Dr. Charles Ernest Bird (Ernie) graduated with a BSc (cum laude) in Physics and Chemistry from Stellenbosch University in 1943. His early work for the Fuel Research Institute and research on the Fischer-Tropsch process in Holland led to an MSc in Chemistry from Pretoria University in 1948 and a Diploma in Chemical Engineering from the University of Delft in 1952.
Dr. Bird was priveleged to study for a PhD in Corrosion at Cambridge University under the supervision of U R Evans and T P Hoar with the assistance of a bursary from the Ministry of Supply in the UK. He joined the CSIR in 1956 and then set up the Oil Industry Corrosion Control Group with Mr. C Watson in 1958. He was responsible for installing some of the first cathodic protection (CP) systems in South Africa for the oil companies at several coastal installations.
Dr. Bird was involved in the establishment of the South African Corrosion Council and served on the executive committee for a number of years in the early days of the Council.
Dr. Bird re-joined the CSIR in 1961 and was appointed Head of the Corrosion Research Group in 1962. He retired in 1982 as Head of Corrosion at the National Chemical Research Laboratory, but was actively involved in the CP industry thereafter. He returned to the CSIR in 1991 as a full-time consultant to the Pipeline Corrosion Group and was retained by PPT (Pty) Ltd as a Technical Consultant when the Group was privatised in 2000.
Dr. Bird’s early work at the CSIR was concerned with microbial corrosion and corrosion of reinforcing steel in concrete. He authored the Chapter on “Corrosion of Reinforcing Steel in Concrete” in Fultons Concrete Technology. Dr. Bird identified the macrocell corrosion mechanism causing corrosion of steel in concrete and U R Evans attributed this mechanism to Dr. Bird in his book “The Corrosion and Oxidation of Metals: Scientific Principles and Practical Applications”.
During the 1960’s Dr. Bird’s laboratory was the first group in the world to investigate the use of electrochemical methods to remove chlorides from concrete contaminated with salt. The Ifafa Bridge on the Natal South Coast was the first time that the technique was used.
Dr. Bird undertook extensive studies on the corrosion of reinforced concrete pipelines. This work showed that a high salt content in the ground precluded the use of cathodic protection and a level of 0,01% salt in the soil depassivated the reinforcing steel. He also showed that in many cases sacrificial anode cathodic protection was a better solution than an impressed current system, since too much current in chloride-contaminated concrete resulted in the formation of sodium hydroxide which destroyed the bond between the steel and concrete.
Dr. Bird also designed CP systems for many military bases and was responsible for CP installations on SFF tanks around the country. In both cases, he was responsible for the specifications, supervision and commissioning of the CP installations. Dr. Bird wrote a Technical Bulletin published by the CSIR which detailed the corrosivity of soils in South Africa and summarized the results of the 1st 5 year atmospheric exposure program. This technical bulletin is still used today. The initial 5 year atmospheric exposure program was then expanded to the 20 year program.
In recent years Dr. Bird’s work focused primarily on fundamental aspects of cathodic protection and coating defects on pipelines and the role that magnetite plays in this regard. He has shown clearly the relationship between presence of magnetite on a pipeline, pH and applied potential.
Many of the research findings have not been published but will be presented in a Text Book in collaboration with Dr Ringas, for publication by NACE International, which will cover fundamental aspects of Corrosion and Cathodic Protection, especially under South African conditions.
Dr Bird’s research in pipeline technology contributed greatly to the technical capability of the pipeline group of the CSIR and to corrosion technology in South Africa during a career spanning 56 years. He continued to be active in the field of corrosion and CP until his untimely death in September 2012. In that time period he has published numerous papers and written over 400 reports. He has also contributed significantly to the understanding of cathodic protection under our unique South African conditions. He is regarded highly in the local pipeline industry for his technical expertise and insight.
Dr. Bird was also involved in training and developing technical expertise and during his time at the CSIR was responsible for sending many currently well-known figures in the Industry to study corrosion at Manchester University. He has been active in training young technicians and engineers in corrosion and cathodic protection and has contributed significantly to raising the level technical competence in cathodic protection in South Africa.
Dr Bird sadly passed away in early September 2012
The Corrosion Institute of Southern Africa is honoured to award Dr Charles Ernest Bird the 2012 CorrISA Gold Medal, posthumously, in recognition of outstanding achievements in the development of Corrosion Science and technology and meritorious contributions over a lifetime in the dissemination of knowledge, training and education in Corrosion technology to Industry in Southern Africa.