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Pumping liquid metal at high temperatures up to 1,673 kelvin


Heat is fundamental to power generation and many industrial processes, and is most useful at high temperatures because it can be converted more efficiently to other types of energy. However, efficient transportation, storage and conversion of heat at extreme temperatures (more than about 1,300 kelvin) is impractical for many applications. Liquid metals can be very effective media for transferring heat at high temperatures, but liquid-metal pumping has been limited by the corrosion of metal infrastructures. Here we demonstrate a ceramic, mechanical pump that can be used to continuously circulate liquid tin at temperatures of around 1,473–1,673 kelvin. Our approach to liquid-metal pumping is enabled by the use of ceramics for the mechanical and sealing components, but owing to the brittle nature of ceramics their use requires careful engineering. Our set-up enables effective heat transfer using a liquid at previously unattainable temperatures, and could be used for thermal storage and transport, electric power production, and chemical or materials processing.

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Figure 1: Model of the pump.
Figure 2: Pump design, analysis and fabrication.
Figure 3: Sealing methods.
Figure 4: Pump temperature (main panel) and representative flow from the visual flow meter (inset).
Figure 5: Wear on Shapal gear teeth after 72 h of continuous pumping.


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We acknowledge funding support from the Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E) (DE-AR0000339). We also acknowledge the support of Y. Zhang, B. Capps, A. Robinson and M. Faniel.

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Authors and Affiliations



C.A., D.B. and M.B. performed the experiments, and A.H., D.E., F.D., G.W., C.K., J.H., H.W., B.G. and A.C. provided assistance. C.A. analysed the data and performed the simulations, and M.B. provided review and assistance. A.H. and D.E. supervised the project. K.H.S., C.J., C.Y., D.E., W.C.C. and Y.K. performed modelling and materials testing. C.A. drafted the majority of the manuscript, and A.H. provided chief contributions. K.H.S., D.B. and M.B. also edited extensively. All authors wrote and reviewed the manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to A. Henry.

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Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Reviewer Information Nature thanks K. Lambrinou and R. Stieglitz for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Extended data figures and tables

Extended Data Figure 1 Oxygen content over time in preparation for the experiment.

After 17 h of nitrogen purging, the oxygen level decreased sufficiently for tin gettering to take over as the dominant oxygen reduction mechanism.

Extended Data Figure 2 Chamber view including seals and the visual flow meter port.

Seals were achieved by first applying room-temperature vulcanization (RTV) silicone (blue) and then applying vacuum grease. The viewport is the glowing orange slotted hole shown in the insulation. The camera position is shown as a reference to the image in Fig. 4.

Extended Data Figure 3 Design and calibration of the visual flow meter.

a, Measured flow rate versus mass in the flow meter (mass uncertainty is ±5 g). The grey boxes identify the flow regimes, with the smaller box corresponding to transition from one- to two-hole flow, and the larger box corresponding to transition from two- to three-hole flow. The theoretical curve is determined using Bernoulli’s equation, whereby the flow rate is proportional to the square-root of mass. bd, Illustrations of the three possible flow regimes that can be detected by the visual flow meter.

Extended Data Figure 4 Experimental set-up of the calibration of the visual flow meter.

The weight-based flow meter was positioned above the visual flow meter and the pump speed was adjusted until the desired flow (for example, through only two outlets or through three outlets) was achieved. Under these conditions, flow was monitored from both flow meters so that the quantitative information from the weight-based flow meter could be related to the qualitative information from the visual flow meter.

Extended Data Figure 5 Internal features of the gear pump, including wear surfaces.

a, View of the internal geometry of the pump system. b, View of the wear surfaces of the pump gear. Although wear occurred on most dynamic surfaces, the most extensive wear occurred on the gear shafts. Wear allows the gear tips to contact the pump body, which results in performance-reducing wear on the tips of the gear teeth.

Extended Data Table 1 Amount and coefficients of wear for the pump gears after 72 h

Supplementary information

Supplementary Table 1

This file contains raw pump temperature data from 72-hour experiment. From a b type thermocouple attached to the pump inlet. This file contains data relating to Fig. 2. (XLSX 6056 kb)

Supplementary Table 2

This file contains raw data from oxygen sensor. The first column is in seconds and the second column is in ppm. This file contains data relating to Extended Data Fig. 2. (XLSX 2399 kb)

Supplementary Table 3

This file contains data from the calibration of the flow meter. This file contains data relating to Extended Data Fig. 3. (XLSX 144 kb)

Pumping liquid metal at 1,500 K

This video shows the testing of an all ceramic liquid metal pump at 1,200 °C, including clips before and after. The pump is shown disassembled, then the rotation of the gears is demonstrated. Next, the pump system is shown, followed by the liquid metal flow that was observed for 72 hours (at ~10,000 X), with the cool down included. The disassembly process is also shown, including the gears as removed, with visible wear. (MP4 24471 kb)

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Amy, C., Budenstein, D., Bagepalli, M. et al. Pumping liquid metal at high temperatures up to 1,673 kelvin. Nature 550, 199–203 (2017).

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