Encyclopedia > Electrolysis

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In chemistry and manufacturing, electrolysis is a method of separating bonded elements and compounds by passing an electric current through them.

Scientific pioneers of electrolysis included:

The source material is dissolved in an appropriate solvent, or melted, so that constituent ions are available in the solution. An electrical potential is applied across a pair of conductors immersed in the liquid. The negatively charged conductor is called the cathode, and the positively charged conductor is called the anode. Each conductor attracts the ions of the opposite charge. Therefore, positively charged ions (cations) move towards the cathode while negatively charged ions (anions) move to the anode. The energy required to separate the ions, and increase their concentration at the electrodes, is provided by an electrical power supply that maintains the potential difference across the electrodes. At the electrodes, electrons are absorbed or released by the ions, forming concentrations of the desired element or compound. For example, an aqueous solution of sodium sulfate, when electrolyzed, will create hydrogen at the cathode and oxygen at the anode.

First Law of Electrolysis

In 1832, an English physicist, Michael Faraday reported that the quantity of elements separated by passing an electrical current through a molten or dissolved salt was proportional to the quantity of current passed through the circuit. This became the basis of the first law of electrolysis.

Second Law of Electrolysis

Faraday also discovered that the weight of the resulting separated elements was directly proportional to the atomic weights of the elements when an appropriate integral divisor was applied. This provided strong evidence that discrete particles of electricity existed as parts of the atoms of elements.

Industrial Uses

Manufacture of aluminium, lithium and aspirin. Hydrogen car

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