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Inorganic Zinc-Rich

Coatings and
A Comparison
by Gordon H. Brevoort
Brevoort Consulting Associates, Inc.

Much confusion still exists about the merits of using The Starting Point
zinc-rich coatings or hot-dip galvanizing on new steel Properly applied to clean steel, zinc, whether in the
structures. There are arguments in favor of one or the form of hot-dip galvanizing or an inorganic zinc-
other, sometimes based on exaggerated claims or rich coating, offers basically the same protection,
supposed success stories, but seldom on fact. corrosion rate, and life. The voluminous data on
How do the 2 really compare, specifically in corrosion
protection, in corrosion rates, in service life (same rates and resistance supplied by The Zinc Institute
environment), in cost, and in ease of specifying and do not distinguish the form of the zinc: galvanizing,
use? zinc-rich, metallizing, zinc plating, zinc anodes, or
other forms.1
Both galvanizing and zinc-rich coatings have strengths
and limitations and slight differences in performance. The Role of Zinc as a Protective
What are the differences, and how do they affect the
decision to use one or the other in a part icular Coating
circumstance? Zinc protects steel in several ways, including
This article will consider the basics of zinc chemistry, sacrificial protection and barrier protection. The
characteristics, and use. It will also supply general degree of protection afforded also depends on the
guide-lines to aid the specifying engineer. Prime environment to which the zinc-coated steel is
attention will be given to un-topcoated finishes. exposed.
The need for topcoating will also be addressed.
Discussion of zinc-rich coatings will be confined to One critical protective mechanism of zinc is
inorganic zinc (IOZ) materials with a minimum of 85 sacrificial protection. Zinc is higher than steel in the
percent by weight zinc in the dried film for both galvanic series. The practical significance of this
solvent- and water-borne types. Comparisons will be relationship is that when zinc and steel are
made with after-fabrication, hot-dip galvanizing. connected in the presence of an electrolyte, the zinc
will sacrifice itself preferentially to the steel, thus
Editor’s Note: The following article is adapt-ed corroding before the steel.2 The rate of corrosion of
with permission from “Inorganic Zinc-Rich the zinc used as galvanic or cathodic protection
Coatings Vs. Galvanizing,” first pub-lished depends on the amount of water present, the
in Modern Steel Construction, conductivity of the water, the average temperature,
December 1995, pp. 46-50. and the amount of zinc exposed. Zinc will not last
very long in complete water immersion or
continuous high humidity. Zinc loss is even faster in partially shields or insulates the zinc particles. As
hot water up to 140 F (60 C). Munger explains, the protective mechanism of the
Between 140 and 250 F (60 C and 121 C), zinc can zinc is metered over a longer period of time.3
reverse polarity and actually con-tribute to, rather
than inhibit, the corrosion of steel. Both methods form zinc salts that protect the zinc.
The zinc acts as a barrier coat between the These insoluble zinc salts are not affected by
atmosphere or other environment and the steel sunlight; deterioration comes from abrasion or slow
substrate. weathering.
Zinc is also “self healing.” When the protective film
The ability of zinc to form a barrier is enhanced by of zinc salt is broken, more salts form from the free
the zinc exposed until all of the zinc is used.4
zinc corrosion process. Zinc, being more active than
steel, corrodes faster than steel but lasts longer. How This mechanism helps explain the ability of
is this possible? Zinc produces protective corrosion inorganic zinc-rich coatings and galvanizing to
byproducts that result from the reaction with oxygen, tolerate scrapes, scratches, and gouges by forming
carbon dioxide, and moisture in the air. their own protective films. This ability of inorganic
zinc to protect damaged steel by preferential
The corrosion byproducts are zinc oxides, corrosion of the zinc instead of the steel is known as
hydroxides, and carbonate salts. The zinc coating throwing power. It extends about 1 in. (6 mm) from
must dry periodically to adequately form these the break.
protective salts. These hard, in -soluble zinc salts
cause the film to swell Corrosion Rates of Zinc in
and convert into an effective barrier coat, sealing off Various Environments
the corrosives from the steel and slowing the
corrosion attack on the zinc to about 1 as that of the
corrosion rate of iron. Zinc performs best in neutral environments (pH
This effect can be observed when a zinc coating 7±1). It is more susceptible to acids (pH < 6) than
changes color to a darker gray. alkalis (pH > 10.5). Both in-organic zinc and
In addition, the amount of zinc ex-posed determines galvanizing will resist solvent fume or spill
the consumption of zinc. environments. How-ever,
they have limited resistance to chlorides, sulfides,
Inorganic zinc-rich coatings with less than half of the and alkalis, and the performance of each will be
ounces of zinc exposed per sq ft (grams of zinc per sq affected by the combinations of contaminants in the
m) hold up as well as galvanizing. The entire top exposure
layer of zinc in galvanizing is exposed all of the time, environment.
while in an inorganic zinc coating, the silicate binder
When they are dissolved in water, these oxides form
sulfuric acid, which then reacts with the zinc
hydroxide or zinc carbonate found on the zinc-
coated surface.
This reaction yields zinc sulfate, a highly soluble
salt. Rain easily washes away the zinc sulfate,
exposing the zinc underneath and making it
vulnerable to chlorides and similar contaminants.1

Anticipated Life of
Zinc Coatings

As described above, life expectancy of a zinc

coating will depend on the exposure environment.
Data for both hot-dip galvanizing and inorganic
zinc coatings applied to structural steel at the same
(3.4 mils [86 micrometers]) are presented in Table 1,
summarizing the corrosion behavior based on
twenty-year-exposure data of ASTM.

These data are generally borne out by the data

presented in Table 2, which compiles 87 power
companies’ experience of average service life based
on the years before the first painting of galvanized

In mild environments within the 6-10.5 pH range,

advocates of both galvanizing and zinc-rich coatings
can point to structures that have performed without
For example, in an 11-year test fence evaluation of a top-coating for more than 20 years. Examples of
variety of zinc-rich systems, untopcoated zinc-rich structures protected with a single coat of
primers gave overall superior rust and scribe inorganic zinc for more than 20 years include an
undercutting resistance at a marine exposure site assembly building at Cape Canaveral, a highway
compared to an industrial site.5 bridge near the Florida coast, and a refinery in
Japan. Galvanizing examples include a Canadian
Figure 1 shows the performance of zinc in a bridge, a
combined marine-industrial environment. The ten- polyethylene plant on the Gulf Coast, and power
year-old guardrail in poor condition is directly transmission towers in the rural Southeastern
opposite a refinery/chemical plant on the New United States.
Jersey seacoast.
The Zinc Institute’s 1971 booklet, Zinc
Coatings for Corrosion Protection, explains why the
zinc does not stand up well in a marine-industrial
environment. In marine atmospheres, the air is
contaminated with water that contains high levels of
sodium chloride. In urban and industrial settings,
the main atmospheric pollutants are oxides of
In the 11-year study cited previously, topcoated For untopcoated systems, the inorganic zinc and
and untopcoated inorganic zinc-rich systems thermal spray zinc system performances were
gave approximately equivalent performances in about equal and slightly better than galvanizing.
marine and industrial environments.5 For topcoated systems, the thermal spray system
Galvanized and thermal-sprayed zinc systems was slightly better than the inorganic zinc and
were also exposed at the industrial site only galvanized systems, which were about equal.
When and Where to Use Zinc-rich coatings can be applied to new or old
structures on the ground, in the shop, or in place.
Galvanizing and IOZ Their use is cost-effective on large structural pieces,
The use of galvanizin g is limited to new structures plate steel, large vessels, and irregular shapes, The
or replacement pieces and the availability of decision to use zinc-rich coatings on new
galvanizers with adequate size galvanizing kettles or construction can be made at any time without
tanks. Most galvanizing is accomplished with disrupting new construction schedules.
fabricated pieces before erection or final fabrication.
Small pieces, open-web floor grating, ladders, and General advantages and disadvantages of each are
handrails are much more easily galvanized than listed in the boxes above and on 6
coated with inorganic zinc.
Chemical resistance depends
Organic Zinc-Rich Coatings on the binder used. In general, organic
zinc-rich coatings have greater tolerance for
With an organic binder such as epoxy, marginally prepared surfaces, may be applied
zinc-rich coatings have some but not all of under widely varying weather conditions, and can
the desirable properties of inorganic zinc- easily be topcoated.
rich coatings.
Their adhesion characteristics are those of the lighter than 30 lbs/sq ft (146 kg/sq m), or more than
organic 375 sq ft/ton (38 sq m/Mg). Otherwise, inorganic
binder used. Galvanic protection is reduced, since zinc is usually cheaper.
the organic binder greatly insulates the zinc particles
from one another and the atmosphere. The service The guidelines in Table 3 were developed by W. A.
life of Wood, Jr. with the assistance of
untopcoated organic zinc is substantially shorter applicators in the Southwest offering both
than that of inorganic zinc because zinc salts do not galvanizing
form to protect the coating. and coating application.
However, if topcoated, organic zinc-rich primers The table gives guidance for determining whether to
will generally perform as well as the same system galvanize or use zinc-rich coatings.
based on an inorganic zinc-rich primer in ambient
temperature Sometimes, the best way to select the method of
service. In some chemical environments, organic protection is to ask for competitive quotations on
systems will actually perform better. the job requirements both ways and compare them.
Organic zinc systems have all the weather resistance It may be feasible to use both on the same job.
characteristics of the organic binder. They may
blister in areas of high humidity or in water Table 4 gives a direct comparison, by weight/linear
immersion. Heat foot of steel work, of galvanizing and the use of
resistance is usually below 300 F (149 C), depending inorganic zinc.7
on the organic binder.

Cost Considerations Topcoating

It is not always easy to compare the cost of Sooner or later, depending on the specific chemical
galvanizing to the cost of inorganic zinc-rich and weathering environment, both galvanizing and
coatings because the galvanizing industry calculates inorganic zinc may need topcoat protection. In
cost by weight of zinc used while the coatings aggressive environments, usually beyond the pH
industry calculates cost by area of steel coated and range of 6 to 10.5, suitable protective topcoats are
the thick-ness of the coating. needed to protect the structure itself and to protect
the zinc films so that their galvanic protection is
The most economical and practical choice depends used for the protection of the steel and not wasted
in large measure on the size, weight, and shape of by weathering into the atmosphere. In chloride and
the piece that is to be protected. sulfide environments, zinc chloride and zinc sulfide
salts will form, both of which are water-soluble.
It is generally cheaper to galvanize most small The layers of zinc will continue converting
pieces and small irregular shapes such as handrails, to these soluble salts and washing off until the zinc
small angles, open floor grating, ladders, bolts, and is dissipated. Suitable top-coats are needed to
nuts. prevent this phenomenon and provide an effective
It is usually cheaper to abrasive blast and apply resistant system.
inorganic zinc to large structural pieces, pipe, tank
plates, vessels, and large irregular shapes of all Substantial difference exists in the ease or
types. practicality of topcoating new galvanizing and
inorganic zinc coatings.
As a general rule, galvanizing is cheaper if the piece Properly compounded zinc-rich coatings
is less than 6 in. (152 mm) wide, less than 6 in. (16
mm) thick,
can be readily topcoated at the fabricator shop or at In severe chloride or sulfide enviro nments, water-
the job site. Galvanizing, on the other hand, soluble salts are formed. In 5 to 6 years, much of the
requires brush-blasting, acid etching (e.g., vinyl water-soluble zinc salt will have washed off, and the
wash primer), or solvent wiping to remove the zinc film will be reduced considerably. Additional
surface contaminants water-soluble salts will be forming and active
and oily film and to provide good adhesion. rusting will occur, making topcoat application
difficult. The complete removal of water-soluble
Topcoating of aged galvanizing or in -organic zinc- salts and rust is very difficult.
rich coatings in conditions free of chlorides or Removal generally must be done by abrasive
sulfides can be achieved by pressure water washing, blasting and application of a new protective
acid etching, or brush blasting (SSPC-SP 7, NACE coating system suitable for the specific environment.
No. 4) and applying a suitable primer and protective
coating system. Virtually all of the zinc will still be Sometimes, topcoating is for appearance only. Both
present, topped with a zinc oxide-zinc carbonate inorganic zinc-rich and galvanizing can be
film that is fairly inert, tight, and rough enough for topcoated following the guidelines above, but the
good topcoat supplier’s recommendation must be followed as
adhesion. A dark gray color will indicate this well.
Alkyds should never be used because they
While brush blasting and acid etching can be used, react with the zinc and saponify, with the
there is some question about their economics. result of loss of adhesion.
Further, they will remove some of the high quality
zinc oxide-zinc carbonate barrier coating that could
be left
to provide more years of protection.
Conclusion References

This article has attempted to compare 1. Zinc Institute, Inc., Zinc Coatings for
the use of untopcoated galvanizing and Corrosion Protection (New York, NY:
inorganic zinc-rich coatings and to give Zinc Institute, Inc., 1971).
guide-lines on the uses and merits of 2. Ronald I. Pamer, “Corrosion Protection
Gordon H. Brevoort of Chemical Facilities with Zinc-Rich,”
is a veteran of the each. There is no simple answer to
which is best or which to use for new in Proceedings of the National Zinc-
heavy-duty paint and
protective coatings structures because the materials are Rich
industry. He is well basically equal in corro-sion resistance Coatings Conference, Chicago, IL,
known for his work in December 4, 1974 (New York, NY: Zinc
creating the “Paint and performance.
Institute, 1974), p. 34.
and Coatings Selection
and Coat Guide,” Each process has its own advantages and 3. C.G. Munger, “Zinc-Rich Primers,” in
which has been disadvantages. Galvanizing is usually Good Painting Practice, Vol. I of the
published biennially Steel Structures Painting Manual, Third
cheaper for objects less than 6 in. (152
through NACE since Edition, Ed. John D. Keane, et al. (Pitts-
Corrosion/79. He has mm) wide, 5/8 in. (16 mm) thick, more
also computerized than 375 sq ft/ton (38 sq m/Mg), and burgh,
the guide. for grating and small pieces. PA: SSPC, 1993), pp. 132-133.
In the rail-car 4. W.A. Woods, Jr., “Zinc-Rich Coatings
field, Brevoort has Untopcoated IOZ coatings are cost
been active in NACE’s effective on long assemblies, vs.
T-14C Railcar Task large structural pieces, piping, and Galvanizing,” unpublished paper
Group, was its vessels. (Houston, TX: Courtaulds Coatings,
Symposium Chair for Inc., June 1990).
Corrosion/92, and was
Scheduling, design criteria to facilitate 5. R.E.F. Weaver, B.R. Appleman, and J.A.
Vice-Chair of the
group that created the the galvanizing process, the mix of sizes Bruno, Topcoats for Zinc-Rich
Railcar Painting and and shapes, and the availability of Coatings:
Lining Manual.
galvanizing facilities with adequate 11 Year Report, SSPC 87-06 (Pittsburgh,
He has
conducted Economics kettle size must be considered when PA: SSPC, 1987), p. 20.
Tutorials for SSPC at using galvanizing. IOZ coatings offer 6. C.G. Munger, “Petroleum Industry Use
its annual meetings flexibility in use, since they can be of
and at its industry
applied to new or existing structures, Zinc-Rich Coatings,” in Proceedings of
seminars. He received
and the decision to use them can be the
SSPC’s 1988 Coatings
Education Award made at any time without sacrificing National Zinc-Rich Coatings
at that year’s protection, Conference,
annual meeting. Chicago, IL, December 4, 1974 (New
He is president of scheduling, or increase in cost.
Brevoort Consulting York,
Associates, Inc., which Each project must be evaluated NY: Zinc Institute, 1974), pp. 77-81.
he formed in 1985. specif ically on its corrosive environment, 7. D.K. Griffin, “You Be the Judge,”
Brevoort can be unpub-lished
reached at nature and size of the structure and its
components, and its design life. Most paper (Houston, TX: Courtaulds
7B2 Long Beach
Boulevard, importantly, if the pH is more than 6 to Coatings, June 1990).
North Beach,
10.5, topcoating is necessary for both
NJ 08008;
609/494-8645. processes
and is done more cheaply up front than

When uncertainty exists about the best Additional Reading

approach, bidding the project both with Rahrig, Phillip G. “Hot Dip Galvanizing.”
shop-applied IOZ coatings and Modern Steel Construction, April 1995:
galvanizing will help in making the 36-41.
decision. Slunder, C.J. and W.K. Boyd. Zinc: Its
Resistance. New York, NY: Inter-national
Lead Zinc Research Organiza-tion,
Acknowledgment Inc., 1986.
The author would like to thank R.E.
of Raytheon Engineers (Philadelphia,
and W.A. Wood of Courtaulds Coatings
(Houston, TX) for their help in
this article.