Electrochemistry is the scientific discipline studying the relationship between chemistry and electricity. It includes all technologies and techniques such as work on electrolysis, corrosion, batteries, fuel cells, accumulators, and electroplating.
There are two main branches in electrochemistry:
- Chemical reactions that create electricity such as batteries
- Chemical reactions that use electricity to produce new compounds
In general, electrochemistry studies the relationship between chemical reactions and electricity. Electricity is the movement of electrons moving together in one direction. The chemical reaction that is happening in an electrochemical reaction will make electrons move from one side to another. These reactions are called oxidation-reduction reactions, meaning that electrons move between atoms. Some atoms are being oxidized, meaning that they lose an electron, and other atoms are being reduced, meaning that they gain an electron.
The first case is when use electrons moving between atoms in an oxidation-reduction reaction to make electricity. This is the case of a battery where the physical properties of the materials used make electrons move spontaneously from the anode to the cathode. In the second case, we use electricity to force electrons to make oxidation-reduction reaction happen. This happens when we want to obtain a specific output from an electrochemical reaction that we would not have obtained without the use of a specific chemical reagent.
In the case of the Liberate project, electricity is used to obtain chemicals such as vanillin, antioxidants or monomers from lignin. Lignin is a complex polymer containing many different smaller molecules that can be of high value in the chemical industry. The problem is how to obtain these special molecules from the complex polymer because they are chemically bound in the lignin. By applying an electric current to different types of lignin such as kraft lignin and organosolv lignin, several high-value end products were obtained as a product from the oxidation of the lignin. The electricity helps here to “cut” the lignin into smaller fragments so that the valuable molecules are available. The advantage of electrochemistry in the oxidation of lignin is that it uses less energy, apart from this process, the process is safer and cleaner to obtain the end products compared to traditional chemical process.