Molten Chloride Thermophysical Properties, Chemical Optimization, and Purification

Research output: NRELTechnical Report


Next-generation concentrating solar power (CSP) technology requires high-temperature heat-transfer fluids and thermal energy storage that can operate in the temperature range of 500°–720°C. This high temperature demands a new chemistry for the heat-transfer fluids that must have high-temperature thermal and chemical stabilities, high energy density, and low corrosion rate on metallic materials used in the heat exchangers, piping, and thermal energy storage tanks. A ternary MgCl2-KCl-NaCl chloride-salt system has been proposed to achieve such goals, given its high-temperature thermal stability. The chloride-salt-based systems have been used by the metallurgy industry as the electrolyte to electrolytically extract metallic magnesium. They have also attracted attentions from the nuclear industry for developing the molten salt fast reactors that can operate at close to atmospheric pressure and at higher temperature than traditional light-water reactors. However, the corrosion properties of the ternary salt are not well known. The corrosion mechanism is believed to be correlated to the presence of MgOHCl impurity at the operation temperature. MgOHCl is fundamentally caused by the hygroscopic nature of the MgCl2 component. Therefore, the first key objective of this project is to understand the nature of the corrosiveness of the ternary chloride-salt system and its prevention by designing new lab-scale purification processes. Because of its importance, a working group called the Chloride Salt Collective across multiple U.S. Department of Energy national laboratories is established to gain experimental agreement on the corrosion behaviors. In addition, water generation during salt dehydration could lead to highly corrosive HCl/water mixture via a hydrolysis process between water and anhydrous MgCl2 or MgCl2 hydrates. MgOHCl will eventually be converted to MgO particulates regardless of the chemical path chosen (i.e., by thermal decomposition, chemical purification with an active metal, or electrochemical purification utilizing the reduction power of electron flows). Large MgO particles with high hardness can wear out bearing and bushing and even clog the delicate channels in the primary heat exchanger. Because of this, a second objective is to understand the chemistry behind salt purification and transfer the scientific understanding to a set of engineering know-how for large-scale salt melter design. Because there is limited information on the thermophysical properties and the sensitivity of these properties around the targeted salt composition, a third objective is to measure thermophysical properties relevant to system and component design and support Topic 1 Liquid Pathway development. For example, composition shift due to salt reaction with water can be a potential issue because it can lead to changes of thermophysical properties, such as (1) melting point (or freeze point), which can jeopardize safe operation of the supercritical CO2 power cycle proposed for next-generation CSP, and (2) heat capacity and density, which can decrease the overall power-generation capability of the plants. The value of the thermal conductivity of the selected salt composition is also a critical criterion for the solar receiver design.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages94
StatePublished - 2020

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/TP-5500-78047


  • chemistry
  • concentrating solar power
  • corrosion
  • molten salt
  • purification
  • thermophysical properties


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