WIAS Preprint No. 2204, (2015)

A new perspective on the electron transfer: Recovering the Butler--Volmer equation in non-equilibrium thermodynamics


  • Dreyer, Wolfgang
  • Guhlke, Clemens
  • Müller, Rüdiger
    ORCID: 0000-0003-2643-722X

2010 Mathematics Subject Classification

  • 35Q60 35Q79 80A17

2008 Physics and Astronomy Classification Scheme

  • 82.45.Gj 82.45.Fk


  • Butler-Volmer, thermodynamics, electrolyte, double-layer


Understanding and correct mathematical description of electron transfer reaction is a central question in electrochemistry. Typically the electron transfer reactions are described by the Butler-Volmer equation which has its origin in kinetic theories. The Butler-Volmer equation relates interfacial reaction rates to bulk quantities like the electrostatic potential and electrolyte concentrations. Since in the classical form, the validity of the Butler-Volmer equation is limited to some simple electrochemical systems, many attempts have been made to generalize the Butler-Volmer equation. Based on non-equilibrium thermodynamics we have recently derived a reduced model for the electrode-electrolyte interface. This reduced model includes surface reactions but does not resolve the charge layer at the interface. Instead it is locally electroneutral and consistently incorporates all features of the double layer into a set of interface conditions. In the context of this reduced model we are able to derive a general Butler-Volmer equation. We discuss the application of the new Butler-Volmer equations to different scenarios like electron transfer reactions at metal electrodes, the intercalation process in lithium-iron-phosphate electrodes and adsorption processes. We illustrate the theory by an example of electroplating.

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