affects us in everyday life—in the manufacture of products, the transportation of people and goods, the provision of energy, the protection of our health and safety, and the defense of the nation. By discussing the impact of corrosion, this section sheds light on the importance of teaching engineers about corrosion. Figure 1-1 shows a single but vital element of the national infrastructure, an offshore semisubmersible drilling rig that is undergoing intense corrosion as a result of its exposure to saltwater and the moisture-laden, chloride-containing atmosphere.

Financial and Nonfinancial Costs of Corrosion

Although most people think of rust when they think of corrosion, the term refers not only to the oxidization of iron but can also refer to the degradation of all materials (metals, polymers, ceramics, semiconductors, and so on) that make up the public infrastructure and physical systems as diverse as the nation’s highway network, its military equipment, and medical devices implanted in our bodies.2 The costs associated with corrosion, although largely hidden, are borne by every consumer, user, and producer. They are enormous, estimated to be 3.1 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP).3 Applying this percentage estimate to the 2007 GDP of about $14 trillion gives a cost in 2007 dollars of $429 billion.4 With a population of 303 million, that works out to $1,416 per person per year in the United States. This estimate is supported by similar estimates in other countries (Box 1-1). The effects of corrosion on safety, health, and the environment are not so readily quantifiable, but failures of infrastructure illustrate the potential for severe impacts on daily life and the economic health and security of the nation.

The importance of mitigating corrosion is not just about saving money. It is equally—and in some cases more importantly—about readiness. Operating equipment in severe or unexpected environments can exacerbate corrosion and make systems unreliable. Readiness is critical in such systems as military equipment, emergency response systems, or very specialized systems like the launch facilities of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Often problems


For the purposes of this report, the committee will use the term corrosion to refer to the deterioration of a material in its operating or usage environment. NACE International, known as the National Association of Corrosion Engineers when it was established in 1943 by 11 corrosion engineers in the pipeline industry, defines corrosion as the deterioration of a material, usually a metal, that results from a reaction with its environment. While corrosion is associated mostly with metals, the committee considers corrosion to include the degradation of all materials—including polymer, composite, and ceramic materials—that results from a reaction with the environment.


For more information, see the Federal Highway Administration study Corrosion Costs and Preventive Strategies in the United States (1999), hereinafter called Corrosion Costs. Available at Accessed February 2008. The report is summarized in Appendix A.


GDP data from Accessed April 2008.

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