Electrolysis Intro & Misconceptions

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Electrolysis is the process used in water ionizers to produce alkaline water containing molecular hydrogen.  Over the years I have heard some interesting misconceptions regarding electrolysis. I have heard, for example:



Misconception: The cathode is positive.
Fact: The definition of the cathode is where reduction occurs. In electrolysis (an electrolytic cell), you put electrons into the system from an outside power source. However, in a galvanic cell (e.g. a battery) the system produces power via chemical reactions and in this case the cathode (where reduction occurs) is positive.  So remember, in electrolysis the cathode is negative, but in a battery the cathode is positive.
Misconception: Electrolysis cannot occur with tap water.
Fact:  In order for electrolysis to occur there needs to be ions present in the water (because water is a poor conductor of electricity). In most places there are plenty of minerals (ions) in tap water, which allows electrolysis to occur quite easily.
Misconception: Hydrogen gas produced during electrolysis reacts with the electrode (normally platinum) and gives up its electrons.
Fact: This may stem from a misunderstanding between electrolysis and a fuel cell. In electrolysis the cathode is giving electrons to the system not receiving them.
These types of misconceptions can be prevented with the correct information. Read the simple and more complete explanation of electrolysis here, which is also found under core information.

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