Electromotive force, abbreviated emf (denoted
displaystyle mathcal E
and measured in volts), is the electrical intensity or "pressure" developed by a source of electrical energy such as a battery or generator. A device that converts other forms of energy into electrical energy (a "transducer") provides an emf at its output. (The word "force" in this case is not used to mean mechanical force, as may be measured in pounds or newtons.) In electromagnetic induction, emf can be defined around a closed loop of conductor as the electromagnetic work that would be done on an electric charge (an electron in this instance) if it travels once around the loop. For a time-varying magnetic flux linking a loop, the electric potential scalar field is not defined due to a circulating electric vector field, but an emf nevertheless does work that can be measured as a virtual electric potential around the loop. (While electrical charges travel around the loop, their energy is typically converted into thermal energy due to the resistance of the conductor comprising the loop.) In the case of a two-terminal device (such as an electrochemical cell) which is modeled as a Thévenin's equivalent circuit, the equivalent emf can be measured as the open-circuit potential difference or "voltage" between the two terminals. This potential difference can drive an electric current if an external circuit is attached to the terminals.
3 Notation and units of measurement
4 Formal definitions
5 In thermodynamics
7.1 Chemical sources
7.1.1 Voltaic cells 7.1.2 Of cells
7.2 Electromagnetic induction 7.3 Contact potentials 7.4 Solar cell
8 See also 9 References 10 Further reading 11 External links
Devices that can provide emf include electrochemical cells,
thermoelectric devices, solar cells, photodiodes, electrical
generators, transformer and even Van de Graaff generators. In
nature, emf is generated whenever magnetic field fluctuations occur
through a surface. The shifting of the
Earth's magnetic field
A source of emf can be thought of as a kind of charge pump that acts to move positive charge from a point of low potential through its interior to a point of high potential. … By chemical, mechanical or other means, the source of emf performs work dW on that charge to move it to the high potential terminal. The emf ℰ of the source is defined as the work dW done per charge dq: ℰ = dW/dq.
In the case of an electrical generator, a time-varying magnetic field
inside the generator creates an electric field via electromagnetic
induction, which in turn creates a voltage difference between the
generator terminals. Charge separation takes place within the
generator, with electrons flowing away from one terminal and toward
the other, until, in the open-circuit case, sufficient electric field
builds up to make further charge separation impossible. Again, the emf
is countered by the electrical voltage due to charge separation. If a
load is attached, this voltage can drive a current. The general
principle governing the emf in such electrical machines is Faraday's
law of induction.
displaystyle mathcal E
or ℰ (script capital E, Unicode U+2130).
In a device without internal resistance, if an electric charge Q
passes through that device, and gains an energy W, the net emf for
that device is the energy gained per unit charge, or W/Q. Like other
measures of energy per charge, emf uses the SI unit volt, which is
equivalent to a joule per coulomb.
displaystyle mathcal E =-int _ A ^ B boldsymbol E _ mathrm cs cdot mathrm d boldsymbol ell ,
where Ecs is the conservative electrostatic field created by the charge separation associated with the emf, dℓ is an element of the path from terminal A to terminal B, and ‘·’ denotes the vector dot product. This equation applies only to locations A and B that are terminals, and does not apply to paths between points A and B with portions outside the source of emf. This equation involves the electrostatic electric field due to charge separation Ecs and does not involve (for example) any non-conservative component of electric field due to Faraday's law of induction. In the case of a closed path in the presence of a varying magnetic field, the integral of the electric field around a closed loop may be nonzero; one common application of the concept of emf, known as "induced emf" is the voltage induced in such a loop. The "induced emf" around a stationary closed path C is:
displaystyle mathcal E =oint _ C boldsymbol E cdot mathrm d boldsymbol ell ,
where now E is the entire electric field, conservative and non-conservative, and the integral is around an arbitrary but stationary closed curve C through which there is a varying magnetic field. The electrostatic field does not contribute to the net emf around a circuit because the electrostatic portion of the electric field is conservative (that is, the work done against the field around a closed path is zero). This definition can be extended to arbitrary sources of emf and moving paths C:
displaystyle mathcal E =oint _ C left[ boldsymbol E + boldsymbol v times boldsymbol B right]cdot mathrm d boldsymbol ell
e f f e c t i v e c h e m i c a l f o r c e s
displaystyle + frac 1 q oint _ C mathrm mathbf effective chemical forces cdot mathrm d boldsymbol ell
e f f e c t i v e t h e r m a l f o r c e s
displaystyle + frac 1 q oint _ C mathrm mathbf effective thermal forces cdot mathrm d boldsymbol ell ,
which is a conceptual equation mainly, because the determination of the "effective forces" is difficult. In thermodynamics When multiplied by an amount of charge dQ the emf ℰ yields a thermodynamic work term ℰdQ that is used in the formalism for the change in Gibbs energy when charge is passed in a battery:
d G = − S d T + V d P +
d Q ,
displaystyle dG=-SdT+VdP+ mathcal E dQ ,
where G is the Gibb's free energy, S is the entropy, V is the system
volume, P is its pressure and T is its absolute temperature.
The combination ( ℰ, Q ) is an example of a conjugate pair of
variables. At constant pressure the above relationship produces a
displaystyle left( frac partial mathcal E partial T right)_ Q =-left( frac partial S partial Q right)_ T
If a mole of ions goes into solution (for example, in a Daniell cell, as discussed below) the charge through the external circuit is:
Δ Q = −
displaystyle Delta Q=-n_ 0 F_ 0 ,
where n0 is the number of electrons/ion, and F0 is the Faraday constant and the minus sign indicates discharge of the cell. Assuming constant pressure and volume, the thermodynamic properties of the cell are related strictly to the behavior of its emf by:
Δ H = −
displaystyle Delta H=-n_ 0 F_ 0 left( mathcal E -T frac d mathcal E dT right) ,
where ΔH is the enthalpy of reaction. The quantities on the right are
all directly measurable.
For a circuit as a whole, such as one containing a resistor in series with a voltaic cell, electrical voltage does not contribute to the overall emf, because the voltage difference on going around a circuit is zero. (The ohmic IR voltage drop plus the applied electrical voltage sum to zero. See Kirchhoff's Law). The emf is due solely to the chemistry in the battery that causes charge separation, which in turn creates an electrical voltage that drives the current. For a circuit consisting of an electrical generator that drives current through a resistor, the emf is due solely to a time-varying magnetic field within the generator that generates an electrical voltage that in turn drives the current. (The ohmic IR drop plus the applied electrical voltage again is zero. See Kirchhoff's Law) A transformer coupling two circuits may be considered a source of emf for one of the circuits, just as if it were caused by an electrical generator; this example illustrates the origin of the term "transformer emf". A photodiode or solar cell may be considered as a source of emf, similar to a battery, resulting in an electrical voltage generated by charge separation driven by light rather than chemical reaction. Other devices that produce emf are fuel cells, thermocouples, and thermopiles.
In the case of an open circuit, the electric charge that has been separated by the mechanism generating the emf creates an electric field opposing the separation mechanism. For example, the chemical reaction in a voltaic cell stops when the opposing electric field at each electrode is strong enough to arrest the reactions. A larger opposing field can reverse the reactions in what are called reversible cells. The electric charge that has been separated creates an electric potential difference that can be measured with a voltmeter between the terminals of the device. The magnitude of the emf for the battery (or other source) is the value of this 'open circuit' voltage. When the battery is charging or discharging, the emf itself cannot be measured directly using the external voltage because some voltage is lost inside the source. It can, however, be inferred from a measurement of the current I and voltage difference V, provided that the internal resistance r already has been measured: ℰ = V + Ir. Generation Chemical sources Main article: Electrochemical cell
A typical reaction path requires the initial reactants to cross an energy barrier, enter an intermediate state and finally emerge in a lower energy configuration. If charge separation is involved, this energy difference can result in an emf. See Bergmann et al. and Transition state.
The question of how batteries (galvanic cells) generate an emf is one
that occupied scientists for most of the 19th century. The "seat of
the electromotive force" was eventually determined by Walther Nernst
to be primarily at the interfaces between the electrodes and the
Molecules are groups of atoms held together by chemical bonds, and
these bonds consist of electrical forces between electrons (negative)
and protons (positive). The molecule in isolation is a stable entity,
but when different molecules are brought together, some types of
molecules are able to steal electrons from others, resulting in charge
separation. This redistribution of charge is accompanied by a change
in energy of the system, and a reconfiguration of the atoms in the
molecules. The gain of an electron is termed "reduction" and the
loss of an electron is termed "oxidation". Reactions in which such
electron exchange occurs (which are the basis for batteries) are
called reduction-oxidation reactions or redox reactions. In a battery,
one electrode is composed of material that gains electrons from the
solute, and the other electrode loses electrons, because of these
fundamental molecular attributes. The same behavior can be seen in
atoms themselves, and their ability to steal electrons is referred to
as their electronegativity.
As an example, a
( s )
( a q )
displaystyle mathrm Zn_ (s) rightarrow Zn_ (aq) ^ 2+ +2e^ -
The zinc sulfate is the electrolyte in that half cell. It is a solution which contains zinc cations
displaystyle mathrm Zn _ ^ 2+
, and sulfate anions
displaystyle mathrm SO _ 4 ^ 2-
with charges that balance to zero. In the other half cell, the copper cations in a copper sulfate electrolyte are drawn to the copper cathode to which they attach themselves as they adopt electrons from the copper electrode by the reduction reaction:
( a q )
( s )
displaystyle mathrm Cu_ (aq) ^ 2+ +2e^ - rightarrow Cu_ (s)
in effect leaving a deficit of electrons on the copper cathode. The difference of excess electrons on the anode and deficit of electrons on the cathode creates an electrical potential between the two electrodes. (A detailed discussion of the microscopic process of electron transfer between an electrode and the ions in an electrolyte may be found in Conway.) If the cathode and anode are connected by an external conductor, electrons would pass through that external circuit (light bulb in figure), while the ions pass through the salt bridge to maintain charge balance until such a time as the anode and cathode reach electrical equilibrium of zero volts as chemical equilibrium is reached in the cell. In the process the zinc anode is dissolved while the copper electrode is plated with copper. The so-called "salt bridge" is not made of salt but could be made of material able to wick the cations and anions (salts) in the solutions, where the flow of positively charged cations along the "bridge" amounts to the same number of negative charges flowing in the opposite direction. If the light bulb is removed (open circuit) the emf between the electrodes is opposed by the electric field due to charge separation, and the reactions stop. For this particular cell chemistry, at 298 K (room temperature), the emf ℰ = 1.0934 V, with a temperature coefficient of dℰ/dT = −4.53×10−4 V/K. Voltaic cells Volta developed the voltaic cell about 1792, and presented his work March 20, 1800. Volta correctly identified the role of dissimilar electrodes in producing the voltage, but incorrectly dismissed any role for the electrolyte. Volta ordered the metals in a 'tension series', “that is to say in an order such that any one in the list becomes positive when in contact with any one that succeeds, but negative by contact with any one that precedes it.” A typical symbolic convention in a schematic of this circuit ( –– ) would have a long electrode 1 and a short electrode 2, to indicate that electrode 1 dominates. Volta's law about opposing electrode emfs implies that, given ten electrodes (for example, zinc and nine other materials), 45 unique combinations of voltaic cells (10 × 9/2) can be created. Of cells The electromotive force produced by primary (single-use) and secondary (rechargeable) cells is usually of the order of a few volts. The figures quoted below are nominal, because emf varies according to the size of the load and the state of exhaustion of the cell.
EMF Cell chemistry Common name
Anode Solvent, electrolyte Cathode
1.2 V Cadmium Water, potassium hydroxide NiO(OH) nickel-cadmium
1.5 V Zinc Water, ammonium or zinc chloride Carbon, manganese dioxide Zinc carbon
2.1 V Lead Water, sulfuric acid Lead dioxide Lead–acid
3.6 V to 3.7 V Graphite Organic solvent, Li salts LiCoO2 Lithium-ion
1.35 V Zinc Water, sodium or potassium hydroxide HgO Mercury cell
Main article: Faraday's law of induction
The principle of electromagnetic induction, noted above, states that a
time-dependent magnetic field produces a circulating electric field. A
time-dependent magnetic field can be produced either by motion of a
magnet relative to a circuit, by motion of a circuit relative to
another circuit (at least one of these must be carrying a current), or
by changing the current in a fixed circuit. The effect on the circuit
itself, of changing the current, is known as self-induction; the
effect on another circuit is known as mutual induction.
For a given circuit, the electromagnetically induced emf is determined
purely by the rate of change of the magnetic flux through the circuit
according to Faraday's law of induction.
An emf is induced in a coil or conductor whenever there is change in
the flux linkages. Depending on the way in which the changes are
brought about, there are two types: When the conductor is moved in a
stationary magnetic field to procure a change in the flux linkage, the
emf is statically induced. The electromotive force generated by motion
is often referred to as motional emf. When the change in flux linkage
arises from a change in the magnetic field around the stationary
conductor, the emf is dynamically induced. The electromotive force
generated by a time-varying magnetic field is often referred to as
The equivalent circuit of a solar cell; parasitic resistances are ignored in the discussion of the text.
Operation of a solar cell can be understood from the equivalent circuit at right. Light, of sufficient energy (greater than the bandgap of the material), creates mobile electron–hole pairs in a semiconductor. Charge separation occurs because of a pre-existing electric field associated with the p-n junction in thermal equilibrium (a contact potential creates the field). This charge separation between positive holes and negative electrons across a p-n junction (a diode) yields a forward voltage, the photo voltage, between the illuminated diode terminals. As has been noted earlier in the terminology section, the photo voltage is sometimes referred to as the photo emf, rather than distinguishing between the effect and the cause. The charge separation causes a photo voltage that drives current through any attached load. The current available to the external circuit is limited by internal losses I0=ISH + ID:
displaystyle I=I_ L -I_ 0 =I_ L -I_ SH -I_ D
Losses limit the current available to the external circuit. The light-induced charge separation eventually creates a current (called a forward current) ISH through the cell's junction in the direction opposite that the light is driving the current. In addition, the induced voltage tends to forward bias the junction. At high enough levels, this forward bias of the junction will cause a forward current, ID in the diode opposite that induced by the light. Consequently, the greatest current is obtained under short-circuit conditions, and is denoted as IL (for light-induced current) in the equivalent circuit. Approximately, this same current is obtained for forward voltages up to the point where the diode conduction becomes significant. The current delivered by the illuminated diode, to the external circuit is:
( m k T )
displaystyle I=I_ L -I_ 0 left(e^ qV/(mkT) -1right) ,
where I0 is the reverse saturation current. Where the two parameters that depend on the solar cell construction and to some degree upon the voltage itself are m, the ideality factor, and kT/q the thermal voltage (about 0.026 V at room temperature). This relation is plotted in the figure using a fixed value m = 2. Under open-circuit conditions (that is, as I = 0), the open-circuit voltage is the voltage at which forward bias of the junction is enough that the forward current completely balances the photocurrent. Solving the above for the voltage V and designating it the open-circuit voltage of the I–V equation as:
displaystyle V_ text oc =m frac kT q ln left( frac I_ text L I_ 0 +1right) ,
which is useful in indicating a logarithmic dependence of Voc upon the light-induced current. Typically, the open-circuit voltage is not more than about 0.5 V. When driving a load, the photo voltage is variable. As shown in the figure, for a load resistance RL, the cell develops a voltage that is between the short-circuit value V = 0, I = IL and the open-circuit value Voc, I = 0, a value given by Ohm's law V = I RL, where the current I is the difference between the short-circuit current and current due to forward bias of the junction, as indicated by the equivalent circuit (neglecting the parasitic resistances). In contrast to the battery, at current levels delivered to the external circuit near IL, the solar cell acts more like a current source rather than a voltage source( near vertical part of the two illustrated curves). The current drawn is nearly fixed over a range of load voltages, to one electron per converted photon. The quantum efficiency, or probability of getting an electron of photocurrent per incident photon, depends not only upon the solar cell itself, but upon the spectrum of the light. The diode possesses a "built-in potential" due to the contact potential difference between the two different materials on either side of the junction. This built-in potential is established when the junction is manufactured and that voltage a by-product of thermodynamic equilibrium within the cell. Once established, this potential difference cannot drive a current, however, as connecting a load does not upset this equilibrium.[clarification needed] In contrast, the accumulation of excess electrons in one region and of excess holes in another, due to illumination, results in a photo voltage that does drive a current when a load is attached to the illuminated diode. As noted above, this photo voltage also forward biases the junction, and so reduces the pre-existing field in the depletion region. See also
Counter-electromotive force Electric battery Electrochemical cell Electrolytic cell Galvanic cell Voltaic pile
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