms of Corrosion
From the engineers standpoint the forms that corrosion takes can generally be
identified by a visual examination. It is usually possible to determine a probable
mechanism for the corrosion by corresponding the corrosion in question to one or more
of general forms.
• Uniform or General corrosion: a regular loss of metal from the surface
cases a uniform thinning.
• Localized corrosion: the majority of metal loss is experienced in discrete
• Metallurgically Induced corrosion
• Mechanically Assisted corrosion: physical environmental factors play a
significant role in metal loss.
• Stress corrosion: generally cracking that is induced by environmental
These five basic types of corrosion can be broken down into eight visually
identifiable forms, which are significantly different from one another. This allows an
engineer to examine a specimen and make a reasonable assumption on the general cause
of the corrosion and possible corrective measures that can be taken.
General corrosion, or uniform attack, is the most common form of corrosion.
General corrosion occurs uniformly over the entire surface that is exposed. The metal
gets thinner evenly over the entire surface, leading this form of corrosion to account for
the largest tonnage of metal loss. This form of corrosion is generally the cheapest form
of corrosion to deal with in industry. It is fairly consistent and rates can quickly be found
by exposing a sample to the environment. Making the material thicker than necessary to
accommodate the corrosion throughout the life of the product, or applying a coating to
the surface, such as paint, are the standard methods of prevention for this form of
Encyclopedia of Electrochemistry website (December 13, 2001) page 6.
Photo 2-1. Depicts general, or uniform, corrosion on a steel
Galvanic, or two-metal, corrosion occurs because of the potential difference that
exists between two dissimilar metals. When these two metals can be connected
electrically, either through direct contact or an electrolyte, the difference in potential
causes a flow of electrons, or current, between them. The further apart on the Galvanic
Scale (figure 2-1) that these two metals are increases the amount of corrosion
experienced by anodic member of the galvanic couple. The ensuing corrosion reaction is
a perfect example of the corrosion cell in figure 1-2. The corrosion resistant, or noble,
metal becomes the cathode and experiences very little, if any metal loss. While the less
corrosion resistant metal becomes the anode.
Figure 2-1. The Galvanic Scale.
Photo 2-5. Galvanic corrosion of a bolt.
Photo 2-6. Light galvanic corrosion around a
bolt on a pump housing.
Proper material selection can eliminate most of the problems associated with
galvanic corrosion. Combinations of metals and alloys used together should not be
widely separated on the galvanic scale. Dissimilar metal crevices, such as threaded
connections, should be avoided, and fasteners of the same material or a more noble
material should be used.12
Crevice corrosion is an intensive, localized form of corrosion. It generally occurs
in cracks, holes, crevices, lap joints, under gaskets, rivet and bolt heads, and anywhere
else that small amounts of solution can lay stagnate. Crevice corrosion begins with the
typical corrosion cell (figure 1-2), an oxygen concentration cell. As the oxygen is
depleted the growth of the corrosion cell is driven by the accumulation of acidic
hydrolyzed salts in the crevice area.
Dillon, C.P. (1982) page 47.
Photo 2-7. Galvanic corrosion at the threaded connection between a brass fitting and a
steel backwash line for a water softener.
Photo 2-8. Corrosion of a brass fitting due to
the galvanic couple created with the copper
Photo 2-9. Failure due to crevice
corrosion in the threaded area of a
Proper material selection and design features that limit the number of crevices and
allow for drainage are the most effective way of mitigating the effects of crevice
Photo 2-10. Excellent example of crevice corrosion on several fronts. Notice the extensive corrosion
between the flange faces, and the corrosion of the bolts that held the flange together.
Photo 2-11. Crevice corrosion is very common in tube and shell heat exchangers. The main
areas of concern are where the tubes enter the tube sheets and where they go through the
baffles. Photo courtesy Tim Milanowski.
Pitting is a troublesome form of corrosion. It can cause a failure with very little
metal loss. Pitting is an extremely localized form of attack that often causes rapid
penetration of the wall thickness.13
The holes that pitting causes can be very small or
quite large in diameter. The fact that failure can occur with very little metal loss and with
just one little area affected is what makes this form of corrosion so difficult to detect and
Dillon, C.P. (1982) page 19.
Photo 2-12. Large pit
that occurred in an oily
water line, this pit had
penetrated about 90% of
the way through the wall.
Photo 2-13. This is an oily water line, and the glycol tracing that was welded to it, that experienced
failure due to pitting. Notice that the pitting occurs on the bottom half of the pipe. Pits usually grow
in the direction of gravity. The largest pits and the failure occurred in the heat-affected zone where
the glycol heat trace was welded to the pipe.
Photos 2-14, 2-15, and 2-16 show how varied small pits can be. In order to detect
that there is a problem you would have to use UT, and be lucky enough to be right on top
of the pit.
Intergranular corrosion is the corrosion of the edges of the individual grains that
make up the metal. The preferential attack along the grain boundaries can lead to a
decrease in effective cross section of material and eventual mechanical failure.14
experiencing intergranular corrosion that should otherwise exhibit excellent corrosion
resistant tendencies have been sensitized. Sensitizing usually occurs through damaging
thermal exposures, such as welding. Material selection, heat-treating, quenching, and
proper welding techniques are effective methods for avoiding intergranular corrosion.
Dillon, C.P. (1982) page 89.
Photo 2-14 (upper left). Hole in oily water
line caused by pitting.
Photo 2-15 (upper right). Wormhole pit in
a 1-inch diameter steel water pipe.
Photo 2-16 (left). Failure caused by a
Photo 2-17. This is the heat-affected zone from photo 2-13. This is a case of weld
decay in the heat-affected zone.
Selective leaching, or dealloying, is the removal of one element from an alloy
through a corrosion process. The most common form of dealloying is the removal of zinc
from brass alloys. Common yellow brass is 30% zinc and 70% copper. The brass turns a
red or copper color that contrasts with the original yellow brass, or zinc oxide builds up
on the outside of the brass piece.
Photo 2-18. Heat-affected zone of a circumferential weld is very distinct in this photo.
Photo 2-21 and Photo 2-22. Dezincification of a brass
Photo 2-19 and 2-20. Carburization, a special
case of intergranular corrosion. This steel hook
has undergone carburization at high temperatures.
Erosion corrosion is the accelerated increase in deterioration of a metal due to the
velocity of the fluid. The fluid does not have to contain any abrasive particles, but the
metal will be worn away faster if there are abrasives present.
Photo 2-23. The
velocity effects of
the shell side fluid
in the tube and
are quite obvious.
Photo 2-24. Hole in the HAZ. This failure was
caused by erosion corrosion. Notice the shape
of the pits, they are deeper on the downstream
side (above the weld line). Here is a good case
of two forms of corrosion working together.
The failure is actually in the heat-affected zone
of the weld, but it is obvious that erosion
played the bigger part in creating the hole itself.
This is from a section of piping just
downstream of a flow meter. In order for the
flow meter to work properly the diameter of the
pipe was reduced several feet upstream of the
meter. This reduction in diameter increased the
velocity through the section of pipe. Photo
courtesy Tim Milanowski.
Photo 2-25. This photo illustrates unique patterns that occur in some of the erosion corrosion cases.
Photo 2-26. Severe erosion
corrosion around a nozzle in
a tube and shell heat
exchanger. Photo courtesy
Photo 2-27. Severe
due to impingement
in a tube and shell
Photo courtesy Tim
Stress Corrosion Cracking
Stress corrosion cracking (SCC) is the cracking from a combined presence of
tensile stresses and a corrosive medium. The tensile stresses can come from applied
stresses or residual stresses. Residual stresses are introduced into a material through
forming, welding, machining, heat treatments, and grinding. The metal remains
unattacked over its surface, while fine cracks progress through it.
Through a visual examination it is often possible to classify a corrosion problem
by the forms of corrosion that are present. The type of corrosion present tells a lot about
the corrosion mechanisms involved and possible methods to control or alleviate the
Photo 2-28. This is part of a sump float that
exhibits signs of chloride induced stress
corrosion cracking. The cracks are at right
angles to the setscrew, which is where the ring
would experience the greatest stresses.
Photo 2-29. More Chloride
induced stress corrosion
cracking. These two pieces
are from the same sump as
corrosion problem. Corrosion can usually be placed in to one or more of the following
• General or Uniform Corrosion.
• Galvanic Corrosion.
• Crevice Corrosion.
• Intergranular Corrosion.
• Selective Leeching.
• Erosion Corrosion.
• Stress Corrosion Cracking.
Through a careful analysis of the problem a method to avoid any similar problems in the
future can be found. The most important part of any design from the corrosion standpoint
is: Are the materials chosen the right materials for the job, and will they work together?
The Last Exchange. Photo by Tim Milanowski.
About.com Chemistry website (December 4, 2001)
Allen, Thomas O., Roberts, Alan P. (1993) Productions Operations Volume 2 (Oil & Gas
Consultants International, Inc.: Tulsa, Oklahoma).
Alyeska Pipeline Company website (December 12, 2001) http://www.alyeska-
Atkinson, J.T.N., Van Droffelaar, H. (1995) Corrosion and Its Control (NACE
International: Houston, Texas).
Boteler, D.H., Seager, W.H., Johanson, C., and Harde, C. (1999) Cold Climate Corrosion
Special Topics: Telluric Current Effects on Long and Short Pipelines (NACE
International: New York, New York) pp 67-79.
Corrosion Doctors website (December 13, 2001) http://www.corrosion-doctors.org.
Corrosion Research Center website (December 1, 2001)
Corrosion Source website (December 4, 2001) http://www.corrosionsource.com.
Corrosion Technology Testbed website (December 11, 2001)
Davis, Neil T. (2001) Permafrost A Guide To Frozen Ground in Transition (University of
Dillon, C.P. (1982) Forms of Corrosion Recognition and Prevention (NACE
International: Houston, Texas).
Encyclopedia of Electrochemistry website (December 13, 2001)
Fontana, Mars G. (1986) Corrosion Engineering (McGraw-Hill, Inc: New York, New
King, R.J., White, W.E. (1999) Cold Climate Corrosion Special Topics: Thermodynamic
Consideration Relevant to Corrosion of Pipeline Steels in Permafrost (NACE
International: New York, New York) pp 37-66.
Korb, Lawrence J., Olson, David L. (1987) Metals Handbook Ninth Edition, Volume 13
Corrosion (ASM International: Houston, Texas).
Milanowski, Tim (December 2001) Inspection Coordinator for Williams Alaska
Petroleum, North Pole, Alaska.
Minnesota Power Electric website (December 12, 2001)
Moniz, B.J. (1994) Metallurgy (American Technical Publishers, Inc.: Homewood,
Ryan’s Crevice Corrosion Page (December 10, 2001)
Rohrback Casasco Systems website (December 14, 2001) http://www.corrpro.com/rcs/.
Southwest Research Institute website (December 13, 2001)
The Hendrix Group website (December 4, 2001) http://www.hghouston.com/tidbits.html.
U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Fossil Energy website (December 10, 2001)