In water industry, graphitic corrosion and graphitization are interchangeably used. However, they are different forms of corrosion.

  • graphitic corrosion—deterioration of cast iron wherein the metallic constituents are selectively leached or converted to corrosion products, leaving the graphitic particles intact.
  • graphitization—the formation of graphite in iron or steel, usually from decomposition of iron carbide at elevated temperatures.

Though both forms of corrosion are dramatically different, we still use the terms interchangeably as the water industry is used to these terminologies.

Typically, gray iron component failure is attributed to graphitic corrosion or graphitization. Graphitization occurs when the metallic constituents of gray iron are selectively removed or converted into corrosion products. Graphitization leaves behind the graphite matrix of the gray iron in the shape of the original casting. Graphitic corrosion is particularly insidious because graphitized pipe may appear perfectly sound upon visual inspection despite being embrittled and prone to premature failure under load.

Graphitic corrosion is one example of the dealloying of a metal. During dealloying, one component of an alloy is selectively dissolved, leaving other components behind. The preferential attack on iron in gray iron results from the fact that graphite is located at a highly noble or corrosion resistant position in the galvanic activity series. The relative position of two metals in the galvanic activity series determines which will most readily participate in electrochemical reactions, such as corrosion.

Pipes that are subject to graphitization may appear sound and may conduct water adequately. However, the metallic portion of a pipe wall may be significantly thinner in various places along the wall. Graphitized regions of the pipe wall will be brittle and subject to failure under load as the result of temperature variation, heavy traffic, or shock.

Graphite is far more noble than iron, so that the graphite matrix within the gray iron can act as the cathode in an electrochemical reaction under the right conditions of soil composition and moisture. The iron in gray iron samples that are subject to an electrochemical reaction will undergo anodic attack. In such samples, the graphite matrix will survive, while the iron is dissolved away.

Chat below shows the some of the possible causes of external corrosion of DI pipe: