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An electrolyte is a substance that produces an electrically conducting solution when dissolved in a polar solvent, such as water. The dissolved electrolyte separates into cations and anions, which disperse uniformly through the solvent. Electrically, such a solution is neutral. If an electric potential is applied to such a solution, the cations of the solution are drawn to the electrode that has an abundance of electrons, while the anions are drawn to the electrode that has a deficit of electrons. The movement of anions and cations in opposite directions within the solution amounts to a current. This includes most soluble salts, acids, and bases. Some gases, such as hydrogen chloride, under conditions of high temperature or low pressure can also function as electrolytes. Electrolyte solutions can also result from the dissolution of some biological (e.g., DNA, polypeptides) and synthetic polymers (e.g., polystyrene sulfonate), termed "polyelectrolytes", which contain charged functional groups. A substance that dissociates into ions in solution acquires the capacity to conduct electricity. Sodium, potassium, chloride, calcium, magnesium, and phosphate are examples of electrolytes.

Conductivity (electrolytic) measure of ability of an electrolyte solution to conduct electricity

Conductivity of an electrolyte solution is a measure of its ability to conduct electricity. The SI unit of conductivity is Siemens per meter (S/m).

An electric potential is the amount of work needed to move a unit of positive charge from a reference point to a specific point inside the field without producing an acceleration. Typically, the reference point is the Earth or a point at infinity, although any point beyond the influence of the electric field charge can be used.

Salt (chemistry) ionic compound

In chemistry, a salt is an ionic compound that can be formed by the neutralization reaction of an acid and a base. Salts are composed of related numbers of cations and anions so that the product is electrically neutral. These component ions can be inorganic, such as chloride (Cl), or organic, such as acetate ; and can be monatomic, such as fluoride (F), or polyatomic, such as sulfate.


In medicine, electrolyte replacement is needed when a person has prolonged vomiting or diarrhea, and as a response to strenuous athletic activity. Commercial electrolyte solutions are available, particularly for sick children (such as oral rehydration solution, Suero Oral, or Pedialyte) and athletes (sports drinks). Electrolyte monitoring is important in the treatment of anorexia and bulimia.

Oral rehydration therapy Electrolytic Replacement Therapy

Oral rehydration therapy (ORT) is a type of fluid replacement used to prevent and treat dehydration, especially that due to diarrhea. It involves drinking water with modest amounts of sugar and salts, specifically sodium and potassium. Oral rehydration therapy can also be given by a nasogastric tube. Therapy should routinely include the use of zinc supplements. Use of oral rehydration therapy has been estimated to decrease the risk of death from diarrhea by up to 93%.

In the United States, Suero Oral® is a brand name of an electrolyte solution used to re-hydrate after work in heat-intensive environments, athletic activity, to treat pediatric vomiting and diarrhea, and as a hangover remedy. The product is similar in formula to other popular pediatric electrolyte beverages such as Pedialyte®.


Pedialyte is an oral electrolyte solution manufactured by Abbott Laboratories and marketed for use in children. It was invented by Dr. Gary Cohen of Swampscott, Massachusetts.


The word electrolyte derives from the Greek lytós, meaning "able to be untied or loosened".


Svante Arrhenius Arrhenius2.jpg
Svante Arrhenius

Svante Arrhenius put forth, in his 1884 dissertation, his explanation of the fact that solid crystalline salts disassociate into paired charged particles when dissolved, for which he won the 1903 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. [1] [2] [3] [4]

Svante Arrhenius Swedish chemist

Svante August Arrhenius was a Swedish scientist. Originally a physicist, but often referred to as a chemist, Arrhenius was one of the founders of the science of physical chemistry. He received the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1903, becoming the first Swedish Nobel laureate, and in 1905 became director of the Nobel Institute where he remained until his death.

Arrhenius's explanation was that in forming a solution, the salt dissociates into charged particles, to which Michael Faraday had given the name "ions" many years earlier. Faraday's belief had been that ions were produced in the process of electrolysis. Arrhenius proposed that, even in the absence of an electric current, solutions of salts contained ions. He thus proposed that chemical reactions in solution were reactions between ions. [2] [3] [4]

Michael Faraday English scientist

Michael Faraday FRS was a British scientist who contributed to the study of electromagnetism and electrochemistry. His main discoveries include the principles underlying electromagnetic induction, diamagnetism and electrolysis.

An ion is an atom or molecule that has a non-zero net electrical charge. Since the charge of the electron is equal and opposite to that of the proton, the net charge of an ion is non-zero due to its total number of electrons being unequal to its total number of protons. A cation is a positively charged ion, with fewer electrons than protons, while an anion is negatively charged, with more electrons than protons. Because of their opposite electric currents, cations and anions attract each other and readily form ionic compounds.

Electrolysis technique that uses a direct electric current to drive an otherwise non-spontaneous chemical reaction

In chemistry and manufacturing, electrolysis is a technique that uses a direct electric current (DC) to drive an otherwise non-spontaneous chemical reaction. Electrolysis is commercially important as a stage in the separation of elements from naturally occurring sources such as ores using an electrolytic cell. The voltage that is needed for electrolysis to occur is called the decomposition potential.


Electrolyte solutions are normally formed when a salt is placed into a solvent such as water and the individual components dissociate due to the thermodynamic interactions between solvent and solute molecules, in a process called "solvation". For example, when table salt (sodium chloride), NaCl, is placed in water, the salt (a solid) dissolves into its component ions, according to the dissociation reaction

Solvent substance that dissolves a solute (a chemically different liquid, solid or gas), resulting in a solution

A solvent is a substance that dissolves a solute, resulting in a solution. A solvent is usually a liquid but can also be a solid, a gas, or a supercritical fluid. The quantity of solute that can dissolve in a specific volume of solvent varies with temperature. Common uses for organic solvents are in dry cleaning, as paint thinners, as nail polish removers and glue solvents, in spot removers, in detergents and in perfumes (ethanol). Water is a solvent for polar molecules and the most common solvent used by living things; all the ions and proteins in a cell are dissolved in water within a cell. Solvents find various applications in chemical, pharmaceutical, oil, and gas industries, including in chemical syntheses and purification processes.

Solvation attraction and association of molecules of a solvent with molecules or ions of a solute

Solvation describes the interaction of solvent with dissolved molecules. Ionized and uncharged molecules interact strongly with solvent, and the strength and nature of this interaction influences many properties of the solute, including solubility, reactivity, and color, as well as influencing the properties of the solvent such as the viscosity and density. In the process of solvation, ions are surrounded by a concentric shell of solvent. Solvation is the process of reorganizing solvent and solute molecules into solvation complexes. Solvation involves bond formation, hydrogen bonding, and van der Waals forces. Solvation of a solute by water is called hydration.

Sodium chloride chemical compound

Sodium chloride, commonly known as salt, is an ionic compound with the chemical formula NaCl, representing a 1:1 ratio of sodium and chloride ions. With molar masses of 22.99 and 35.45 g/mol respectively, 100 g of NaCl contains 39.34 g Na and 60.66 g Cl. Sodium chloride is the salt most responsible for the salinity of seawater and of the extracellular fluid of many multicellular organisms. In its edible form of table salt, it is commonly used as a condiment and food preservative. Large quantities of sodium chloride are used in many industrial processes, and it is a major source of sodium and chlorine compounds used as feedstocks for further chemical syntheses. A second major application of sodium chloride is de-icing of roadways in sub-freezing weather.

NaCl(s) → Na+(aq) + Cl(aq)

It is also possible for substances to react with water, producing ions. For example, carbon dioxide gas dissolves in water to produce a solution that contains hydronium, carbonate, and hydrogen carbonate ions.

Carbon dioxide chemical compound

Carbon dioxide (chemical formula CO2) is a colorless gas with a density about 60% higher than that of dry air. Carbon dioxide consists of a carbon atom covalently double bonded to two oxygen atoms. It occurs naturally in Earth's atmosphere as a trace gas. The current concentration is about 0.04% (410 ppm) by volume, having risen from pre-industrial levels of 280 ppm. Natural sources include volcanoes, hot springs and geysers, and it is freed from carbonate rocks by dissolution in water and acids. Because carbon dioxide is soluble in water, it occurs naturally in groundwater, rivers and lakes, ice caps, glaciers and seawater. It is present in deposits of petroleum and natural gas. Carbon dioxide is odorless at normally encountered concentrations. However, at high concentrations, it has a sharp and acidic odor.

In chemistry, hydronium is the common name for the aqueous cation  H3O+, the type of oxonium ion produced by protonation of water. It is the positive ion present when an Arrhenius acid is dissolved in water, as Arrhenius acid molecules in solution give up a proton (a positive hydrogen ion, H+) to the surrounding water molecules (H2O).

Carbonate salt or ester of carbonic acid

In chemistry, a carbonate is a salt of carbonic acid (H2CO3), characterized by the presence of the carbonate ion, a polyatomic ion with the formula of CO2−
. The name may also refer to a carbonate ester, an organic compound containing the carbonate group C(=O)(O–)2.

Molten salts can also be electrolytes as, for example, when sodium chloride is molten, the liquid conducts electricity. In particular, ionic liquids, which are molten salts with melting points below 100 °C, [5] are a type of highly conductive non-aqueous electrolytes and thus have found more and more applications in fuel cells and batteries. [6]

An electrolyte in a solution may be described as "concentrated" if it has a high concentration of ions, or "diluted" if it has a low concentration. If a high proportion of the solute dissociates to form free ions, the electrolyte is strong; if most of the solute does not dissociate, the electrolyte is weak. The properties of electrolytes may be exploited using electrolysis to extract constituent elements and compounds contained within the solution.

Alkaline earth metals form hydroxides that are strong electrolytes with limited solubility in water, due to the strong attraction between their constituent ions. This limits their application to situations where high solubility is not required. [7]

Physiological importance

In physiology, the primary ions of electrolytes are sodium (Na+), potassium (K+), calcium (Ca2+), magnesium (Mg2+), chloride (Cl), hydrogen phosphate (HPO42−), and hydrogen carbonate (HCO3). The electric charge symbols of plus (+) and minus (−) indicate that the substance is ionic in nature and has an imbalanced distribution of electrons, the result of chemical dissociation. Sodium is the main electrolyte found in extracellular fluid and potassium is the main intracellular electrolyte; [8] both are involved in fluid balance and blood pressure control. [9]

All known higher lifeforms require a subtle and complex electrolyte balance between the intracellular and extracellular environments. In particular, the maintenance of precise osmotic gradients of electrolytes is important. Such gradients affect and regulate the hydration of the body as well as blood pH, and are critical for nerve and muscle function. Various mechanisms exist in living species that keep the concentrations of different electrolytes under tight control.

Both muscle tissue and neurons are considered electric tissues of the body. Muscles and neurons are activated by electrolyte activity between the extracellular fluid or interstitial fluid, and intracellular fluid. Electrolytes may enter or leave the cell membrane through specialized protein structures embedded in the plasma membrane called "ion channels". For example, muscle contraction is dependent upon the presence of calcium (Ca2+), sodium (Na+), and potassium (K+). Without sufficient levels of these key electrolytes, muscle weakness or severe muscle contractions may occur.

Electrolyte balance is maintained by oral, or in emergencies, intravenous (IV) intake of electrolyte-containing substances, and is regulated by hormones, in general with the kidneys flushing out excess levels. In humans, electrolyte homeostasis is regulated by hormones such as antidiuretic hormones, aldosterone and parathyroid hormones. Serious electrolyte disturbances, such as dehydration and overhydration, may lead to cardiac and neurological complications and, unless they are rapidly resolved, will result in a medical emergency.


Measurement of electrolytes is a commonly performed diagnostic procedure, performed via blood testing with ion-selective electrodes or urinalysis by medical technologists. The interpretation of these values is somewhat meaningless without analysis of the clinical history and is often impossible without parallel measurements of renal function. The electrolytes measured most often are sodium and potassium. Chloride levels are rarely measured except for arterial blood gas interpretations, since they are inherently linked to sodium levels. One important test conducted on urine is the specific gravity test to determine the occurrence of an electrolyte imbalance.


In oral rehydration therapy, electrolyte drinks containing sodium and potassium salts replenish the body's water and electrolyte concentrations after dehydration caused by exercise, excessive alcohol consumption, diaphoresis (heavy sweating), diarrhea, vomiting, intoxication or starvation. Athletes exercising in extreme conditions (for three or more hours continuously, e.g. a marathon or triathlon) who do not consume electrolytes risk dehydration (or hyponatremia). [10]

A home-made electrolyte drink can be made by using water, sugar and salt in precise proportions. [11] Commercial preparations are also available [12] for both human and veterinary use.

Electrolytes are commonly found in fruit juices, sports drinks, milk, nuts, and many fruits and vegetables (whole or in juice form) (e.g., potatoes, avocados).


When electrodes are placed in an electrolyte and a voltage is applied, the electrolyte will conduct electricity. Lone electrons normally cannot pass through the electrolyte; instead, a chemical reaction occurs at the cathode, providing electrons to the electrolyte. Another reaction occurs at the anode, consuming electrons from the electrolyte. As a result, a negative charge cloud develops in the electrolyte around the cathode, and a positive charge develops around the anode. The ions in the electrolyte neutralize these charges, enabling the electrons to keep flowing and the reactions to continue.

For example, in a solution of ordinary table salt (sodium chloride, NaCl) in water, the cathode reaction will be

2H2O + 2e → 2OH + H2

and hydrogen gas will bubble up; the anode reaction is

2NaCl → 2 Na+ + Cl2 + 2e

and chlorine gas will be liberated. The positively charged sodium ions Na+ will react toward the cathode, neutralizing the negative charge of OH there, and the negatively charged hydroxide ions OH will react toward the anode, neutralizing the positive charge of Na+ there. Without the ions from the electrolyte, the charges around the electrode would slow down continued electron flow; diffusion of H+ and OH through water to the other electrode takes longer than movement of the much more prevalent salt ions. Electrolytes dissociate in water because water molecules are dipoles and the dipoles orient in an energetically favorable manner to solvate the ions.

In other systems, the electrode reactions can involve the metals of the electrodes as well as the ions of the electrolyte.

Electrolytic conductors are used in electronic devices where the chemical reaction at a metal-electrolyte interface yields useful effects.

Solid electrolytes

Solid electrolytes can be mostly divided into four groups:

See also

Related Research Articles

Ionic bonding chemical bond involving electron transfer

Ionic bonding is a type of chemical bonding that involves the electrostatic attraction between oppositely charged ions, and is the primary interaction occurring in ionic compounds. It is one of the main bonds along with Covalent bond and Metallic bonding. Ions are atoms that have gained one or more electrons and atoms that have lost one or more electrons. This transfer of electrons is known as electrovalence in contrast to covalence. In the simplest case, the cation is a metal atom and the anion is a nonmetal atom, but these ions can be of a more complex nature, e.g. molecular ions like NH+
or SO2−
. In simpler words, an ionic bond is the transfer of electrons from a metal to a non-metal in order to obtain a full valence shell for both atoms.

Solution A homogeneous mixture which assumes the phase of the solvent

In chemistry, a solution is a special type of homogeneous mixture composed of two or more substances. The term aqueous solution is when one of the solvents is water. In such a mixture, a solute is a substance dissolved in another substance, known as a solvent. The mixing process of a solution happens at a scale where the effects of chemical polarity are involved, resulting in interactions that are specific to solvation. The solution assumes the phase of the solvent when the solvent is the larger fraction of the mixture, as is commonly the case. The concentration of a solute in a solution is the mass of that solute expressed as a percentage of the mass of the whole solution.

The chloride ion is the anion Cl. It is formed when the element chlorine gains an electron or when a compound such as hydrogen chloride is dissolved in water or other polar solvents. Chloride salts such as sodium chloride are often very soluble in water. It is an essential electrolyte located in all body fluids responsible for maintaining acid/base balance, transmitting nerve impulses and regulating fluid in and out of cells. Less frequently, the word chloride may also form part of the "common" name of chemical compounds in which one or more chlorine atoms are covalently bonded. For example, methyl chloride, with the standard name chloromethane is an organic compound with a covalent C−Cl bond in which the chlorine is not an anion.

Aqueous solution solution in which the solvent is water

An aqueous solution is a solution in which the solvent is water. It is mostly shown in chemical equations by appending (aq) to the relevant chemical formula. For example, a solution of table salt, or sodium chloride (NaCl), in water would be represented as Na+(aq) + Cl(aq). The word aqueous (comes from aqua) means pertaining to, related to, similar to, or dissolved in, water. As water is an excellent solvent and is also naturally abundant, it is a ubiquitous solvent in chemistry. Aqueous solution is water with a pH of 7.0 where the hydrogen ions (H+) and hydroxide ions (OH-) are in Arrhenius balance (10-7).

Base (chemistry) substance that can accept hydrogen ions (protons) or more generally, donate a pair of valence electrons

In chemistry, bases are substances that, in aqueous solution, release hydroxide (OH) ions, are slippery to the touch, can taste bitter if an alkali, change the color of indicators (e.g., turn red litmus paper blue), react with acids to form salts, promote certain chemical reactions (base catalysis), accept protons from any proton donor or contain completely or partially displaceable OH ions. Examples of bases are the hydroxides of the alkali metals and the alkaline earth metals (NaOH, Ca(OH)2, etc.—see alkali hydroxide and alkaline earth hydroxide).

Precipitation (chemistry) chemical term

Precipitation is the creation of a solid from a solution. When the reaction occurs in a liquid solution, the solid formed is called the 'precipitate'. The chemical that causes the solid to form is called the 'precipitant'. Without sufficient force of gravity (settling) to bring the solid particles together, the precipitate remains in suspension. After sedimentation, especially when using a centrifuge to press it into a compact mass, the precipitate may be referred to as a 'pellet'. Precipitation can be used as a medium. The precipitate-free liquid remaining above the solid is called the 'supernate' or 'supernatant'. Powders derived from precipitation have also historically been known as 'flowers'. When the solid appears in the form of cellulose fibers which have been through chemical processing, the process is often referred to as regeneration.

The common-ion effect states that in a chemical solution in which several species reversibly associate with each other by an equilibrium process, increasing the concentration of any one of its dissociated components by adding another chemical that also contains it will cause an increased amount of association. This result is a consequence of Le Chatelier's principle for the equilibrium reaction of the association/dissociation. The effect is commonly seen as an effect on the solubility of salts and other weak electrolytes. Adding an additional amount of one of the ions of the salt generally leads to increased precipitation of the salt, which reduces the concentration of both ions of the salt until the solubility equilibrium is reached. The effect is based on the fact that both the original salt and the other added chemical have one ion in common with each other.

Electrolytic cell

An electrolytic cell is an electrochemical cell that drives a non-spontaneous redox reaction through the application of electrical energy. They are often used to decompose chemical compounds, in a process called electrolysis—the Greek word lysis means to break up.

Chloralkali process

The electrolysis of brine is an industrial process for the electrolysis of sodium chloride. It is the technology used to produce chlorine and sodium hydroxide, which are commodity chemicals required by industry. 35 million tons of chlorine were prepared by this process in 1987. Industrial scale production began in 1892.

A silver chloride electrode is a type of reference electrode, commonly used in electrochemical measurements. For environmental reasons it has widely replaced the saturated calomel electrode. For example, it is usually the internal reference electrode in pH meters and it is often used as reference in reduction potential measurements. As an example of the latter, the silver chloride electrode is the most commonly used reference electrode for testing cathodic protection corrosion control systems in sea water environments.

Sodium perchlorate chemical compound

Sodium perchlorate is the inorganic compound with the chemical formula NaClO4. It is a white crystalline, hygroscopic solid that is highly soluble in water and in alcohol. It usually encountered as the monohydrate. The compound is noteworthy as the most water-soluble of the common perchlorate salts.


A counterion is the ion that accompanies an ionic species in order to maintain electric neutrality. In table salt (NaCl), the sodium cation is the counterion for the chlorine anion and vice versa.

The concept of ionic strength was first introduced by Lewis and Randall in 1921 while describing the activity coefficients of strong electrolytes. The ionic strength of a solution is a measure of the concentration of ions in that solution. Ionic compounds, when dissolved in water, dissociate into ions. The total electrolyte concentration in solution will affect important properties such as the dissociation constant or the solubility of different salts. One of the main characteristics of a solution with dissolved ions is the ionic strength. Ionic strength can be molar (mol/L) or molal and to avoid confusion the units should be stated explicitly.

A strong electrolyte is a solution/solute that completely, or almost completely, ionizes or dissociates in a solution. These ions are good conductors of electric current in the solution.

Molten-salt battery

Molten-salt batteries are a class of battery that uses molten salts as an electrolyte and offers both a high energy density and a high power density. Traditional "use once" thermal batteries can be stored in their solid state at room temperature for long periods of time before being activated by heating. Rechargeable liquid-metal batteries are used for electric vehicles and potentially also for grid energy storage, to balance out intermittent renewable power sources such as solar panels and wind turbines.

Beta-alumina solid electrolyte (BASE) is a fast ion conductor material used as a membrane in several types of molten salt electrochemical cell. Currently there is no known substitute available.

Solid state ionics

Solid-state ionics is the study of ionic-electronic mixed conductor and fully ionic conductors and their uses. Some materials that fall into this category include inorganic crystalline and polycrystalline solids, ceramics, glasses, polymers, and composites. Solid-state ionic devices, such as solid oxide fuel cells, can be much more reliable and long-lasting, especially under harsh conditions, than comparable devices with fluid electrolytes.


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