The key role of water activity for the operating behavior and dynamics of oxygen depolarized cathodes
Advanced chlor‐alkali electrolysis with oxygen depolarized cathodes (ODC) requires 30 % less electrical energy than conventional hydrogen‐evolution‐based technology. Herein, we confirm that the activities of hydroxide and water govern the ODC performance and its dynamics. Experimental characterization of ODC under varying mass transfer conditions on the liquid side reveals large differences in the polarization curves as well as in potential step responses of the electrodes. Under convective transport in the liquid electrolyte, the ODC is not limited by mass transfer in its current density at j>3.9 kA m−2, whereas transport limitations are already reached at j≈1.3 kA m−2 with a stagnant electrolyte. Since gas phase conditions do not differ significantly between the measurements, these results are in contrast the common assumption that oxygen supply determines ODC performance. A dynamic model reveals the strong influence of the electrolyte mass transfer conditions on oxygen availability and thus performance. Dynamic responses of the current density to step‐wise potential changes are dominated by the mass transport of water and hydroxide ions, which is by orders of magnitude faster with convective electrolyte flow. Without convective liquid electrolyte transport, a high accumulation of hydroxide ions significantly lowers the oxygen solubility. Thus, a fast mass transport of water and hydroxide is essential for high ODC performance and needs to be ensured for technical applications. The predicted accumulation of ions is furthermore validated experimentally by means of scanning electrochemical microscopy. We also show how the outlined processes can explain the distinctively different potential step responses with and without electrolyte convection.