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Corrosion


Corrosion means the breaking down of essential properties in a material due to chemical reactions with its surroundings. In the most common use of the word, this means a loss of electrons of metals reacting with water and oxygen. Weakening of iron due to oxidation of the iron atoms is a well-known example of electrochemical corrosion. This is commonly known as rusting. This type of damage typically produces oxide(s) and/or salt(s) of the original metal. Corrosion can also refer to the degradation of ceramic materials as well as the discoloration and weakening of polymers by the sun's ultraviolet light.

For iron to become iron oxide, three things are required: iron, water and oxygen. Here's what happens when the three get together:

When a drop of water hits an iron object, two things begin to happen almost immediately. First, the water, a good electrolyte, combines with carbon dioxide in the air to form a weak carbonic acid, an even better electrolyte. As the acid is formed and the iron dissolved, some of the water will begin to break down into its component pieces -- hydrogen and oxygen. The free oxygen and dissolved iron bond into iron oxide, in the process freeing electrons. The electrons liberated from the anode portion of the iron flow to the cathode, which may be a piece of a metal less electrically reactive than iron, or another point on the piece of iron itself.

The chemical compounds found in liquids like acid rain, seawater and the salt-loaded spray from snow-belt roads make them better electrolytes than pure water, allowing their presence to speed the process of rusting on iron and other forms of corrosion on other metals.

Millions of dollars are lost each year because of corrosion. Much of this loss is due to the corrosion of iron and steel, although many other metals may corrode as well. The problem with iron as well as many other metals is that the oxide formed by oxidation does not firmly adhere to the surface of the metal and flakes off easily causing "pitting". Extensive pitting eventually causes structural weakness and disintegration of the metal. (It should be noted, however, that certain metals such as aluminum, form a very tough oxide coating which strongly bonds to the surface of the metal preventing the surface from further exposure to oxygen and corrosion).



 




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