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Difference between Galvanic Cell and Electrolytic Cell

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A galvanic cell is the one in which an oxidation-reduction chemical reaction occurs spontaneously to generate electrical energy. Chemical energy is converted into electrical energy.

An electrolytic cell is the one in which electrolysis process takes place, a chemical compound is disintegrated by passing electricity through it. The chemical reaction taking place is not self-generated (spontaneous), it is forced by employing a voltage.

The two cells also differ considerably with regard to the electric charges on the electrodes. For instance, in galvanic cell anode is negative while in an electrolytic cell, the anode has a positive charge. Likewise, the cathode is positive in an electrochemical cell, the cathode has negative charge whilst it is negative in the electrolytic cell.

In electrochemistry, oxidation and reduction chemical reaction play a crucial part. In such chemical reactions, electrons are being transferred from one reactant to another. The element that takes electrons is called a reducing agent, whereas the element that leaves the electron is recognized as the oxidizing agent. The reducing agent is accountable to reduce the other reactant whilst experiencing oxidation itself. And for oxidizing agent, it is vice versa. Such chemical reactions can be separated into two half-reactions, to demonstrate separate oxidations and reductions.

This article explains the key differences between galvanic cell and electrolytic cell on the basis of energy conversion, Redox Reaction, Polarity, Electron Flow, Material, Ions Discharge, Electrons Supply, Chemical Reaction, and Uses. 

Difference between Galvanic Cell and Electrolytic Cell

CharacteristicsElectrolytic cellsGalvanic cells
Energy conversionElectric energy is converted into chemical energyChemical energy is converted into electric energy
Redox reactionElectric energy brings about a redox reactionElectric energy is generated by a redox reaction
Oxidation/Reduction ProcessRedox reaction takes place in the same containerOxidation and reduction reactions are carried out separately
Salt bridgeNo salt bridge is requiredGenerally salt bridge is required
Ions dischargeIons discharged at both the electrodesIons discharged at the cathode while anode is consumed
PolarityAnode is positive while cathode is negativeAnode is negative while cathode is positive
Electrons flowElectrons move from anode to cathode through external circuitElectrons move from cathode to anode through external circuit
Electricity MeasurementThe amount of electricity passed is measured by a coulometerThe emf of the cell is measured by a potentiometer
MaterialOne electrolyte and two electrodes of the same material are generally used in these cellsTwo different electrolytes and two different electrodes are used in these cells.
Chemical reactionChemical reaction is forced by applying a certain voltage (NOT spontaneous)Chemical reaction is spontaneous
Electrons SupplyElectrons are supplied to the cell from an external sourceElectron are drawn from the cell
UsesElectroplating and purifying CopperBatteries

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About Ahmad Faizan

Mr. Ahmed Faizan Sheikh, M.Sc. (USA), Research Fellow (USA), a member of IEEE & CIGRE, is a Fulbright Alumnus and earned his Master’s Degree in Electrical and Power Engineering from Kansas State University, USA.