Definition - What does Electrolyte mean?

An electrolyte is any substance that undergoes ionization when dissolved in water or ionizing solvents. This covers almost all soluble acids, bases and salts. At times, gases like hydrogen chloride can also act in a similar way to electrolytes, given there is low pressure or high temperature.

Electrolytes play a vital role in the corrosion process since their presence triggers a reaction between two dissimilar metals.

Corrosionpedia explains Electrolyte

An electrolyte present within a solution can be regarded as concentrated if it contains elevated ion concentration. On the hand, it is dilute if it has low concentration. Additionally, if high solute proportions dissociate to build free ions, the existing electrolyte is strong. If the solute does not detach, the electrolyte is considered weak. Electrolyte properties can be developed through electrolysis in order to take out compounds and elements within a solution.

A reaction is formed when two unlike metals come in contact with electrolytes in an electrochemical rection. This reaction is known as galvanic corrosion. This corrosion occurs when there is the presence of bimetallic couple in between dissimilar metals within the solution or electrolyte. Without all these components, galvanic corrosion will not take place.

Galvanic corrosion usually causes degradation that results in complete destruction. This is commonly seen in metals like aluminum and copper. Electrolytes are considered solutions with extreme electrical conductive properties. The most common electrolytes are chloride as well as contaminants with chloride like:

  • Road salts
  • Seawater
  • Cleaning agents

Such electrolytes are usually calcium or sodium chloride compounds. Other sources of electrolytes include nitrogen and sulfur compounds that can be generated through fuel oil and coal combustion.

The main causes of chloride contamination include coastal and marine environments. For instance, mist, sea spray and fog all have small saltwater droplets that can travel miles via tidal currents and ocean breezes. It is common to see contamination due to salt water as much as five miles from the shore. Hence, adequate protection from such electrolytes in inland locations is a must. A neat and uncontaminated environment can maintain the integrity of a system. Prolonged exposure to contaminants typically results in damage or corrosion.

This definition was written in the context of Corrosion

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