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16: Electrochemistry

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    Electrochemistry is the study of electricity and how it relates to chemical reactions. In electrochemistry, electricity can be generated by movements of electrons from one element to another in a reaction known as redox reaction, or oxidation-reduction reaction.

    • 16.1: Chemistry and Electricity
      The connection between chemistry and electricity is a very old one, going back to ALESSANDRO VOLTA'S discovery, in 1793, that electricity could be produced by placing two dissimilar metals on opposite sides of a moistened paper.
    • 16.2: Galvanic cells and Electrodes
      We can measure the difference between the potentials of two electrodes that dip into the same solution, or more usefully, are in two different solutions. In the latter case, each electrode-solution pair constitutes an oxidation-reduction half cell, and we are measuring the sum of the two half-cell potentials. This arrangement is called a galvanic cell. A typical cell might consist of two pieces of metal, each immersed each in a solution containing a dissolved salt of the corresponding metal.
    • 16.3: Cell Potentials and Thermodynamics
      It has long been known that some metals are more "active" than others in the sense that a more active metal can "displace" a less active one from a solution of its salt. For Example, zinc is more active because it can displace (precipitate) copper from solution. Similar comparisons of other metals made it possible to arrange them in the order of their increasing electron-donating (reducing) power. This sequence became known as the electromotive or activity series of the metals.
    • 16.4: The Nernst Equation
      The standard cell potentials we discussed in a previous section refer to cells in which all dissolved substances are at unit activity, which essentially means an "effective concentration" of 1 M. Similarly, any gases that take part in an electrode reaction are at an effective pressure (known as the fugacity) of 1 atm. If these concentrations or pressures have other values, the cell potential will change in a manner that can be predicted from the principles you already know.
    • 16.5: Applications of the Nernst Equation
      We ordinarily think of the oxidation potential being controlled by the concentrations of the oxidized and reduced forms of a redox couple, as given by the Nernst equation. Under certain circumstances it becomes more useful to think of E as an independent variable that can be used to control the value of Q in the Nernst equation. This usually occurs when two redox systems are present, one being much more concentrated or kinetically active than the other.
    • 16.6: Batteries and Fuel Cells
      One of the oldest and most important applications of electrochemistry is to the storage and conversion of energy. You already know that a galvanic cell converts chemical energy to work; similarly, an electrolytic cell converts electrical work into chemical free energy. Devices that carry out these conversions are called batteries. In ordinary batteries the chemical components are contained within the device itself. If the reactants are supplied from an external source, the device is a fuel cell.
    • 16.7: Timeline of Battery Development
      Although the development practical batteries largely paralelled the expansion of electrical technology from about the mid-19th century on, it is now thought that a very primitive kind of battery was apparently in use more than 2000 years ago. The brief popularity of electrically powered automobiles in the 1920's encouraged storage battery development. The widespread use of portable "personal" electrical devices has kept the search for better batteries very much alive.
    • 16.8: Electrochemical Corrosion
      Corrosion can be defined as the deterioration of materials by chemical processes. Of these, the most important by far is electrochemical corrosion of metals, in which the oxidation process M → M+ + e– is facilitated by the presence of a suitable electron acceptor, sometimes referred to in corrosion science as a depolarizer. In a sense, corrosion can be viewed as the spontaneous return of metals to their ores.
    • 16.9: Corrosion Gallery
      A gallery of corrosion in different situations.
    • 16.10: Electrolytic Cells and Electrolysis
      Electrolysis refers to the decomposition of a substance by an electric current. The electrolysis of sodium and potassium hydroxides, first carried out in 1808 by Sir Humphrey Davey, led to the discovery of these two metallic elements and showed that these two hydroxides which had previously been considered un-decomposable and thus elements, were in fact compounds.

    16: Electrochemistry is shared under a CC BY 3.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Stephen Lower via source content that was edited to conform to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.