Chromate conversion coating or alodine coating is a type of conversion coating used to passivate steel, aluminium, zinc, cadmium, copper, silver, titanium, magnesium, and tin alloys.:p.1265 The coating serves as a corrosion inhibitor, as a primer to improve the adherence of paints and adhesives, as a decorative finish, or to preserve electrical conductivity. It also provides some resistance to abrasion and light chemical attack (e. g. from dirty fingers) on soft metals.
Chromate conversion coatings are commonly applied to everyday items such as screws, hardware and tools. They usually impart a distinctively iridescent, greenish-yellow color to otherwise white or gray metals. The coating has a complex composition including chromium salts, and a complex structure.
Chromate conversion coatings are usually applied by immersing the part in a chemical bath until a film of the desired thickness has formed, then removing the part, rinsing it, and letting it dry. The process is usually carried out at room temperature, with a few minutes of immersion. Alternatively, the solution can be sprayed, or the part can be briefly dipped in the bath; in which case the coating reactions take place while the part is still wet.
The coating is soft and gelatinous when first applied, but hardens and becomes hydrophobic as it dries out, typically in 24 hours or less. Curing can be accelerated by heating up to 70 °C (158 °F), but higher temperature will gradually damage the coating on steel.
The composition of the bath varies greatly, depending on the material to be coated and the desired effect. Most bath formulas are proprietary.
The widely used Cronak process for zinc and cadmium consists of 5–10 seconds of immersion in a room-temperature solution consisting of 182 g/L sodium dichromate (Na2Cr2O7 · 2H2O) and 6 mL/L concentrated sulfuric acid.
+ Al0 → Cr3+
+ 3 HO−
+ 3 HO−
Under appropriate conditions, these hydroxides will condense with elimination of water to form a colloidal sol of very small particles, that are deposited as a hydrogel on the metal's surface. The gel consists of a three-dimensional solid skeleton of oxides and hydroxides, with nanoscale elements and voids, enclosing a liquid phase. The structure of the gel depends on metal ion concentration, pH, and other ingredients of the solution, such as chelating agents and counterions.
The gel film contracts as it dries out, compressing the skeleton and causing it to stiffen. Eventually shrinkage stops, and further drying leaves the pores open but dry, turning the film into a xerogel. In the case of aluminum, the dry coating consists mostly chromium(III) oxide Cr
3, or mixed (III)/(VI) oxide, with very little Al
3. Typically the process variables are adjusted to give a dry coating that is 200-300 nm thick.
The coating contracts as it dries out, which causes it to crack into many microscopic scales, described as "dried mud" pattern. However, the trapped solution keeps reacting with any metal that gets exposed in the cracks, so that the final coating is continuous and covers the entire surface.
Although the main reactions turn most of the chromium(VI) anions (chromates and dichcromates) in the deposited gel into insoluble chromium(III) compounds, a small quantity of them remains un-reacted in the dried-out coating. For example, in the coating formed on aluminum by a commercial bath, about 23% of the chromium atoms were found to be Cr6+
, except in a region next to the metal. These chromium(VI) residues can migrate when the coating is wetted, and are believed to play a role in preventing corrosion in the finished part -- specifically, by restoring the coating in any new microscopic cracks where corrosion could start.
Chromating is often performed on galvanized parts to make them more durable. The chromate coating acts as paint does, protecting the zinc from white corrosion, thus making the part considerably more durable, depending on the chromate layer's thickness.
The protective effect of chromate coatings on zinc is indicated by color, progressing from clear/blue to yellow, gold, olive drab and black. Darker coatings generally provide more corrosion resistance. However, the coating color can also be changed with dyes, so color is not a complete indicator of the process used.
ISO 4520 specifies chromate conversion coatings on electroplated zinc and cadmium coatings. ASTM B633 Type II and III specify zinc plating plus chromate conversion on iron and steel parts.
Aluminium and its alloys
For aluminum, the chromate conversion bath can be simply a solution of chromic acid. The process is rapid (1–5 min), requires a single ambient temperature process tank and associated rinse, and is relatively trouble free. 
As of 1995, Henkel's Alodine 1200s commercial formula for aluminum consisted of 50-60% chromic anhydride Cr
3, 20-30% potassium tetrafluoroborate KBF
4, 10-15% potassium ferricyanide K
3Fe(CN), 5-IO% potassium hexafluorozirconate K
6, and 5-I0% sodium fluoride NaF by weight. The formula was meant to be dissolved in water at the concentration of 9.0 g/L, giving a bath with pH = 1.5. It yielded a light gold color after 1 min, and a golden-brown film after 3 min. The average thickness ranged between 200 and 1000 nm.
Iridite 14-2 is a chromate conversion bath for aluminum that does not contain hexavalent chromium. Its ingredients include chromium(IV) oxide, barium nitrate, sodium silicofluoride and ferricyanide.
In the aluminum industry, the process is also called chemical film or yellow iridite, Commercial trademarked names include Iridite and Bonderite (formerly known as Alodine, or Alocrom in the UK). The main standards for chromate conversion coating of aluminium are MIL-DTL-5541 in the US, and Def Stan 03/18 in the UK.
Hexavalent chromium compounds have been the topic of intense workplace and public health concern for their carcinogenicity, and as a result have become highly regulated.
In particular, concerns about the exposure of workers to chromates and dichromates while handling the immersion bath and the wet parts, as well as the small residues of those anions that remain trapped in the coating, have motivated the development of alternative commercial bath formulations that do not contain hexavalent chromium; for instance, by replacing the chromates by trivalent chromium salts, which are considerably less toxic. However, these do not seem to provide the long-term corrosion protection of the traditional formula.
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