Difference between electrolytic cell and electrochemical cell (galvanic cell)


Confused between electrolytic and electrochemical cell ? Well in chemistry or to be precise in Electrochemistry you must have studied about electrolytic cell and electrochemical cell.

Both of these terms are like a tongue twister and can confuse you, so to avoid that confusion in this article I am going to differentiate between both of them and clear your basics so that you get a clear picture of both the concept.

Out of many differences, one of the main difference between an electrolytic cell and the galvanic cell is that:


A galvanic cell is used to convert chemical energy into electrical energy just like batteries in your television remote whereas electrolytic cell is used to convert electrical energy into chemical energy to carry out a chemical reaction. 


Here is the difference table between electrolytic cell and electrochemical cell (galvanic cell) for your better understanding:

Difference between electrolytic cell and galvanic cell
S.no Electrolytic cell Galvanic cell
1 Converts electrical energy into chemical energy. Converts chemical energy into electrical energy.
2 Electrical energy brings out a chemical reaction with the help of an external force. Chemical energy generates electrical energy with the help of redox reaction.
3 A cathode is negative and an anode is positive. A cathode is positive and an anode is negative.
4 Oxidation takes place at cathode and reduction at the anode. Oxidation takes place at anode and reduction at the cathode.
5 Both the anode and cathode are in the same container with an electrolytic solution. Both the anode and cathode are in different containers known as a half cell which are connected by a salt bridge.
6 Used in purifying copper and electroplating. Used in batteries for example, batteries present in TV remotes.

Refer to the images for better understanding

Electrolytic cell: 
Electrolytic cell

Galvanic cell: 
Galvanic cell
So this was the difference between an Electrolytic cell and Galvanic cell. Now to make it simple for you let's have a look at some basics of Electrochemistry from where both these types of cells are originated.

What is Electrochemistry ?

If I have to explain to you what electrochemistry is in easy words -

Electrochemistry is the branch of chemistry that studies the production of electricity from spontaneous chemical reactions and the use of electricity to carry out the non-spontaneous reaction. 

Spontaneous reactions are those chemical reactions which occur by themselves we don't need to do anything to carry out these reactions. 
So in short electrochemistry has two-part to study:

1. Using a spontaneous chemical reaction to generate electricity 
2. Using electricity to carry out non-spontaneous reactions that can't occur by themselves. 

Role of Electrolytic and Galvanic cell in Electrochemistry:

Now I guess it's almost clear to you the role of an electrolytic and galvanic cell from the definition given above.

As I mentioned earlier that Electrochemistry is the study of 1. Using a chemical reaction to generate electricity and 2. Using electricity to carry out chemical reactions which cant occur by themselves. 

So if you take a close look into the difference table above, both these cells help us to achieve the objective of Electrochemistry.

The electrolytic cell helps us convert electrical energy into chemical energy by carrying out the reaction which can't occur by themselves. For example, electrolytic cell is used in electroplating to carry out the reaction,

On the other hand

Electrochemical cell or Galvanic cell is used to convert chemical energy into electrical by using spontaneous chemical reaction which can occur by themselves. For example, batteries in your television set at home are also an example of an Electrochemical cell.

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