In response to the DOE Sunshot Initiative to develop low-cost, high efficiency CSP systems, UCLA is leading a multi-university research effort to develop new high temperature heat transfer fluids capable of stable operation at 800°C and above. Due to their operating temperature range, desirable heat transfer properties and very low vapor pressure, liquid metals were chosen as the heat transfer fluid. An overview of the ongoing research effort is presented.
Development of new liquid metal coolants begins with identification of suitable candidate metals and their alloys. Initial selection of candidate metals was based on such parameters as melting temperature, cost, toxicity, stability/reactivity Combinatorial sputtering of the down selected candidate metals is used to fabricate large compositional spaces (∼ 800), which are then characterized using high-throughput techniques (e.g., X-ray diffraction). Massively parallel optical methods are used to determine melting temperatures. Thermochemical modeling is also performed concurrently to compliment the experimental efforts and identify candidate multicomponent alloy systems that best match the targeted properties. The modeling effort makes use of available thermodynamic databases, the computational thermodynamic CALPHAD framework and molecular-dynamics simulations of molten alloys. Refinement of available thermodynamics models are performed by comparison with available experimental data. Characterizing corrosion in structural materials such as steels, when using liquid metals, and strategies to mitigate them are an integral part of this study. The corrosion mitigation strategy we have adopted is based on the formation of stable oxide layers on the structural metal surface which prevents further corrosion. As such oxygen control is crucial in such liquid metal systems. Liquid metal enhanced creep and embrittlement in commonly used structural materials are also being investigated. Experiments with oxygen control are ongoing to evaluate what structural materials can be used with liquid metals. Characterization of the heat transfer during forced flow is another key component of the study. Both experiments and modeling efforts have been initiated. Key results from experiments and modeling performed over the last year are highlighted and discussed.