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School Chemistry: Describing & explaining electrolysis of copper chloride solution

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ELECTROLYSIS of COPPER CHLORIDE SOLUTION

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6. Using an electrolysis cell - investigating the electrolysis of copper(II) chloride solution

A simple method of investigating the electrolysis of copper(II) chloride solution is described. The formation of the products of electrolysing aqueous copper chloride is fully explained with the appropriate electrode equations.  What are the products of the electrolysis of aqueous copper chloride solution?

Reminders: Electrolysis (of copper chloride) is a way of splitting up (decomposition) of the compound (copper chloride) using electrical energy. The electrical energy comes from a d.c. (direct current) battery or power pack supply. A conducting liquid, containing ions, called the electrolyte (aqueous or molten sodium chloride), must contain the compound (copper chloride) that is being broken down. The electricity must flow through electrodes dipped into the electrolyte to complete the electrical circuit with the battery. Electrolysis can only happen when the circuit is complete, and an electrical current (electricity) is flowing, then the products of electrolysing aqueous copper(II) chloride solution are released on the electrode surfaces where they can be collected. Electrolysis always involves a flow of electrons in the external wires and electrodes and a flow of ions in the electrolyte and there is always a reduction at the negative cathode electrode (which attracts positive ions, cations) and an oxidation at the positive anode electrode (which attracts negative ions, anions) and it is the ions which are discharged to give the products. These revision notes on the electrolysis of copper chloride solution should prove useful for the new AQA chemistry, Edexcel chemistry & OCR chemistry GCSE (9–1, 9-5 & 5-1) science courses.

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6. Electrolysis of copper(II) chloride solution

The products of electrolysing copper chloride solution are copper metal and chlorine gas

In the simple electrolysis cell (left diagram), the graphite (carbon) electrodes are, through a large rubber bung, 'upwardly' dipped into an solution of dilute copper chloride.

In this cheap and simple apparatus the gaseous product (chlorine) is collected in a small test tube inverted over the carbon electrodes. You have to fill the little test tubes with the electrolyte (copper chloride solution), hold the liquid in with your finger and carefully invert them over the nearly full electrolysis cell.

The electrolysis will only take place when electricity is passed through the dilute copper(II) chloride solution. The platinum or carbon electrodes are inert. You can also use the simple electrolysis set-up illustrated below (right) using two inert metal wires as electrodes.

The electrolyte copper(II) chloride, provides a high concentration of copper(II) ions Cu2+ and chloride ions Cl– to carry the current during the electrolysis process.

The tiny traces of hydrogen ions (H+) and hydroxide ions (OH–) from water, would not normally be discharged at the electrodes in this investigation.

The electrolysis will only take place when electricity is passed through the copper chloride solution.

The electrode reactions and products of the electrolysis of copper chloride solution are illustrated by the theory diagram above

Note: The majority of liquid water consists of covalent H2O molecules, but there are trace quantities of H+ and OH– ions from the reversible self–ionisation of water: H2O(l) H+(aq) + OH–(aq)

The half-equations for the electrolysis of copper(II) chloride solution (the electrolyte)

(a) The negative cathode electrode reaction for the electrolysis of copper(II) chloride solution

The positive copper(II) ions Cu2+ (from copper sulfate) and the H+ ions (from water) are attracted to the negative cathode.

Only the copper(II) ion is discharged (preferentially).

The less reactive a metal, the more readily its ion is reduced on the electrode surface.

a reduction electrode reaction

Cu2+(aq) + 2e– ==> Cu(s) (copper deposit)

positive ion reduction by electron gain

This is a reduction reaction because the copper ions gain electrons, i.e. the copper ions are reduced to copper.

 

(b) The positive anode electrode reaction for the electrolysis of copper chloride solution

The (+) anode attracts the OH– (from water) and Cl– ions (from copper chloride).

Only the chloride ion is discharged preferentially  in appreciable quantities.

Chloride ions are oxidised by electron loss to form chlorine gas at the positive electrode.

2Cl–(aq) – 2e– ==> Cl2(g)

 or  2Cl–(aq) ==> Cl2(g) + 2e– 

negative ion oxidation by electron loss

This is an oxidation reaction because the chloride ions lose electrons i.e. the chloride ions are oxidised to chlorine molecules.

 

Extra COMMENTS on the electrolysis of copper(II) chloride solution

1. Overall equation for the electrolysis of aqueous copper chloride: CuCl2(aq) ==> Cu(s) + Cl2(g)

This could be written more accurately as an ionic equation: Cu2+(aq) + 2Cl–(aq) ==> Cu(s) + Cl2(g)

2.

SUMMARY OF PRODUCTS FROM THE ELECTROLYSIS OF COPPER(II) CHLORIDE SOLUTION

with inert carbon (graphite) electrodes or inert platinum electrodes

Electrolyte negative cathode product negative electrode

cathode half-equation

positive anode product positive electrode

anode half-equation

Copper(II) chloride

HCl(aq)

copper deposit Cu2+(aq) + 2e– ==> Cu(s) chlorine gas

2Cl–(aq) – 2e– ==> Cl2(g)

 or  2Cl–(aq) ==> Cl2(g) + 2e– 

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ELECTROCHEMISTRY INDEX:  1. INTRODUCTION to electrolysis - electrolytes, non-electrolytes, electrode equations, apparatus 2. Electrolysis of acidified water (dilute sulfuric acid) and some sulfate salts and alkalis 3. Electrolysis of sodium chloride solution (brine) and bromides and iodides 4. Electrolysis of copper(II) sulfate solution and electroplating with other metals e.g. silver 5. Electrolysis of molten lead(II) bromide (and other molten ionic compounds) 6. Electrolysis of copper(II) chloride solution 7. Electrolysis of hydrochloric acid 8. Summary of electrode equations and products 9. Summary of electrolysis products from various electrolytes 10. Simple cells (batteries) 11. Fuel Cells e.g. the hydrogen - oxygen fuel cell 12. The electrolysis of molten aluminium oxide - extraction of aluminium from bauxite ore & anodising aluminium to thicken and strengthen the protective oxide layer 13. The extraction of sodium from molten sodium chloride using the 'Down's Cell' 14. The purification of copper by electrolysis 15. The purification of zinc by electrolysis 16. Electroplating coating conducting surfaces with a metal layer 17. Electrolysis of brine (NaCl) for the production of chlorine, hydrogen & sodium hydroxide AND 18. Electrolysis calculations


Electrolysis Quiz (GCSE 9-1 HT Level (harder)

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