What is the name for the systems that use electrical energy to cause a nonspontaneous oxidation-reduction reaction?
Firstly, let’s have a look at the term nonspontaneous. A nonspontaneous process is one that will not happen on its own and requires external energy to occur while an oxidation-reduction reaction is one where both oxidation and reduction are occurring simultaneously. By now, perhaps, you may have the image of a process driven by electrical energy in mind, perhaps something like the electrolysis of molten sodium chloride.
Sodium chloride salt is very stable. External energy in the form of electricity is required in order to break up sodium chloride, to form sodium and chlorine. Here, the oxidation process is the removal of one electron per chloride ion. And the reduction process is the addition of one electron to each sodium ion, forming sodium.
So, what is the name for systems like this, the electrolysis of sodium chloride, that use electrical energy to cause nonspontaneous oxidation-reduction reactions? The answer is electrolytic cells. The “electro” in electrolytic indicates that electricity is the source of energy. And “lytic” derives from “lysis” meaning to break down.
So an electrolytic cell is a component that uses electricity to break down a substance.