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Electricity Jolts Corrosion Research

Monday, December 16, 2013

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Researchers have made a shocking discovery about bridge corrosion: Electricity may be able to detect rusting reinforcing steel.

University of Buffalo researchers believe they can detect corrosion by sending a jolt of electricity between opposite ends of steel cables. An inconsistency in the charge would tell them that the cable is corroding.

"The No. 1 priority of all civil engineers is the safety of the public," said Tresor Mavinga, a UB senior civil engineering and mathematics major involved in the research.

University of Buffalo

Researchers at the University of Buffalo embedded transducers into each end of a steel cable and sent a jolt of electricity through it. If the charge loses energy, it could indicate the presence of corrosion.

"Corrosion can affect any structure, not just bridges, and we don't want that to happen. We need to be as accurate as possible to save money, time and lives."

A Failing Grade

Corrosion problems have increased significantly over the last three decades, according to the Federal Highway Administration, partly because of the increased use of road de-icing salts.

The American Society of Civil Engineers gave U.S. bridges a C+ grade in its 2013 Report Card for America's Infrastructure. Overall, infrastructure was given a D+ grade—a modest improvement from its D rating in the previous report.

The report said that there were 71,177 structurally deficient bridges and 78,477 functionally obsolete bridges in the country.

Firing Up Corrosion

Salvatore Salamone, assistant professor of civil engineering, led the research team, which included Mavinga and Alireza Farhidzadeh, a civil engineering graduate student.

The team embedded piezoelectric transducers into each of of a wire. The devices convert a signal from one form of energy to another.

Using ultrasonic-guided waves, they fired one volt of electricity through the cable and monitored the charge at each end. The experiment was repeated with the same wire after it was rusted with a saltwater mixture. The corroded cables lost most of the energy from the electrical charge during the transfer.

This method would be permanently attached to the cables, so engineers could test for corrosion from an off-site location and wouldn't have to rely on time-consuming and expensive visual inspections.


Tagged categories: American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE); Bridges; Corrosion; Federal Highway Administration (FHWA); Infrastructure; Research

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