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Part G

The Effect of Other Environments

Chapter G.1
Corrosion in Soil
1.1. Types of Soil 551
1.1.1. Constituents of Soil 551
1.1.2. Physical Chemistry of Soil 552
1.2. The Inuence of the Nature of Soil on the Corrosion
Behaviour of Aluminium 552
1.3. Form of Aluminium Corrosion in Soils 554
1.4. Aluminium Corrosion Resistance in Soils 554
1.5. Protection Against Corrosion in Soil 555 555
References 555
Chapter G.1
Corrosion in Soil
The corrosion behaviour of aluminium in soil is not only a complex issue, but also an
important one because of many relevant applications: cables for electricity and
telecommunications, water and gas distribution grids, embeddings of street signs, street
lamps and various supporting structures, etc.
Predicting the corrosion resistance of a metal and assessing the aggressiveness of a
given soil are very difcult.
The concept of soil is different for a geologist, an agronomist, a civil engineer and a
corrosion expert. Indeed, soil can be very different, even at two locations only a few
hundred meters apart, including natural soil in rural areas. The nature of a soil varies as
a function of depth, while the nature of successive layers depends on the local geology. The
uppermost layer is generally constituted by humus. Differences can be even more apparent
in urban and industrial areas, where urbanisation often has deeply transformed the soil.
Soil can partially consist in backll.
For soil, as for waters, the corrosion expert needs to know its physicochemical
characteristics in order to be able to establish a relationship between these characteristics
and the level of aggressiveness towards a metal or an alloy.
1.1.1. Constituents of soil
Natural soil results from the crumbling of rocks over geological time. There are several
types of constituents with specic physicochemical properties: clay, marl, limestone, sand,
gravel, etc.
Articial soils are constituted from backll, industrial slag, mining residues, etc. The
composition and structure of articial soils often have nothing in common with that of
natural soils, and they can vary substantially from one point to another, depending on their
origin. Besides inorganic constituents, all organic constituents of plant and animal origin,
which are very important in arable soil, need to be taken into account. Bacterial
decomposition of organic matter forms humus.
1.1.2. Physical chemistry of soil
Soil is a very heterogeneous, more or less humid medium. The humidity level depends on
the soils nature and on the volume of precipitation, and thus on the local climate. Water is
retained mainly by capillary action.
The main parameters of a soil are
Physical parameters: the shape and size of inorganic constituents and their plasticity,
on which both water drainage and aeration depend. Clays or silty soils have a ne
texture that retains water; they are poorly drained and aerated. On the other hand,
sandy soils are more aerated, and water is easily evacuated.
Chemical parameters: mainly the composition of the water that soaks the soil, which
depends on the climatic conditions and on the layers crossed by the water. The main
inorganic constituents in water are:
cations: Na

, K

, Ca
, and Mg
anions: Cl
, NO
, SO
The mineral content of water in soil varies between 0.5 and 1.5 gl
On industrial sites, even on former industrial sites, other inorganic elements can be
found, the nature of which is related to the industrial activity.
Soil also contains gases: oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon dioxide, originating mainly from
the decomposition of organic matter, etc.
Organic and bacteriological parameters: natural soils can exhibit intense biological
activity, mainly in the uppermost layer constituted from arable earth and humus,
which is acidic. This layer contains organic acids, the nature of which is more or less
well known [1].
A soil is characterised by a pH value and an electrical resistivity that is closely related to
the nature of salts dissolved in the humidity. The pH also depends on the quantity of
inorganic and organic acids, and on the carbon dioxide (CO
) level, as well as on possible
contamination by industrial or household wastewater. In general, soils have an acidic pH,
between 3.5 and 4.5. The pH increases with depth (Figure G.1.1).
The corrosion resistance of a metal depends on several more or less related parameters:
the water content,
the structure of the soil,
Corrosion of Aluminium 552
the concentration of dissolved oxygen, which depends on the depth and the structure
of the soil: a sandy and permeable soil is more oxygenated by rain water that can
inltrate easily than a dense, clayey soil,
the concentration of inorganic salts,
the concentration of organic acids and organic products from the decomposition of
animal and plant organisms,
the pH, and
the resistivity of the soil, which itself depends on the water content and the
concentration of inorganic salts.
Experience has taught that the aggressiveness of soils is related to their resistivity
(Figure G.1.2 and Table G.1.1). Experiments in Canada have led to the embedding of
unprotected aluminium limited to 1500 Vcm [3].
Resistivity is not the only criterion for the aggressiveness of a soil. Its structure, its
acidity and the organic matter that it contains must also be taken into account [4].
In spite of corrosion tests in many different soils over almost a century, based on a great
number of samples of different metals, it has not been possible to come up with a
relationship between the typology of soils and the corrosion resistance of metals [5].
Consequently, the corrosion resistance of aluminium in soils is also very difcult to
predict, because of the great diversity in the composition of soils [6, 7].
Figure G.1.1. pH as a function of depth [2].
Corrosion in Soil 553
The corrosion of metals in soils is electrochemical in nature, as a result of the presence of
In soil, unprotected aluminium can exhibit the following forms of corrosion:
pitting corrosion;
galvanic corrosion, if in contact with other metals: steel, copper, lead, etc. Often,
severe galvanic corrosion is observed if a totally or partially embedded structure is
earthed with a copper strap;
corrosion by stray currents (see Chapter G.2).
The use of unprotected aluminium is limited, mainly to North America where between
1948 and 1963, 626 km of pipeline made of aluminium alloys (of which 462 km were
Figure G.1.2. Relationship between resistivity and aggressiveness of soils [8].
Table G.1.1. Resistivity and aggressiveness of soils [9]
Resistivity (Vcm) Aggressiveness to metals
,500 Very corrosive
5001000 Corrosive
10002000 Moderately corrosive
200010 000 Slightly corrosive
.10 000 Less and less corrosive
Corrosion of Aluminium 554
totally unprotected) were buried: 6063, 3003, 30037072. They were used for the
transportation of crude oil and water [10].
Aluminium is used unprotected for underground passages (under motorways or
railways) as corrugated sheet covered with backll. In spite of a few limited experiences,
some successful, aluminium should not be buried without protection, especially cables for
the transportation of electrical energy and telecommunications, pipes for water adduction,
heat exchange circuits for heat pumps, etc.
Several modes of protection can be envisioned:
continuous extrusion sheathing with polymers: PVC, polyethylene, etc. This mode of
protection is used for electrical and telecommunication cables, pipes, and other
products manufactured in long lengths. The sheath should not be damaged by stones
or sharp objects when buried in a trench. In order to prevent these incidents, it is
recommended to cover the sheath completely with a layer of sand before lling. A
localised rupture of the protection becomes an anodic zone where the density of the
corrosion current (or of a stray current) can be quite high, leading to severe corrosion
that can severely damage the proper working condition of the installation;
paint is used, especially on components such as the foot of lamps, road signs, etc;
cathodic protection is normally used in addition to classic protections [11, 12].
Aluminium and its alloys, when placed on the ground, will undergo a slight surface
attack, whose intensity depends on the nature of the soil (and the products that have been
poured out there: fertilisers, plant-care products, etc.). Experience with aluminium tubes in
irrigation installations shows that this corrosion in contact with soil is generally very
[1] Elsner G., Jansch-Kaiser G., Sharp D.H., Soil underground corrosion. Corrosion Handbook,
vol. 1, Dechema, 1987.
[2] Matthess G., Pekdeger A., Chemical and biochemical reactions during ground water
regeneration, Wasser/Abwasser, vol. 121, 1980, p. 214.
[3] Whiting J.F., Wright T.E., Tests to ve indicate aluminum alloys pipe gives an economical
service, Materials Protection, vol. 1, 1962, p. 3646.
[4] Thomas R.F., Corrosion of metals in New Zealand soils, Corrosion Australasian, vol. 15, 1990,
p. 811.
Corrosion in Soil 555
[5] Romanoff M., Underground corrosion, Rapport NBS Circulaire 579 du 01/04/57.
[6] Sprowls D.O., Carlisle M.E., Resistance of aluminum alloys to underground corrosion,
Corrosion, vol. 17, 1961, p. 125t 132t.
[7] Latin A., Metallurgical considerations in the use of aluminium for cable shielding. Metallurgia,
vol. 44, p. 167173, 231238.
[8] Haynes G.S., Baboian R., A comparative study of the corrosion resistance of cable-shielding
materials, Materials Performance, vol. 18, 1979, p. 4556.
[9] Haynes G.S., Hessler G., Gerdes R., Bow K., Baboian R., A method for corrosion testing of
cable-shielding materials in soils, ASTM STP, 1989, p. 144155.
[10] Wright T.E., New trends in buried aluminum pipelines, Materials Performance, Sept. 1976,
p. 2628.
[11] Snodgrass J.S., Soil corrosion of aluminum in underground electric plasma, Corrosion NACE
75, paper No. 130.
[12] Wright T.E., The corrosion behavior of aluminium pipe, Materials Performance, vol. 22, 1983,
p. 912.
Corrosion of Aluminium 556