One of zinc’s most exceptional qualities is its ability to protect steel from corrosion. When left unprotected, in almost any environment, steel will corrode. Galvanizing protects steel by providing a physical barrier as well as cathodic protection for the underlying steel, allowing the steel’s service life to be significantly extended. For more information, see How Zinc Protects Steel and Durability and Service Life.
Attention to the durability of steel structures and components has important environmental, economic and social consequences. Some of these are less obvious than others. The overall economic cost of corrosion has been studied in several countries and is commonly estimated at up to 4% of gross domestic product.
By protecting steel from corrosion, galvanizing performs an invaluable service. It helps to save natural resources by significantly prolonging the life of steel and capital investments. The long-term durability provided by galvanizing is achieved at a relatively low environmental burden in terms of energy and other globally relevant impacts, especially when compared to the energy value of the steel it is protecting.
Lack of attention to optimal corrosion protection can leave a damaging economic legacy of repeated maintenance costs. For example, in social housing projects, future maintenance costs will be borne by the local authorities. In public infrastructure projects, use of galvanized steel can lead to lower maintenance budgets, releasing public funds for other purposes.
Our Life Cycle Cost Calculator is a simple online tool which can help estimate the life time costs (including initial application and maintenance) and simplify the coating selection process. The tool is free to use and no registration is required. For more information on Life Cycle Costing, download ‘The Concept of Life Cycle Costing’ from our Technical Publications page.
Galvanizing and Sustainable Construction: A Specifiers Guide is a comprehensive guide that explains the economic, social and environmental aspects of batch galvanizing. It aims to help architects, engineers and their clients consider how to use galvanized steel in the context of sustainable construction. The guide was produced by the European General Galvanizing Association in collaboration with Professor Tom Woolley – a well-known architect and environmental researcher.
Galvanizing has long protected steel transmission towers which form the backbone for much of the world’s electricity grids. A growing portion of energy now comes from renewable and alternative fuels where time in service is a critical factor in their economic viability.
Galvanizing is used wind turbines and structures that support and align solar panels, while zinc can also a component of the solar cells themselves. Researchers using thin layers of zinc oxide have recently fabricated the highest efficiency small gallium-arsenide solar cells ever created.
Another type of renewable energy where zinc is used are fuel cells. Zinc’s very high energy potential has made it a leading candidate in a range of fuel cell and battery designs under development for grid storage and micro-grid generation.