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Practical Techniques for Cathodic

Protection Potential Measurement

By Mahmoud Elmahdy , December 8, 2015
Takeaway: There are several practical techniques that can be used for potential measurements.
They are very important for any structure-to-electrolyte potential survey.

In order to determine the adequacy of a cathodic protection system applied on a certain structure, its
polarized potential has to be measured. The polarized potential is the summation of corrosion
potential and the amount of polarization that the structure has, excluding the soil IR drop.
Polarized potential is the potential across the structure-to-electrolyte interface. Below, we will talk
about the practical techniques that can be used to measure a structure's polarized potential.

1. Current Interruption Technique

The soil IR drop can be excluded from the measured potential by interrupting the cathodic protection
(CP) current source instantaneously. This can be done by installing a current interrupter at the CP
source and adjusting the ON and OFF cycles. One should make sure that the OFF cycle is as short
as possible to avoid structure depolarization, yet long enough to be able for reading records.
It's important to know that this technique is very simple for application in limited systems, but it faces
many challenges when applied in large networks. These challenges include:

Positive Spiking
When the current is interrupted, a positive spike occurs in the measured potential due to the
inductive and capacitive effects of the pipeline, which doesn't represent the true potential of

the pipeline. The duration of this spike may be 0.3 seconds. So, the instant OFF potential
reading, which represents the polarized one, should be recorded after this time has passed.

Interruption of all Current Sources

This happens in large networks of pipelines, where there are many current sources
distributed at different sections of the network, as well as in urban areas, where pipelines of
different authorities run with a lot of parallelism and crossingsand so stray currents exist in
pipelines. Current interrupters should be installed at all CP sources and synchronized so that
the CP current can be interrupted at the same time and then all IR drops can be eliminated.
When synchronization of current interrupters can't be done, the total IR drop can be
computed by taking the summation of individual IR drops. Synchronization of current
interrupters can be achieved by using GPS-synchronized interrupters, which take the same
signal from the satellite. However, if signal is lost at any interrupter, the measured potential
will not represent the true one.

Recirculating Currents
Recirculating currents are post-interruption currents that are generated between highly
polarized locations and lesser polarized locations. Due to these currents, the measured
potential at highly polarized locations is more positive than the true one, while at less
polarized locations the measured potential is more electronegative than the true one. The
error in measured potential due to these currents is 150 mv.

2. Reference Electrode near the Structure

By placing the reference electrode as close as possible to the protected structure, the soil IR drop
can be minimized. The reference electrode should not be too close to the structure so that it doesn't
eliminate the CP current; it is recommended to be at a distance of twice the reference electrode
This technique is impractical for buried pipelines, except at places where the pipeline enters or exits
from the ground. This technique can be used for underwater pipelines.
For coated pipelines, if the reference electrode is placed close to the pipeline and near the coating,
the IR drop can't be minimized. The reference electrode would need to be placed close to the
coating holidays for accurate measurements, which is not practical.
Inside water storage tanks, the electrode should be positioned as close to the wall of the tank as
possible. The same is true for waterfront and offshore structures; the electrode should be as close to
the piling as possible. In moving water, the electrode may swing about, so some structures are
equipped with guide wires or perforated plastic ducts to restrict the movement of a portable
For on-grade storage tanks, data are frequently taken around the periphery of the tank. This may not
yield accurate data about the potentials under the tank bottom, particularly if theanodes are in a ring
around the tank or the tank is large in diameter. Stationary reference electrodes under the tank
bottom yield the best data. Alternatively, if a perforated plastic tube is installed under the tank and
filled with water, a reference electrode can be pulled through it and potentials measured at intervals
An alternative to placing the reference electrode close to the structure is to install a plastic tube filled
with soil from the grade next to the pipe surface and put the reference electrode in it.

3. External CP Coupons
CP coupons are intended to simulate a small portion of a well-coated pipeline like a holiday; they are
manufactured from the same alloy as the protected structure, and they are typically 10 to 100 cm in
surface area.
CP coupons should be buried near the protected structure in the same electrolyte, subjected to the
same CP current and connected electrically to the protected structure.

CP coupons can be used to determine the corrosion rate of the structure or to monitor the adequacy
of the applied CP system.
In order to determine the corrosion rate, the coupon needs to be weighed beforehand and then
buried and connected to the structure. After a certain time, the coupons should be removed and
weighed. The corrosion rate is the weight loss per time.
For monitoring of CP potential, the connection between the coupon and the pipeline needs to be
interrupted instantaneously and the reference electrode should be placed in a soil tube to eliminate
any IR drop in the soil. So, the polarized potential of the coupon can be measured with respect to the
reference electrode placed in the soil tube. If the polarized potential of the coupon is -850 mv/cse or
more negative, any holiday of the same size or smaller will be equally well protected.
The above techniques are the most practical ones used for potential measurements, but in order to
obtain correct measurements, proper instruments have to be used. These techniques are very
important for any structure-to-electrolyte potential survey.