Article

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

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Abstract

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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Acknowledgements

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.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, Georgia 30332, USA

    • C. Amy
    • , D. Budenstein
    • , M. Bagepalli
    • , D. England
    • , F. DeAngelis
    • , G. Wilk
    • , C. Jarrett
    • , C. Kelsall
    • , J. Hirschey
    • , H. Wen
    • , A. Chavan
    • , B. Gilleland
    • , C. Yuan
    •  & A. Henry
  2. Department of Materials Science and Engineering, Stanford University, Stanford, California 94305, USA

    • W. C. Chueh
  3. School of Materials Science and Engineering, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, Georgia 30332, USA

    • K. H. Sandhage
    •  & A. Henry
  4. School of Materials Engineering, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana 47907, USA

    • K. H. Sandhage
  5. School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, Georgia 30332, USA

    • Y. Kawajiri
  6. Heat Lab, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, Georgia 30332, USA

    • A. Henry

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Contributions

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.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to A. Henry.

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

Publisher's note: Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Extended data

Supplementary information

Excel files

  1. 1.

    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.

  2. 2.

    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.

  3. 3.

    Supplementary Table 3

    This file contains data from the calibration of the flow meter. This file contains data relating to Extended Data Fig. 3.

Videos

  1. 1.

    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.

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