Ask the Expert


What are the advantages and limitations of impressed current CP compared to sacrificial anodes, and where would you use one opposed to the other?  BK


In order to help readers of Corrosion Management to understand the differences between impressed current and sacrificial anodes cathodic protection systems, let me to start with a brief definition of both systems, where they are installed, type of anodes, sources of energy, and finally indicate what their advantages and limitations are. In both applications, CP current flows from the anodes, through the electrolyte to the structure being protected.

Impressed current systems

The impressed current systems use an external source of energy to provide direct current for cathodic protection.  Generally, they are used when large quantities of protective current are required, for bare structures, those with poor coatings, or when the resistivity of the electrolyte is over 5000 Ohm-cm. They are also used for most long
buried pipelines, irrespective of coating quality and for above ground storage tank bottoms, seawater intake systems, interiors of fresh water tanks, well casings and many ship hulls. They are used for some piers, jetties and offshore structures if power is available.

Types of impressed current anodes

Dimensionally Stable Anodes: Substrates of titanium and niobium with coatings of platinum and mixed metal oxides (MMO) of ruthenium and iridium. Presently MMO/Ti are most commonly used.

Ferrous Metals: iron-silicon-chromium, iron-silicon-chromium-molybdenum, iron with high silicon, cast iron, carbon steel, stainless steel. Presently Fe-Si, with Cr in chloride rich areas and Fe-Si are most commonly used. Anodes of magnetite (Fe3O4) are also used.

Lead and graphite-based materials have historically been used but the superior performance of the materials above has caused the cessation of their use. Coke breeze is widely used in conjunction with suitable anodes, in buried applications, to effectively decrease resistance and increase life.

Non-ferrous metals: aluminium and zinc are used in some very specialised applications and copper in anti-fouling systems.

Energy sources

Transformer Rectifiers: single-phase or three-phase, extensive range of input voltages (120, 220, 480V AC), cooled by air or oil, typically with silicon diode rectifiers; these deliver low voltage DC for the cathodic protection. They can be simple constant Voltage, or constant Current and or Potential Controlled. The second are used when the design needs constant level of current. The last when it is required to automatically adjust the output to maintain constant structure/electrolyte potential with respect to a permanent reference electrode. Mains electricity and transformer rectifier normally provide the lowest cost and highest reliability impressed current for CP.

Solar Energy: utilised in those locations where there is no commercial power source available. They require batteries to deliver CP power at night and poor weather when solar energy is not available. 

Wind Energy: is used where there is no electric energy and the solar energy is limited.  They require batteries to supply current when there are no winds. 

Thermoelectric Generators: utilised as a low voltage DC supply in remote places where there is availability of hydrocarbon fuels (e.g. natural gas, methane, propane).  They are high technology equipment and require periodic maintenance.

Galvanic anode CP systems

Galvanic anode systems deliver CP current due to the difference of the electrochemical potential between them and the structure.  The anodic materials is more active in the electrochemical or galvanic series of metals than the structure material. Galvanic (or sacrificial) anodes are generally used in environments of low electrical resistivity. Typical applications are: offshore oil and gas platforms and pipelines along with offshore wind foundations, ports and harbour facilities. These are all quite high current applications Smaller current applications are those such as short sections of buried pipelines, internals of flooded vessels or structures like barrages, oil field production vessels, water knock outs, desalters and separators, water storage tanks.

Types of galvanic anodes and uses

Magnesium: Soils, typically with resistivity up to 10000 ohm-cm, typically pre-packaged with a backfill of gypsum (75%), bentonite
(20%) and sodium sulphate (5%).  Can be used in ribbon form.

Zinc: environments with resistivity lower than 2000 ohm-cm.  Cn be used in soils with backfill of gypsum (50%) and bentonite (50%). Deficient operation in electrolytes that contain bicarbonate, carbonates and nitrates. Limited to temperatures up to 60°C.  Can be used in ribbon form.

Aluminium: The main use of aluminium alloy anodes is in seawater and marine sediments environments, such as offshore platforms and pipelines.  Deficient operation in electrolytes of pH alkaline (>8); in closed compartments with no replenishment can cause significant reduction in pH and inadequate performance.

Cathodic Protection System



Impressed Current

Significant range of driving voltages and higher
and adjustable current outputs

Operation in extensive range of resistivity

Great variety of anodes with very low rates of consumption

Electronic control and monitoring can be advantageous and reduce inspection and maintenance costs. Often essential in severe fluctuating DC traction interference

Can be operated at constant current or constant potential adjustment

Reliable onshore and if properly maintained, on ships

Require external source of energy

More likely to generate stray current interference
to foreign structures than galvanic anode

Susceptible to deterioration by external conditions, particularly offshore

Require monitoring of potentials for safe operation to avoid over and under-protection

Offshore systems may have high inspection,
control and maintenance requirements

More complex and in some applications, less
reliable than galvanic anode systems

Electronic control and monitoring can cause additional complexity and lower reliability

Sacrificial Anodes

Robust, simple and reliable

Generally easy installation and few components

Low costs of installation and maintenance

Do not require external sources of energy

Generally cause limited interference or interference problems with other structures

Limited driving voltage

Low and limited current output from individual anodes

Life is a function of the anodic mass

Attacked in acid environments

Operation affected by the environment resistivity

CAPEX can be higher than impressed current systems, but, generally, OPEX is generally less


What is the impact of corrosion on the offshore renewable sector, and how is this being controlled?   AN


The world is depending more and more on clean renewable energy as opposed to that based on oil and gas, and the renewable sector is rapidly becoming one of the biggest energy sectors in the world, with wind farms breaking records for output and size.  However, with these farms come many of the same corrosion and engineering challenges that have been faced by the oil and gas sector for many years. Corrosion is a major risk for offshore wind foundations, its effects could mean costly offshore retrofit work, resulting in the loss of energy generation, and expose operatives to additional health and safety risks. Corrosion protection is thus of vital importance to assure the integrity of offshore structures, to minimise exposure to these risks.

It is estimated that the cost of painting an offshore structure in a dedicated painting facility can be up to 25 percent less per square metre compared with coating onsite. In addition, costs brought about by repair work to a new coating system carried out onsite have been estimated by one coating manufacturer to cost up to 5 to 10 times more per square metre compared with repairs made in the shop. A report by TWI stated that a recent coating failure on a wind farm off the coast of Ireland cost over £2m to rectify, 20 times the cost of the original installation itself

Thus, it makes sense to complete the corrosion protection of any structure in a paint shop or facility straight after fabrication—including painting, inspection and any necessary repairs. A corrosion protection strategy should be an integral part of the production process, and an appropriate time frame allocated in order to successfully execute the painting programme prior to delivery. It’s a simple concept, in order to increase quality and reduce costs, owners must ensure the dedicated site team includes a corrosion control specialist during design, construction, and commissioning, in order to ensure that the work is carried out on time and to the required specification.

Most of the standards available for offshore corrosion protection of wind turbine towers have been used in the oil and gas sector industry for many years, including ISO 12944 and NORSOK M-501. However, it is often seen in the recruitment adverts for corrosion control and QA/QC personal, the requirements being specific to the renewable sector, many whom are not familiar with the oil and gas sector, which in turn has created its own issues and subsequent failures and delays to project execution.

There are a number of different wind tower structural configurations, and these can a have an impact on the protective coating system applied. Although the external corrosion at the splash zone and tidal areas has been of great concern to the industry, particularly when dealing with the stress and fatigue related parameters of the towers, this corrosion in general is well understood and very similar to the challenges observed across other offshore facilities. However, internally, in the closed compartments, the current guidelines and standards are inadequate, as with data from inspections and surveys becoming available, major Issues such as fatigue and stress issues, design and material selection, cathodic protection, need to be addressed.

Experiences with internal corrosion have shown that it is difficult in practice to completely seal compartments and render them airtight. If the closed-compartment structure is not properly sealed, direct ingress of air is certainly possible.  One major certification society has noted that seawater and air (oxygen) ingress were detected in foundations that are as new as two years old, which increased the rate of corrosion and localised corrosion attack. After the commissioning of monopile foundations in many offshore wind farms, corrosion problems have been observed inside of the monopiles in the area located beneath the so-called ”air-tight deck”. The cause of this corrosion has been usually a failure of the subsea cable entrance seal which allows air (oxygen) to penetrate into the monopile. This is in complete contradiction to the assumption that the submerged internal area is a ”gas-free” area, with a low corrosion risk due to a limited presence of oxygen after initial oxygen depletion. There is also a risk of microbiologically influenced corrosion (MIC) in a closed-compartment foundation, with localised corrosion attack on the submerged surface and in the portions of the monopile buried in the upper region of the sediment. Alternating aerobic and anaerobic conditions may also favour bacteria growth, and the risk of MIC depends on the bacteria species and the environmental conditions present. Sulphur-reducing bacteria (SRB) are expected to be present, and if growth conditions are favourable, then sulphide production can occur. Differences in the state of the tide result in variation of the water level inside the pile, and this has led to micro-organism in the seawater, that do not require oxygen to survive, such as SRB. Some suppliers insist on placing cables inside the tower going through the pile and leaving the structure through a hole below the water known as the rat hole which is sealed. This seal has proven in many cases to be inadequate and again allows water ingress into the pile.

The offshore wind energy sector is facing major challenges and not fully addressing the corrosion issues, nor implementing strategic corrosion management systems from the design stage, due in part to the demand pressures for supply to meet the energy requirements.
Lee Wilson, Corrtech Ltd.


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