Electrochemical Cells

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Galvanic or Voltaic Cells

Diagram of an electrochemical cell with a salt bridge. Cmx, Free Documentation License

Oxidation-reduction or redox reactions take place in electrochemical cells. There are two types of electrochemical cells. Spontaneous reactions occur in galvanic (voltaic) cells; nonspontaneous reactions occur in electrolytic cells. Both types of cells contain electrodes where the oxidation and reduction reactions occur. Oxidation occurs at the electrode termed the anode and reduction occurs at the electrode called the cathode.

Electrodes & Charge

The anode of an electrolytic cell is positive (cathode is negative) since the anode attracts anions from the solution. However, the anode of a galvanic cell is negatively charged, since the spontaneous oxidation at the anode is the source of the cell's electrons or negative charge. The cathode of a galvanic cell is its positive terminal. In both galvanic and electrolytic cells, oxidation takes place at the anode and electrons flow from the anode to the cathode.

Galvanic or Voltaic Cells

The redox reaction in a galvanic cell is a spontaneous reaction. For this reason, galvanic cells are commonly used as batteries. Galvanic cell reactions supply energy which is used to perform work. The energy is harnessed by situating the oxidation and reduction reactions in separate containers, joined by an apparatus that allows electrons to flow. A common galvanic cell is the Daniell cell.

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Electrolytic Cells

Electrolytic Cell. Todd Helmenstine

The redox reaction in an electrolytic cell is nonspontaneous. Electrical energy is required to induce the electrolysis reaction. An example of an electrolytic cell is shown below, in which molten NaCl is electrolyzed to form liquid sodium and chlorine gas. The sodium ions migrate toward the cathode, where they are reduced to sodium metal. Similarly, chloride ions migrate to the anode and are oxidized to form chlorine gas. This type of cell is used to produce sodium and chlorine. The chlorine gas can be collected surrounding the cell. The sodium metal is less dense than the molten salt and is removed as it floats to the top of the reaction container.

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Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. "Electrochemical Cells." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, thoughtco.com/types-of-electrochemical-cells-606455. Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. (2021, February 16). Electrochemical Cells. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/types-of-electrochemical-cells-606455 Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. "Electrochemical Cells." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/types-of-electrochemical-cells-606455 (accessed March 30, 2023).