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Recap of previous knowledge


Define the terms: oxidation agent and reduction agent.

Use oxidation number method to balance the equation H2SO4 + HI SO2 + I2 + H2O.

A liquid electrolyte is able to conduct electricity because it contains electrically charged particles
called ions. The ions must be free to move. This explains why electrolysis cannot take place in solids .
Aqueous NaCl or molten NaCl conduct electricity but solid NaCl does not conduct electricity. Ions are
free to move in aqueous NaCl or molten NaCl but not in solid NaCl.
Definition: Electrolysis is defined as the decomposition of a compound into its elements by an electric current.

The electrolysis cell where electrolysis is carried out is made up of:

- An electrolyte which is the molten or concentrated solution of compound to be decomposed.
- Electrodes which are either graphite or metal rods that conduct electricity to or from the
- A direct current (d.c) power supply to provide a electrical energy
- An external wire that connects the electrodes to the d.c power supply
In each electrolysis cell, there are two electrode; the anode which is the positive electrode and the
cathode which is the negative electrode.
Redox reactions in electrolysis
During electrolysis, the positive ions (cations) move to the
cathode where they gain electrons and become reduced to neutral

Na+ + e Na;
Al3+ + 3e Al

At the anode, negative ions (anions) lose up their extra

electrons and become oxidised to neutral atoms, they react
to form the most stable molecule: e.g. Br Br + e
then 2Br Br2

2Br Br2 + 2e OXIDATION
Thus is molten sodium bromide is electrolysed, the overall reaction becomes:
2NaBr 2Na + Br2
Extraction of aluminium
The method used to extract a metal form its ore depends on the position of the metal in the
reactivity series. If the metal is high up in the series e.g. aluminium, its ores are stable and can
be only be obtained by electrolysis.
Aluminium is extracted from bauxite (impure Al2O3) by electrolysis. The bauxite is first
purified using sodium hyroxide (NaOH) to obtain pure aluminium oxide (Al2O3). Aluminium
oxide (Al2O3) has a very high melting point (2040C) and is dissolved in molten cryolite
which has two main functions:
- It dissolve aluminium oxide so that its melting point can be reduced to about 950C.
- It improves the electrical conductivity of the electrolyte
In other words, the cryolite is used to lower the melting point of bauxite.

During electrolysis, aluminium ions move to the cathode while oxide ions move to the anode.
At the cathode
Aluminium ions gain electrons and become reduced to aluminium atoms.
Al3+ + 3 Al
The molten aluminium is denser than the electrolyte and sinks to the bottom where it is removed using
a suction tube or a tap hole at the bottom of the cell.
At the anode
Oxide ions lose electrons and become oxidised to oxygen atoms which then combine to form oxygen
O2- O + 2
O + O O2
2O2- O2 + 4
The oxygen produced at the anode reacts with the hot carbon electrodes and oxidises them to carbon
dioxide. The carbon dioxide produced then escapes from the cell. Thus the anode which is made up of
carbon electrodes has to be replaced from time to time because they are burnt away by oxygen.
The overall equation for the electrolysis of aluminium oxide
Balancing the reduced and the oxidised half equations taking place in the cell gives the overall
balanced equation.
4Al3+ + 12 Al
page 119
6O 3O2 + 12
2Thus overall equation is: 4Al + 6O 4Al + 3O2
2Al2O3 4Al + 3O2
Application of electrolysis
Electrolysis has a number of uses.
1. It is used to extract metals higher in the reactivity series e.g alumnium from their respective ores.
2. It also used to produce non-metals e.g. chlorine
3. It is used to purify some metals e.g. copper
4. It is used in electroplating