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Monitoring CP Systems

Technical Note No: 17

By: Chris Atkins

Mott MacDonald

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Monitoring CP Systems
BS EN 15257 prescribes the levels of certification and experience required for people collecting CP related data. There are three levels of certification. A Level 1 technician collects data in accordance with a method statement produced by a Level 2 technician, from specifications, standards and design documents produced by Level 3 technicians, who would normally expected to be at a level most engineering companies would describe as an Engineer or higher. The Corrosion Prevention Association has developed a course jointly with the Institute that addresses Level 1 CP technicians. The Level 2 course is currently under development and the Level 3 accreditation scheme is currently being rolled out. The training and certification scheme has been produced to provide appropriate levels of corrosion and cathodic protection background understanding. Note that certification can be achieved in reinforced concrete, buried and submerged structures, maritime structures and tank internals. The basic core of each course is similar, but then more structure specific training is provided and so certification is not transferable from sector to sector. Provided everything is straightforward, standard operating data can be interpreted against the published criteria by a Level 2 technician. Where things are a little less straightforward everything

should be referred to a Level 3 certificated person prior to making any significant adjustments. The basic method of monitoring to make sure nothing has changed since last time (a function check). This will include the voltage and current the system is operating at, and any readings from the monitoring probes. When the system is on the monitoring probe readings are affected by the current flowing and contain an error, known as IR error. To eliminate this, the system should be switched off so that Instant off readings are obtained. Sometimes systems do this automatically at a set frequency, sometimes the system will have a timer switch included that automatically isolates the current to the system at a set frequency. If neither of these are present getting instant off data can be difficult as in effect you have to turn the isolator off, and take readings at all the probes within 1 second of the current flow stopping. This is not typically possible, but may be all that can be achieved.

Periodically the system should be checked to confirm it is achieving the criteria set down in the relevant standard. This is normally achieved by turning the system off for a period, typically 24 hours. This should be accompanied with a visual inspection and possibly a delamination survey to provide a further check that no significant degradation has occurred. This is commonly known as a system review. A function check will typically be performed every three months, and a system review annually. Specific criteria are declared in EN 12696 2000 with potentials quoted with respect to Ag/AgCI/0.5 M KCl reference electrodes. The criteria from EN 12696 are: No instant off steel/concrete potential more negative than -1100 mV (-1.1V) for plain reinforcing steel or -900 mV for pre-stressing steel. Caution must be exercised in the application of cathodic protection to prestressed steel because of possible hydrogen embrittlement and possible catastrophic failure.


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Non standard


IR error

24 hour decay

System On

System Off

10 am, day 1 Time

and any one of the following: a) An instant off potential more negative than -720 mV (AND/OR) b) A potential decay over a maximum of 24 h of at least 100 mV from instant off. (AND/OR) c) A potential decay over an extended period (typically 24 h or longer) of at least 150 mV The first limiting criteria are to deal with the potential risk from hydrogen evolution. If the steel is polarised to a potential more negative than approximately -1000mV the cathodic reaction can change from the generation of alkalinity to the generation of hydrogen atoms and molecules. In certain circumstances this atomic hydrogen (H+) can become absorbed into the metal where it forms gaseous hydrogen molecules (H2) and may lead to a sudden failure of the reinforcement. It is important, therefore, to avoid this.

10 am day 2
then criterion (b) listed above has been achieved and the system can be turned on again. If this is not achieved then criterion (c) becomes relevant. This criterion is included to reflect certain situations such as foundations or buried structures where depolarisation can take longer. Although the decay takes a long time it should ultimately be greater than 150mV for the system to be considered as acceptable. Also included in the figure is a non standard decay curve. Occasionally this can occur and it is important to note that if a single reading was used in monitoring the 24 hour decay it could suggest the system is performing adequately, when in fact there are other factors influencing the potentials that require further investigation. It is important to take a number of readings over a 24 hour decay to confirm the general shape of the decay curve is as would be expected

The remaining criteria relate to accepted methods of confirming adequate protection. If the IR error free potential measured on the reference electrodes is more negative than -720mV the system is acceptable. For the potential decays the graph below shows a number of different decay curves: In the above graph a CP system is switched off at 10 am on day 1 to measure a potential decay. As soon as the system is off the readings become free of IR error and the reading taken the instant after the system is off is known as the Instant Off reading. This measurement of Instant OFF potential should be measured (at all locations being monitored) within 1 second of switching OFF but after any switching errors (spikes) which may occur in the first 0.1 second after switching. If the system is working correctly the potential reading taken 24 hours later should be more than 100mV less negative than the Instant Off reading. If this is the case


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Many systems can be remotely monitored using software provided at the time of construction and the performance verification and depolarisation data is collected automatically. It can then be reviewed from the office and a report produced confirming the review has taken place and making recommendations to either leave the system as found (if the criteria are achieved) or to carry out further investigations or adjustments. Over time, however, this software can become misplaced, passwords can be lost and phone lines disconnected. This will require a site visit to confirm the system is working. If you are confident that the decay curve is likely to be a standard shape, then you can utilise this to obtain decays over shorter periods. If a 24 hour decay is going to be over 100mV in 24 hours, and is going to be exponential, the majority of this shift will occur in a relatively short period of time from switching off. The table below illustrates some key values:

Period after switching off 1 min 5 min 10 min 15 min 30 min 1 hr 2 hr 4 hr 6 hr

Potential Shift from instant off 36 mV 50 mV 56 mV 59 mV 66 mV 72 mV 78 mV 84 mV 88 mV

obtained, or the results assessed based on the difference between 5 and 10 minute readings. This approach should only be used by experienced people. The relationship is not the case in tidal zones, or in oxygen limited zones, or anywhere where the curve may not be a standard shape (which may be reflected in historical data) and should only be employed as a last resort where maintaining access for 24 hours is prohibitively expensive or accurately obtaining the instant off data would involve repeated isolation of the system.

This also highlights just how important it is to obtain the instant off figure accurately. If it is taken after 1 minute instead of within 1 second the first 35mV of the decay will have been missed, and under protection may be incorrectly diagnosed. Alternatively if the time of readings can accurately be recorded (eg by using a dictaphone that includes when the system is switched off) the time taken between subsequent readings can be obtained and an estimate of the instant off value

This Monograph is published by the Corrosion Prevention Association (CPA), Kingsley House, Ganders Business Park, Kingsley, Bordon, Hampshire, GU35 9LU T: 01420 471614 F: 01420 471610 E:

Rights Reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form without prior written consent of the publishers. November 2010 - ISBN xxxxxxxxxxxx


Cathodic Protection Realkalisation Chloride Extraction Sacrificial Anodes Corrosion Inhibitors