Corrosion Practice Questions

Key Concepts and Summary

Spontaneous oxidation of metals by natural electrochemical processes is called corrosion, familiar examples including the rusting of iron and the tarnishing of silver. Corrosion process involves the creation of a galvanic cell in which different sites on the metal object function as anode and cathode, with the corrosion taking place at the anodic site. Approaches to preventing corrosion of metals include the use of a protective coating of zinc (galvanization) and the use of sacrificial anodes connected to the metal object (cathodic protection).

Practice Questions

Which member of each pair of metals is more likely to corrode (oxidize)?

(a) Mg or Ca

(b) Au or Hg

(c) Fe or Zn

(d) Ag or Pt

Consider the following metals: Ag, Au, Mg, Ni, and Zn. Which of these metals could be used as a sacrificial anode in the cathodic protection of an underground steel storage tank? Steel is an alloy composed mostly of iron, so use −0.447 V as the standard reduction potential for steel.

Solution: Mg and Zn

Aluminum $(E_{Al3+/Al}^° = −2.07 V)$ is more easily oxidized than iron $(E_{Fe3+/Fe}^° = −0.477 V)$, and yet when both are exposed to the environment, untreated aluminum has very good corrosion resistance while the corrosion resistance of untreated iron is poor. What might explain this observation?

If a sample of iron and a sample of zinc come into contact, the zinc corrodes but the iron does not. If a sample of iron comes into contact with a sample of copper, the iron corrodes but the copper does not. Explain this phenomenon.


Both examples involve cathodic protection. The (sacrificial) anode is the metal that corrodes (oxidizes or reacts). In the case of iron (−0.447 V) and zinc (−0.7618 V), zinc has a more negative standard reduction potential and so serves as the anode. In the case of iron and copper (0.34 V), iron has the smaller standard reduction potential and so corrodes (serves as the anode).

Suppose you have three different metals, A, B, and C. When metals A and B come into contact, B corrodes and A does not corrode. When metals A and C come into contact, A corrodes and C does not corrode. Based on this information, which metal corrodes and which metal does not corrode when B and C come into contact?

Why would a sacrificial anode made of lithium metal be a bad choice?


While the reduction potential of lithium would make it capable of protecting the other metals, this high potential is also indicative of how reactive lithium is; it would have a spontaneous reaction with most substances. This means that the lithium would react quickly with other substances, even those that would not oxidize the metal it is attempting to protect. Reactivity like this means the sacrificial anode would be depleted rapidly and need to be replaced frequently. (Optional additional reason: fire hazard in the presence of water.)