Electrochemical Series: Examples & Uses

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  • 0:04 Electrochemical Series
  • 1:42 Oxidation of Copper
  • 2:19 Metals Above Hydrogen
  • 2:57 Electrolysis
  • 4:16 Examples of Electrolysis
  • 6:09 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Saranya Chatterjee

Saranya has a masters degree in Chemistry and in Secondary Education. She has taught high school, AP chemistry for 2 years and is teaching undergraduate college chemistry for 3 years.

This lesson describes the electrochemical series and its applications. It talks about the reactivity of the metals in the series. It also discusses the behavior of aqueous solutions of these metals during electrolysis.

Electrochemical Series

The electrochemical series, also known as the activity series, is a list of metals listed in order of decreasing reactivity or in order of decreasing ease of oxidation. The metals at the top of the series, such as the alkali metals and the alkaline earth metals, are more reactive or are most easily oxidized than the metals found at the bottom of the series. This basically means that they can react more easily to form compounds. These metals at the top of the activity series are called active metals.

The metals at the bottom of the series, such as the transition metals, are very stable and form compounds less readily. These metals, such as copper and gold, are used to make coins and jewelry and are called noble metals because of their low reactivity. The elements in the electrochemical series are arranged in order of their standard electrode potentials. Electrode potential is the potential of a cell having an electrode acting as a cathode and the standard hydrogen electrode (SHE) acting as the anode. Reduction always takes place at the cathode, and oxidation at the anode.

Electrochemical series of metals

Look at the series. Is it possible to predict whether a certain metal will be oxidized by an acid? This question is of practical importance as well as of chemical interest. For example, it's unwise to store a solution of nickel nitrate in an iron container because the solution will dissolve in the container.

The activity series can be used to predict the results of reactions between metals and either metal salts or acids. Any metal on the list can be oxidized by the ions of the elements we are about to discuss. Let's try to understand this feature by discussing some examples.

Oxidation of Copper

Copper is above silver in the series. Thus, copper metal is oxidized by silver ions.

Cu (s) + 2 Ag+ (aq) → Cu2+ + 2 Ag (s)

The oxidation of copper metal to copper ions is accompanied by the reduction of silver ions to silver metal. For similar reasons, Copper(II) nitrate produces a blue color in the solution that occurs in the following reaction.

2 AgNO3 (aq) + Cu (s) → Cu(NO3) 2 (aq) + 2 Ag (s)

Metals Above Hydrogen

Only metals above hydrogen in the electrochemical series are able to react with acids to form hydrogen. For example, elements like magnesium, zinc, and nickel react with hydrochloric acid to form hydrogen according to the following reactions:

Zn (s) + 2 HCl (aq) → ZnCl2 (aq) + H2 (g)

Mg (s) + 2 HCl (aq) → MgCl2 (aq) + H2 (g)

Ni (s) + 2 HCl (aq) → NiCl2 (aq) + H2 (g)

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