Cathodic protection (CP) is a technique used to control the corrosion of a metal surface by making it the cathode of an electrochemical cell. A simple method of protection connects the metal to be protected to a more easily corroded “sacrificial metal” to act as the anode. The sacrificial metal then corrodes instead of the protected metal. For structures such as long pipelines, where passive galvanic cathodic protection is not adequate, an external DC electrical power source is used to provide sufficient current.

Cathodic protection systems protect a wide range of metallic structures in various environments. Common applications are:  steel water or fuel pipelines and steel storage tanks such as home water heaters; steel pier piles; ship and boat hulls; offshore  oil platforms and onshore  oil well casings;  offshore wind farm foundations and metal reinforcement bars in concrete buildings and structures. Another common application is in galvanized steel, in which a sacrificial coating of  zinc on steel parts protects them from rust.

Cathodic protection can, in some cases, prevent stress corrosion cracking.

What Is Cathodic Protection and How Does It Work?

Corrosion is a natural process that can deteriorate metal structures and cause costly damage for your business.


For corrosion to occur, four elements must be present: a host site from which current flows, a destination site where no current flows, a medium capable of conducting current (such as water, concrete, or soil), and a metal path between the host and destination site.


Electrochemical corrosion of metals is the process by which ions on the surface of a metal are transferred to another substance (a depolarizer, or less active substance or metal). Such depolarizers are oxygen, acids, or cations of more passive metals.


What Is Cathodic Protection Used For?

Cathodic protection is often used to mitigate corrosion damage to active metal surfaces. Cathodic protection is used all over the globe to protect pipelines, water treatment plants, above and underwater storage tanks, ship and boat hulls, offshore production platforms, reinforcement bars in concrete structures and piers, and more.


Cathodic protection is often used to protect steel from corrosion. Corrosion is caused when two dissimilar metals are submerged in an electrolytic substance such as water, soil, or concrete. This type of metal conducting path between the two dissimilar metals allows a pathway through which free electrons move from the more active metal (anode) to the less active metal (cathode). If free electrons from the anode do not reach active sites on the cathode before the arrival of oxygen, ions at the active sites can then recombine to produce ferrous hydroxide, i.e. rust.


How Does Cathodic Protection Work?

In essence, cathodic protection connects the base metal at risk (steel) to a sacrificial metal that corrodes in lieu of the base metal. The technique of providing cathodic protection to steel preserves the metal by providing a highly active metal that can act as an anode and provide free electrons. By introducing these free electrons, the active metal sacrifices its ions and keeps the less active steel from corroding.


Types of Cathodic Protection

There are two basic types of cathodic protection: galvanic, and impressed current cathodic protection.