The key difference between electrolyte and electrolysis is that electrolyte is a substance that can produce ions, whereas electrolysis is a process in which an electric current is used to drive a chemical reaction.
We mainly use the terms electrolyte and electrolysis in electrochemistry, where we investigate the relationship between electricity and chemistry.
What is an Electrolyte?
An electrolyte is a substance that can produce ions. Electrolytes provide ions when they are in the molten stage or when they are dissolved in a solvent (water). These ions make the electrolytes able to conduct electricity. However, there are some solid-state electrolytes as well. Furthermore, some gases like carbon dioxide produce ions (hydrogen and bicarbonate ions) when they dissolve in water.
We can categorize electrolytes into two different groups: strong electrolytes and weak electrolytes. Among them, strong electrolytes readily produce ions when they are soluble. For instance, ionic compounds are strong electrolytes. Molten sodium chloride or aqueous NaCl solutions undergo complete dissociation (into Na+ and Cl– ions); therefore, they are good electricity conductors. Strong acids and bases are also good electrolytes. On the other hand, weak electrolytes produce few ions when they are soluble in water. Moreover, weak acids like acetic acid and weak bases are weak electrolytes.
Electrolytes occur in the body too. We need these electrolytes to maintain the ionic balance inside cells and blood fluids in a healthy body. Electrolyte balance is very important to maintain the osmotic balance and blood pressure inside the body. Na+, K+, and Ca2+ are important in nerve impulse transmission and muscle contractions.
What is Electrolysis?
Electrolysis is the process of using a direct electrical current to drive a non-spontaneous chemical reaction. Electrolysis can be done using an electrolytic cell. This technique is very important to separate a compound into its ions or other components.
In the process of electrolysis, an electric current passes through a solution for the mobility of ions in that solution. Typically, an electrolytic cell consists of two electrodes immersed in the same solution. We call this solution the electrolyte. An important feature in regulating the electrolytic cell is “over potential.” We have to provide a higher voltage in order to carry out a non-spontaneous reaction. Here, an inert electrode can also be used to provide the surface for the reaction that occurs.
There are many useful applications of electrolysis. One common application is the electrolysis of water. Here, water is the electrolyte. Then the reaction of the breakdown of water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen gases is done using the electric current that is passed through the electrolyte.
What is the Difference Between Electrolyte and Electrolysis?
The key difference between electrolyte and electrolysis is that electrolyte is a substance that can produce ions, whereas electrolysis is a process in which an electric current is used to drive a chemical reaction. In other words, in an electrolyte, the molten or dissolved substance produces ions that are able to move in the liquid state or in an aqueous solution, while in electrolysis, the decomposition of an electrolyte by an electric current occurs. Electrolyte and electrolysis are related to each other in different ways. For example, electrolysis can occur in the presence of an electrolyte.
Summary – Electrolyte vs Electrolysis
Therefore, the key difference between electrolyte and electrolysis is that electrolyte is a substance that can produce ions, whereas electrolysis is a process in which an electric current is used to drive a chemical reaction. In other words, electrolytes are substances, while electrolysis is a process.
1. Helmenstine, Anne Marie. “Chemistry Examples: Strong and Weak Electrolytes.” ThoughtCo, Aug. 6, 2019.
1. “Electrolytes-electric conductivity” By Elcap – Own work (CC0) via Commons Wikimedia
2. “Electrolysis copper sulphate” By Theresa knott at English Wikibooks. – Transferred from en.wikibooks to Commons. (CC BY-SA 3.0) via Commons Wikimedia