Atmospheric corrosion takes place on most metals as they interact with thesurrounding environment. A degradation of the metal is the common result,which often leads to a shortened lifespan of the material. Hence, knowledge onthe fundamental interaction between a gas containing corrosive constituentsand a metal surface, which is the starting point of atmospheric corrosion, isimportant in many contexts. As the nature of atmospheric corrosion is inherentlycomplex, it imposes demands on the analytical studies that are neededin order to understand the fundamentals on a molecular level. Consequently,in-situ vibrational techniques, providing molecular information, have beenutilized in this work to study atmospheric corrosion by targeting the initialstages of the interaction between corrosive air and a metal surface. The initialstages (from minutes until days of exposure) were studied as these havea large influence on the atmospheric corrosion for prolonged exposure times.
More specifically, the interaction between humidified air to which organicacids were added, and zinc was targeted in order to address a situation inindoor atmospheric corrosion, where organic acids are of importance. Zinc isa constituent in e.g. brass, which is an alloy used in many indoor applications.
A systematic investigation utilizing complementary acting vibrational techniquesthus enabled detailed information on the mechanisms of the onsetof atmospheric corrosion of zinc induced by acetic and formic acid. Corrosionproducts of both two dimensional and three dimensional character couldbe separately studied by combining VSFS (interface sensitive), IRAS (nearsurfacesensitive), and CRM (bulk sensitive).
The Zn surface was found to be heterogeneous with different hydroxylgroups present on the surface. As this surface was exposed to formic or aceticacid, the OH groups on the surface were rapidly displaced in a ligand exchangewith formate or acetate. These ligands, organised in two dimensionalstructures, promoted corrosion by weakening the bonds of the Zn atoms totheir surrounding matrix.
The subsequent growth of three dimensional corrosion products, Zn hydroxyacetate and formate, observed within short exposure times of Zn exposedto acetic and formic acid, was found to be electrochemical in nature.Cathodic areas consisting of more crystalline ZnO were observed. The potentialdifference between these more noble areas on the surface and those of lessnoble character created an electrochemical cell, initiating release of Zn ionsinto the aqueous adlayer in the anodic reactions. These Zn ions precipitatedas localised corrosion products. The cathodic areas increased the local pHon the surface, thereby promoting precipitation in their vicinity. The resultson initial stages of this type of corrosion were found to have similarities withprevious field studies of Zn exposed to real indoor environments.
One way to decrease the corrosion rate of zinc is by adsorbing a corrosioninhibitor to the metal surface in order to protect it. As a model for sucha corrosion inhibitor, octadecanethiol (CH3(CH2)17SH) was seen to provideincreased corrosion protection of both reduced and oxidised Zn substrates byforming an adsorbed surface layer with an ordered structure.