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Comment Processing & Handling

Ceramic pump makes molten metals motive

By Mary Page Bailey |

ceramic pumpResearchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology (Ga. Tech; Atlanta; www.gatech.edu) have demonstrated a precision-machining technique to manufacture an entire pumping loop from materials that can withstand temperatures as high as 1,400–1,600°C. These materials are typically thought to be too brittle for use in mechanical systems. “We identified a number of materials, but nobody had actually put them together and made a circulation loop for liquid metals,” says Asegun Henry, professor of mechanical engineering. “The real breakthrough was how to make ceramic-to-ceramic or graphite-to-graphite joints that will seal against a liquid metal like tin,” he explains.


The ability to pump molten metals opens the door to a new regime of heat transfer. “A liquid metal is essentially the ultimate heat-transfer fluid. The thermal conductivities are two orders of magnitude higher than non-electrically conductive fluids,” says Henry. A major benefit is that liquid metals act as a moving heat conductor and do not need to be pumped at a high speed to induce turbulence. Harnessing the heat-transfer capabilities of liquid metals in a continuous pumping loop could enable efficient hydrogen generation by bubbling methane gas into a liquid-metal stream, forming hydrogen, as well as solid carbon. The ability to continuously move the liquid metal enables this process to overcome the issues faced by other similar techniques, which are limited to batch operation due to plugging issues. Another benefit is the ability to operate at high enough temperatures for the reaction to reach completion, resulting in very high-purity hydrogen. Furthermore, says Henry, the reaction conditions can be manipulated to yield different value-added carbon allotropes.


Other potential applications for molten-metal pumping loops are in heat engines for grid-level thermal-energy storage, as well as for heat recovery in aluminum smelting. For their next step, the team is running experiments on high-temperature-resistant valves.

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