Concentration cell

Concentration cell

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A concentration cell is a limited form of a galvanic cell
Galvanic cell
A Galvanic cell, or Voltaic cell, named after Luigi Galvani, or Alessandro Volta respectively, is an electrochemical cell that derives electrical energy from spontaneous redox reaction taking place within the cell...

 that has two equivalent half-cells of the same material differing only in concentrations. One can calculate the potential developed by such a cell using the Nernst Equation
Nernst equation
In electrochemistry, the Nernst equation is an equation that can be used to determine the equilibrium reduction potential of a half-cell in an electrochemical cell. It can also be used to determine the total voltage for a full electrochemical cell...

. A concentration cell produces a voltage
Voltage, otherwise known as electrical potential difference or electric tension is the difference in electric potential between two points — or the difference in electric potential energy per unit charge between two points...

 as it attempts to reach equilibrium. This equilibrium occurs when the concentration of reactant in both cells are equal.

Concentration cells generate electricity from the free energy
Thermodynamic free energy
The thermodynamic free energy is the amount of work that a thermodynamic system can perform. The concept is useful in the thermodynamics of chemical or thermal processes in engineering and science. The free energy is the internal energy of a system less the amount of energy that cannot be used to...

 that can be extracted from the difference in chemical concentrations of reactants, in the same reaction. This energy is generated from thermal energy that the cells absorb as heat, as the electricity flows. This generation of electricity from ambient thermal energy, without a temperature gradient, is possible because the convergence of chemical concentrations in the two cells increases entropy
Entropy is a thermodynamic property that can be used to determine the energy available for useful work in a thermodynamic process, such as in energy conversion devices, engines, or machines. Such devices can only be driven by convertible energy, and have a theoretical maximum efficiency when...

, and this increase more than compensates for the entropy decreased when heat is converted into electrical energy.

Concentration cell methods of chemical analysis compare a solution of known concentration with an unknown, determining the concentration of the unknown via the Nernst Equation or comparison tables against a group of standards.

Concentration cell corrosion
Corrosion is the disintegration of an engineered material into its constituent atoms due to chemical reactions with its surroundings. In the most common use of the word, this means electrochemical oxidation of metals in reaction with an oxidant such as oxygen...

 occurs when two or more areas of a metal
A metal , is an element, compound, or alloy that is a good conductor of both electricity and heat. Metals are usually malleable and shiny, that is they reflect most of incident light...

 surface are in contact with different concentrations of the same solution. There are three general types of concentration cells:

Metal ion concentration cells

In the presence of water
Water is a chemical substance with the chemical formula H2O. A water molecule contains one oxygen and two hydrogen atoms connected by covalent bonds. Water is a liquid at ambient conditions, but it often co-exists on Earth with its solid state, ice, and gaseous state . Water also exists in a...

, a high concentration of metal ion
An ion is an atom or molecule in which the total number of electrons is not equal to the total number of protons, giving it a net positive or negative electrical charge. The name was given by physicist Michael Faraday for the substances that allow a current to pass between electrodes in a...

s will exist under faying surfaces and a low concentration of metal ions will exist adjacent to the crevice
Crevice corrosion
Crevice corrosion refers to corrosion occurring in confined spaces to which the access of the working fluid from the environment is limited. These spaces are generally called crevices...

 created by the faying surfaces. An electrical potential will exist between the two points. The area of the metal in contact with the high concentration of metal ions will be cathodic and will be protected, and the area of metal in contact with the low metal ion concentration will be anodic and corroded.

Oxygen concentration cells

Water in contact with the metal surface will normally contain dissolved oxygen
Oxygen is the element with atomic number 8 and represented by the symbol O. Its name derives from the Greek roots ὀξύς and -γενής , because at the time of naming, it was mistakenly thought that all acids required oxygen in their composition...

. An oxygen cell can develop at any point where the oxygen in the air is not allowed to diffuse uniformly into the solution, thereby creating a difference in oxygen concentration between two points. Corrosion will occur at the area of low-oxygen concentration which are anodic.

Active-passive cells

For metals that depend on a tightly adhering passive film (usually an oxide
An oxide is a chemical compound that contains at least one oxygen atom in its chemical formula. Metal oxides typically contain an anion of oxygen in the oxidation state of −2....

) for corrosion protection, salt
In chemistry, salts are ionic compounds that result from the neutralization reaction of an acid and a base. They are composed of cations and anions so that the product is electrically neutral...

 that deposits on the metal surface in the presence of water, in areas where the passive film is broken, the active metal beneath the film will be exposed to corrosive attack. An electrical potential will develop between the large area of the cathode (passive film) and the small area of the anode (active metal). Rapid pitting of the active metal will result.

See also

  • Liquid junction potential
    Liquid junction potential
    Liquid junction potential occurs when two solutions of different concentrations are in contact with each other. The more concentrated solution will have a tendency to diffuse into the comparatively less concentrated one. The rate of diffusion of each ion will be roughly proportional to its speed in...

  • Electrochemical potential
  • Membrane potential
    Membrane potential
    Membrane potential is the difference in electrical potential between the interior and exterior of a biological cell. All animal cells are surrounded by a plasma membrane composed of a lipid bilayer with a variety of types of proteins embedded in it...