Is Galvanized Steel Conductive? (Yes. It is)

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Galvanized steel is steel (iron combined with carbon) with a zinc coating on top. This coating protects against rusting by preventing corrosive substances from reaching the underlying iron. The coating also provides improved durability and better aesthetics. 

Galvanized steel is used in a variety of industries, from construction to automobiles. Have you ever wondered if galvanized steel is conductive? In this article, we are going to discuss just that.

We will begin by learning about galvanized steel, its pros & cons, and its uses. Then we will talk about its electrical conductivity and process. Finally, we will also look at its heat conductivity.

Read: Does Graphite Conduct Electricity?

Is Galvanized Steel a Good Conductor of Electricity?

Yes, galvanized steel is a good conductor of electricity. Being largely composed of iron (a metal), it has free electrons that can move across and pass the electric charge. However, the thickness of the zinc coating will determine the level of electrical conductivity.

Let us first understand how electrical conduction works. For a material to conduct electricity, it must have free electrons that can move the electric charge from one place to the other. Most non-metals (like glass) do not have free electrons and therefore do not conduct electricity. 

Metal ions, on the other hand, form a giant structure known as the “sea of delocalized electrons”, which can move freely. These free-moving electrons can transport the electric charge from one point to another, which is why metals are conductive in both solid and liquid states. 

Galvanized steel is steel with a zinc coating. This zinc coating acts as a protective barrier and prevents corrosion & rust. But it also affects the conductivity of the steel. The thickness of the zinc coating will shape conductivity—thicker coatings would lead to lesser conductivity. 

How Does Galvanized Steel Conduct Electricity?

Galvanized steel conducts electricity through the movement of free electrons across the structure. It has a zinc coating, which is also moderately conductive. The thickness of the coating affects the electrical conductivity. 

To conduct electricity, a material must have free electrons. These free electrons can carry the electric charge and pass it from one point to another. Galvanized steel is largely composed of iron, which has a sea of delocalized electrons because it is a metal.

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Therefore, galvanized steel can conduct electricity. The zinc coating on top can also conduct electricity as zinc is moderately conductive. It allows the electrons to move from the zinc to the steel, which can then travel across the material.

The thickness of the zinc coating will shape the electrical conductivity. The thicker the coating, the lower would be the conductivity. It is important to remember that galvanized steel is not as conductive as copper or aluminum. 

Galvanized steel is moderately conductive and can be used in electrical applications that do not require a high level of conductivity.

Does Galvanized Wire Conduct Electricity?

Yes, galvanized wire conducts electricity. However, its electrical conductivity depends on the galvanizing process and the thickness of the zinc coating. These wires can be used in applications such as grounding and electrical enclosures.

Galvanized steel is steel covered with a zinc layer. Steel, being largely composed of iron (a metal), has free electrons that can move across and pass electrical charges. Therefore, it is a conductive material. 

The zinc coating of galvanized steel acts as a protective barrier and prevents corrosion/rusting. Moreover, it also allows electrical charges to seep into the steel, giving them a pathway to travel. However, the thickness of the coating will affect the electrical conductivity of the wire.

The thicker the coating, the lower will be the electrical conductivity. In general, galvanized steel is not as conductive as copper or aluminum. Therefore galvanized steel wires can be used in applications requiring low electrical conductivity, such as grounding and electrical enclosures.

In applications requiring a high level of conductivity, copper or aluminum wires would be more appropriate. 

Does Galvanized Steel Conduct Heat?

Yes, galvanized steel does conduct electricity. However, its thermal conductivity depends on the thickness of the zinc coating. This zinc coating, besides providing protection, also acts as a pathway for the heat to travel across the material.

Galvanized steel is steel with a zinc coating. Steel, being largely composed of iron (a metal) can conduct heat well. The zinc coating of galvanized steel protects against corrosion and rust.

It also provides a pathway for heat and electricity to travel. The coating allows both heat and electricity to seep into the steel and travel across the other side. However, the thickness of the coating determines the level of thermal conductivity.

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The thicker the layer, the lower the heat conductivity. In general, galvanized steel is a moderate conductor of heat, and it can be used in applications where a high level of thermal conductivity is not needed. This is why it is used widely in construction for roofing, structural support, etc.

Pros and Cons of Galvanized Steel

These are the pros of galvanized steel:

  1. Corrosion resistance:  The zinc coating on galvanized steel acts as a protective barrier, which prevents rust and corrosion from forming on the steel surface. This makes galvanized steel perfect for outdoor applications; it can withstand harsh environmental conditions such as rain, snow, and saltwater.
  2. Low Maintenance: Galvanized steel requires very little maintenance. Small scratches and damages can be repaired naturally by the zinc’s sacrificial action. Therefore, there is no need for frequent repairs or replacements, saving time and money.
  3. Budget-friendly: Galvanized steel is relatively inexpensive compared to other materials, making it a budget-friendly choice for many applications. Additionally, galvanized steel’s low maintenance requirements and longevity reduce overall costs over time.
  4. Versatility: Due to its strength, durability, and corrosion resistance, galvanized steel can be used in a wide range of applications. It is used in construction for structural framing, roofing, and siding. In automotive and industrial applications, it is used for parts and components. It can also be used for fencing, drainage, and HVAC systems.
  5. Durability: Galvanized steel combines the strength of iron with the resistance of zinc. This makes it a highly durable material that can last for long periods in both everyday environments as well as those more prone to corrosion (say areas with water exposure).

Check out this video by Valmont Coatings to learn more about the advantages of galvanized steel. These are the cons of galvanized steel:

  1. Environmental concerns: The process of galvanization involves the use of toxic chemicals (zinc and acid pickling agents) that can cause pollution if not handled correctly. Zinc is a heavy metal that can accumulate in soil (zinc poisoning) and water, leading to environmental degradation and health hazards for both humans and animals.
  2. Not suitable for welding: Galvanized steel is not suitable for welding. This is because welding creates heat, and the zinc coating releases zinc oxide fumes. The fumes can cause respiratory problems and other health issues.
  1. Limited color options: Galvanized steel is typically available in a limited range of colors. The zinc coating on galvanized steel is silver in color, which often does not match the color scheme of some projects. Although it is possible to paint galvanized steel, the process requires special preparation and paint types.
  1. Limited heat resistance: Galvanized steel is not suitable for high-temperature applications. At high temperatures, zinc vaporizes and releases fumes, which can be hazardous to human health and can cause damage to equipment. Therefore, galvanized steel is not the best choice for applications like ovens, furnaces, or exhaust systems.
  1. Susceptible to scratching: The zinc coating on galvanized steel is relatively thin and can be easily scratched by sharp objects. In such cases, the underlying steel is exposed and becomes susceptible to rust and corrosion. Therefore, galvanized steel requires careful handling to prevent damage to the coating.
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Uses of Galvanized Steel

These are the uses of galvanized steel:

  • Construction: Galvanized steel is used in construction projects, like in the frames of buildings, bridges, and stadiums. Due to its zinc coating, it can withstand rusting and does not corrode easily. Its durability is combined with its low cost. Plus, the shine that it provides gives the structures a modern look. It is also used in smaller projects like fences, tubing, rails, etc.
  • Electrical/Telecommunication Industry: It is used in the production of electrical systems, such as utility poles, electrical boxes, and wiring. Its corrosion resistance makes it perfect for outdoor electrical appliances.
  • Automotive industry: Galvanized steel is used in the manufacturing of vehicles, particularly for the production of automotive body panels. About 80% of most car bodies are made up using galvanized steel. Its corrosion resistance makes it ideal for automobiles, ensuring that they never rust.
  • Wind and Solar Industries: Wind and solar projects require a continuous workflow. Any disruption results in loss of revenue, therefore they require material that doesn’t require excessive maintenance. Therefore, galvanized steel is usually used in such projects.
  • Agriculture: It is used to create grain storage silos, fencing, and livestock enclosures. As in most cases, the resistance to natural elements is what makes it ideal for such applications. 

Read: Does Diamond Conduct Electricity?

Conclusion

In this article, we have looked at the electrical conductivity of galvanized steel. We began by understanding how electrical conductivity occurs and why galvanized steel is a conductive material. We also looked at the heat conductivity of galvanized steel. Finally, we discussed the pros/cons as well as the uses of galvanized steel.

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