Oxidation-Reduction Potential (ORP): A More Complete Explanation


As explained previously, ORP is measured in volts and informs us of a solution’s oxidizing or reducing potential.1 An ORP probe measures the voltage difference between redox couples in accordance with their half reactions2 (see table 17.1 below).


For example, the first redox couple fluorine (F2) is a strong oxidizing agent. If you measured the voltage difference between F2 and its reduced species fluoride (both at a 1 Molar concentration), you would get a voltage reading of 2.87 V.

Notice that the reduction potential of hydrogen: 2H+ + 2e– => H2(g) is zero. This  is because all redox values are based off of the standard reduction potential for hydrogen, which has been defined as zero.3 Just as sea level is defined as zero elevation or water freezes at 0°C,  the voltage produced by 1 M H+ (pH 0) to H2 (g) (pressure equals 1 bar) is defined as zero.3 It’s actually estimated to be 4.44 ± 0.02 V at 25 °C,4 but we define it as zero at all temperatures.3 This allows us to make comparisons; for example, the elevation of a mountain, the boiling point of alcohol, or the ORP of a redox couple.  All redox reactions are compared to the Standard Hydrogen Electrode (SHE).2




This diagram shows how the standard potential Eoof a species (M) can be determined. The M electrode contains M ionic species in equilibrium with the non-ionic M species. The potential is referenced to the standard hydrogen electrode on the right.




ORP Meters

The ORP meter is generally a two-electrode system (some may have a third as a counter -electrode). One is the platinum electrode called the working electrode where the oxidation-reduction reactions occur. It either serves as an electron donor or an electron acceptor, depending upon the test solution. The other is a reference electrode (usually Ag/AgCl), which is calibrated back to the standard hydrogen electrode. The reference electrode is filled with a saturated solution (3 M) of KCl. This two electrode system makes a potentiometric measurement measured in volts.2

Nernst Equation

Screen Shot 2014-05-27 at 6.36.38 PM


References: Click Here

  1. GONCHARUK, V. V., BAGRII, V. A., MEL'NIK, L. A., CHEBOTAREVA, R. D. & BASHTAN, S. Y. (2010). The use of redox potential in water treatment processes. Journal of Water Chemistry and Technology 32, 1-9.
  2. Harris, Daniel C. Quantitative chemical analysis. Macmillan, 2010.
  3. IUPAC Gold Book
  4. Sergio Trasatti, "The Absolute Electrode Potential: an Explanatory Note (Recommendations 1986)", International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry, Pure & AppL Chem., Vol. 58, No. 7, pp. 955–66, 1986.

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