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Electrochemical Cell vs. Electrolytic Cell: What's the Difference?

Edited by Janet White || By Aimie Carlson || Published on November 23, 2023
Electrochemical cells convert chemical energy to electrical energy, while electrolytic cells use electrical energy to drive non-spontaneous chemical reactions.

Key Differences

Electrochemical cells and electrolytic cells are both fundamental in the field of chemistry, but they operate on different principles and for different purposes. An electrochemical cell converts chemical energy into electrical energy through spontaneous redox reactions. In contrast, an electrolytic cell utilizes electrical energy to drive non-spontaneous chemical reactions. This fundamental difference in energy conversion and usage sets these two types of cells apart in both their operation and application.
In an electrochemical cell, the flow of electrons is from the anode to the cathode, generating an electric current that can be used to power devices. Electrolytic cells, however, require an external power source to force electrons from the cathode to the anode, reversing the typical flow found in electrochemical cells. This reversal is key to the operation of electrolytic cells, allowing them to facilitate chemical changes that wouldn't occur naturally.
The practical applications of electrochemical cells are most commonly seen in various types of batteries, which power everything from small electronic devices to vehicles. Electrolytic cells find their use in industrial processes such as electroplating, metal purification, and the production of chemicals like chlorine and hydrogen. Thus, while electrochemical cells are often associated with energy storage and power supply, electrolytic cells are linked to manufacturing and material processing.
In terms of electrode reactions, electrochemical cells involve oxidation occurring at the anode and reduction at the cathode. For electrolytic cells, the reactions are the opposite: reduction occurs at the cathode and oxidation at the anode. These reactions at the electrodes define the cell's functionality, whether it's for generating electricity or conducting a specific chemical transformation.
The design considerations for these cells differ significantly. Electrochemical cells are often designed with a focus on efficiency, energy output, and portability, as seen in various commercial batteries. Electrolytic cells, in contrast, are typically designed for industrial applications, prioritizing factors like reaction rates, scalability, and product recovery. This difference in design philosophy reflects the distinct roles these cells play in technology and industry.

Comparison Chart

Energy Conversion

Converts chemical to electrical energy
Uses electrical energy to drive reactions

Electron Flow

From anode to cathode
From cathode to anode

Primary Use

Powering devices (e.g., batteries)
Industrial processes (e.g., electroplating)

Electrode Reactions

Oxidation at anode, reduction at cathode
Reduction at cathode, oxidation at anode

Design Focus

Energy output and portability
Reaction rates and product recovery

Electrochemical Cell and Electrolytic Cell Definitions

Electrochemical Cell

A cell where spontaneous oxidation-reduction reactions produce electrical energy.
The electrochemical cell in a car battery starts the engine.

Electrolytic Cell

A device for decomposition reactions through electrolysis.
Water is split into hydrogen and oxygen using an electrolytic cell.

Electrochemical Cell

An arrangement of electrodes and electrolytes generating electricity.
Portable chargers contain electrochemical cells for on-the-go power.

Electrolytic Cell

An arrangement used in industrial processes like metal refining.
Copper refining employs an electrolytic cell for purification.

Electrochemical Cell

A system where chemical reactions create a flow of electrons.
An electrochemical cell powers a flashlight.

Electrolytic Cell

A cell using electrical energy to drive non-spontaneous chemical reactions.
An electrolytic cell is used for the electroplating of jewelry.

Electrochemical Cell

A device converting chemical energy into electrical energy through redox reactions.
A lithium-ion battery in a smartphone is an electrochemical cell.

Electrolytic Cell

A system applying external voltage to induce chemical reactions.
The production of chlorine gas involves an electrolytic cell.

Electrochemical Cell

A galvanic or voltaic cell used for energy generation.
Solar panels use electrochemical cells to convert sunlight into electricity.

Electrolytic Cell

A setup where electrical current causes chemical changes.
Electrolytic cells are essential in the extraction of aluminum from bauxite.


How does an electrolytic cell function?

By using an external power source to force electrons from the cathode to the anode, causing chemical changes.

Can an electrochemical cell recharge?

Some, like rechargeable batteries, can be recharged by reversing the chemical reactions.

What is an electrolytic cell?

A cell that uses electrical energy to drive non-spontaneous chemical reactions.

What is an electrochemical cell?

A device that converts chemical energy into electrical energy through redox reactions.

Is an electrolytic cell used for energy storage?

No, it's used for industrial processes like metal purification, not for energy storage.

What are common uses of electrochemical cells?

In batteries for devices like cars, watches, and electronics.

How does an electrochemical cell work?

By spontaneous redox reactions that generate a flow of electrons from anode to cathode.

Do electrochemical cells need an external power source?

No, they generate power from chemical reactions.

What happens at the anode of an electrochemical cell?

Oxidation reaction occurs at the anode.

Are electrolytic cells environmentally sustainable?

They can be, depending on the process and how the electricity is generated.

Can electrochemical cells be used in medical devices?

Yes, they are used in devices like pacemakers and hearing aids.

What are typical applications of electrolytic cells?

In electroplating, metal refining, and hydrogen production.

Do electrolytic cells need an external power source?

Yes, they require an external power source to operate.

What occurs at the anode of an electrolytic cell?

Oxidation reaction takes place at the anode.

What types of reactions occur in an electrochemical cell?

Spontaneous redox reactions.

Is the electrolytic process important in daily life?

Yes, it's crucial in many industrial processes that produce everyday items.

Where does reduction happen in an electrolytic cell?

Reduction takes place at the cathode.

Where does reduction occur in an electrochemical cell?

Reduction occurs at the cathode.

What type of reactions are driven in an electrolytic cell?

Non-spontaneous chemical reactions are driven by external power.

Are electrochemical cells eco-friendly?

It depends on the type and usage, but many, like fuel cells, are environmentally friendly.
About Author
Written by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.
Edited by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.

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