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Galvanic Corrosion of Unusual Solder Alloys

I have been asked on numerous occasions to calculate the potential for galvanic corrosion between metals. Most times, when I am approached with this, the concern stems from an application in which the bonding metals will be mated in a corrosive environment, such as a salt solution.


When the potential is to be calculated for two elemental metals bonding, the potential for galvanic corrosion is simple to calculate. Simply look up the anodic potential difference between the two metals under the galvanic series in a general chemistry handbook and if the value is less than 0.15V (the maximum recommended for a salt solution), galvanic corrosion should not be a concern. For normal environments, such as storage in warehouses or non-temperature and humidity controlled environments there should not be more than 0.25 V difference in the Anodic Index. For controlled environments, such that are temperature and humidity controlled, 0.50 V can be tolerated. 


This value is much more difficult to calculate, however if the bonding metals are alloys rather than elemental metals. 


For instance, I cannot easily supply the anodic potential difference between 80Au20Sn and a pure Au plating to prove that it is less that 0.15V. This is because I cannot calculate the anodic potential theoretically for the AuSn alloy. Data is readily available for pure metals, but the potential for individual solder alloys must be determined experimentally because the voltage potential is not linear and as you begin to add a second metal to a pure metal, the rate of voltage change is different between different alloys. 


For this exact situation, I can speak practically however. We have tested gold plated Kovar lids for corrosion that were sealed to semiconductor packages that had a gold seal ring using a preform of AuSn. They were tested for corrosion in a salt spray chamber per MIL STD 883. Corrosion, when it occurred, always was on the lid where the porous gold allowed underlying nickel corrosion. There was never an instance of corrosion at the Au/Sn and Au interface region.