In chemistry, the production of chemical changes by passing an electric current through a solution or molten salt (the electrolyte), resulting in the migration of ions to the electrodes: positive ions (cations
) to the negative electrode (cathode
) and negative ions (anions
) to the positive electrode (anode
During electrolysis, the ions react with the electrode, either receiving or giving up electrons. The resultant atoms may be liberated as a gas, or deposited as a solid on the electrode, in amounts that are proportional to the amount of current passed, as discovered by English chemist Michael Faraday. For instance, when acidified water is electrolysed, hydrogen ions (H+
) at the cathode receive electrons to form hydrogen gas; hydroxide ions (OH-
) at the anode give up electrons to form oxygen gas and water.
One application of electrolysis is electroplating
, in which a solution of a salt, such as silver nitrate (AgNO3
), is used and the object to be plated acts as the negative electrode, thus attracting silver ions (Ag+
). Electrolysis is used in many industrial processes, such as coating metals for vehicles and ships, refining bauxite
into aluminium, and the chlor-alkali industry, in which brine
(sodium chloride solution) is electrolysed to produce chlorine
, hydrogen, and sodium hydroxide
(caustic soda); it also forms the basis of a number of electrochemical analytical techniques, such as polarography.
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