How does a galvanic cell differ from an electrolytic cell?

1 Answer
May 21, 2014

A galvanic cell, named after Luigi Galvani, is an electrochemical cell that derives electrical energy from spontaneous redox reactions taking place within the cell. It generally consists of two different metals connected by a salt bridge, or individual half-cells separated by a porous membrane.

In its simplest form, a half-cell consists of a solid metal (called an electrode) that is submerged in a solution; the solution contains cations of the electrode metal and anions to balance the charge of the cations.

An electrochemical cell is a device capable of either deriving electrical energy from chemical reactions or facilitating chemical reactions through the introduction of electrical energy. A common example of an electrochemical cell is a standard 1.5-volt "battery".

An electrochemical cell consists of two half-cells. Each half-cell consists of an electrode and an electrolyte. The two half-cells may use the same electrolyte, or they may use different electrolytes. The chemical reactions in the cell may involve the electrolyte, the electrodes, or an external substance (as in fuel cells that may use hydrogen gas as a reactant). A salt bridge (e.g., filter paper soaked in KNO3) is often employed to provide ionic contact between two half-cells with different electrolytes, to prevent the solutions from mixing and causing unwanted side reactions.

As electrons flow from one half-cell to the other, a difference in charge is established. If no salt bridge were used, this charge difference would prevent further flow of electrons.