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Electrolysis of Molten Salts

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Face the Bully!

How can we make use of subtances that are difficult to break apart? 


Credit: Jim Sutton
Source: http://www.jimsgraphix.com/free_art_box_03/images/bully-01.gif
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

Know that bully at school? He’s always blocking the way to the vending machine. So whenever you want a snack, he just sends you back! He may get that sense of self-importance and authority from his solid build, but there’s a way to counter that: stand up to him, and show him that you’re not afraid!

Electrolysis is commonly used in industry to extract useful materials. However, sometimes in the world of chemistry, there are certain substances that we know are useful, but are difficult to extract using this process. So how do we extract them? We first melt them! Certain salts such as sodium chloride cannot be electrolyzed because they are so locked in place in an ionic lattice structure. Just like that school bully whose muscles give him that major sense of strength! By melting these salts, however, we overcome the attractive forces between their ions, and electrolysis can occur. Now we are left with useful materials such as sodium metal, which is commonly used in reactors for heat transfer. So by showing off your immense self-confidence, you have effectively "melted" the big, bad bully into a wimp. Hopefully, he can start making himself useful by becoming a superhero, and using his powers for good!

Creative Applications

  1. Research: In what other instances is electrolysis a useful process? You may refer to the "Resources" section below.
  2. What are the products in the electrolysis of molten calcium chloride (CaCl2)? You may use the reduction potentials chart in the "Resources" section.
  3. True or False: Electrolysis drives commonly-spontaneous processes. Explain your answer. 






Image Attributions

  1. [1]^ Credit: Jim Sutton; Source: http://www.jimsgraphix.com/free_art_box_03/images/bully-01.gif; License: CC BY-NC 3.0

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