Electrochemical Cell

Electrochemical Cell is a device which can generate electrical energy from the chemical reactions occurring in it, or use the electrical energy supplied to it to facilitate chemical reactions in it.

What is an Electrochemical Cell?

As discussed earlier, electrochemical cells are nothing but devices that are capable of converting chemical energy into electrical energy, or vice versa. A common example of an electrochemical cell is a standard 1.5-volt cell which is used to power many electrical appliances such as TV remotes and clocks.

Such cells capable of generating an electric current from the chemical reactions occurring in them care called Galvanic cells or Voltaic cells. Alternatively, the cells which cause chemical reactions to occur in them when an electric current is passed through them are called electrolytic cells.

A diagram of an electrochemical cell is provided below.

Electrochemical Cell

Electrochemical cells generally consist of a cathode and an anode. The key features of the cathode and the anode are listed in the tabular column provided below.

Cathode Anode
Denoted by a positive sign since electrons are consumed here Denoted by a negative sign since electrons are liberated here
A reduction reaction occurs in the cathode of an electrochemical cell An oxidation reaction occurs here
Electrons move into the cathode Electrons move out of the anode

General convention dictates that the cathode must be represented on the right-hand side whereas the anode is represented on the left-hand side while denoting an electrochemical cell.

Half-Cells and Cell Potential

  • Electrochemical Cells are made up of two half-cells, each consisting of an electrode which is dipped in an electrolyte. The same electrolyte can be used for both half cells.
  • These half cells are connected by a salt bridge which provides the platform for ionic contact between them without allowing them to mix with each other. An example of a salt bridge is a filter paper which is dipped in a potassium nitrate or sodium chloride solution.
  • One of the half cells of the electrochemical cell loses electrons due to oxidation and the other gains electrons in a reduction process. It can be noted that an equilibrium reaction occurs in both the half cells, and once the equilibrium is reached, the net voltage becomes 0 and the cell stops producing electricity.
  • The tendency of an electrode which is in contact with an electrolyte to lose or gain electrons is described by its electrode potential. The values of these potentials can be used to predict the overall cell potential. Generally, the electrode potentials are measured with the help of the standard hydrogen electrode as a reference electrode (an electrode of known potential).

Primary and Secondary Cells

  • Primary cells are basically use-and-throw galvanic cells. The electrochemical reactions that take place in these cells are irreversible in nature. Hence, the reactants are consumed for the generation of electrical energy and the cell stops producing an electric current once the reactants are completely depleted.
  • Secondary cells (also known as rechargeable batteries) are electrochemical cells in which the cell reaction is reversible, i.e. the cell can function as a Galvanic cell as well as an Electrolytic cell.
  • Most of the primary batteries (multiple cells connected in series, parallel, or a combination of the two) are considered wasteful and environmentally harmful devices. This is because they require about 50 times the energy they contain in their manufacturing process. They also contain many toxic metals and are considered to be hazardous waste.

Thus, the key concepts and the types of electrochemical cells are discussed. For more engaging content on electrochemistry, download the BYJU’S app from the Google Play Store.

Practise This Question

In the experiment set up for the measurement of EMF of a half cell using a reference electrode and a salt bridge, when the salt bridge is removed, the voltage