DOE Energy Frontier Molten Salts Research Center Renewed for Four Years


Newswise – UPTON, NY – The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Science announced renewed funding for an Energy Frontiers Research Center (EFRC) led by the United States’ Brookhaven National Laboratory. DOE to study “molten salts in extreme environments” (MSEE). This center, originally established in 2018, focuses on understanding the properties of molten salts, a class of materials with potential applications in energy technologies, particularly nuclear power.

The renewal was one of 43 EFRC awards announced by the DOE on August 25, 2022, with total funding of $400 million to research institutes across the United States. EFRCs are designed to bring together multidisciplinary scientific teams to tackle the toughest scientific challenges and break down barriers. to advance energy technologies.

“Achieving the Biden-Harris administration’s ambitious climate and clean energy goals will require a groundbreaking commitment to clean energy, and that starts with researchers across the country,” said the U.S. Secretary. to Energy, Jennifer M. Granholm. “[These] research projects…will strengthen the scientific foundation necessary for the United States to maintain its global leadership in clean energy innovation.

What is molten salt?

Molten salts are materials composed entirely of positively and negatively charged ions that exist in a liquid state at high temperatures. The EFRC Molten Salts in Extreme Environments explores the structural and dynamic properties of these materials in bulk and at interfaces with other materials. The objective is to develop the knowledge necessary to predict and control the physical and chemical properties of these materials for a variety of applications. In nuclear power, molten salts could be used as coolants for solid-fuel reactors, or they could simultaneously serve as a coolant and solvent for liquid nuclear fuel. Other potential applications include nuclear fuel reprocessing, metallurgy, batteries and the collection, transport and storage of solar thermal energy.

“Molten salts are attractive for use as coolants in nuclear reactors because they can operate at higher and more efficient temperatures than water-cooled reactors while remaining at ambient pressure, and they have advantages in safety and durability,” said Brookhaven senior chemist James Wishart, MSEE. Director. “Our goal is to provide a scientific basis for the successful deployment of molten salt reactors by understanding the chemical and collective behavior of molten salts and the materials dissolved in them, and how they affect the reactor materials with which they are mixed. come into contact. We are delighted to receive renewed support, which will allow us to build on our previous work to advance molten salt science and continue to develop experimental and computational methods that will benefit the molten salt research community. .

Shannon Mahurin of DOE’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) will serve as Deputy Director of MSEE. The team includes a total of 20 principal investigators (PIs) and partner institutions, including the Idaho National Laboratory, Stony Brook University, and the universities of Iowa, Michigan, Notre Dame, Tennessee, and of Wisconsin. The project will receive total funding of $13.3 million over four years.

MSEE achievements to date

Since MSEE’s inception, the team has used specialized tools, including Brookhaven Lab’s National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II), the Chemistry Division’s Accelerator Center for Energy Research (ACER), and the spallation neutrons from ORNL, and computational methods for exploring the behavior of molten salts at temperatures ranging from 300 to 1000 degrees Celsius (572 to 1832 °F) and when exposed to intense radiation. The team developed state-of-the-art computational approaches to simulate the atomic and electronic structure of molten salts and the chemical environments of materials dissolved in them. MSEE’s achievements to date include:

  • In a series of studies combining computer simulations and X-ray scattering measurements, MSEE has shown that the reactor fuel salt structure at the atomic scale will be dominated by chains of multi-charged metal ion complexes. separated by a single charge “spacing salt”. At higher temperature, the chains break into shorter pieces. To predict fuel salt behavior and properties, one must understand how this structure changes with temperature and composition.
  • The structure of the salt also determines how much solute (such as fissile uranium and fission products) the salt can contain and the chemical forms in which it occurs—critical information for reactor design. MSEE discovered that some metal ions can exist in multiple forms at the same time and developed a revolutionary approach combining detailed simulations and multiple experimental techniques to describe the complex coordination states of metal ions.
  • MSEE examined the effects of radiation in molten and solidified salts. The radiation generates strongly oxidizing and reducing species, which leads in some cases to the formation of metallic nanoparticles. Understanding the mechanisms of nanoparticle formation is important for the long-term reliability of the system.
  • MSEE has developed an extensive set of high-temperature experimental instruments that it has shared with the molten salt research community at NSLS-II and elsewhere. For example, MSEE collaborated with engineers and scientists from the NSLS-II FXI beamline to build a furnace that allows real-time imaging of metal alloy corrosion processes in high-temperature molten salt (see figure below). MSEE used this experimental setup to determine how corrosion mechanisms change with alloy and salt composition, and with temperature, which will lead to strategies for minimizing corrosion in deployed reactor systems.

Renewal of other Brookhaven-related EFRCs

The DOE also renewed funding for four additional EFRCs in which Brookhaven Lab scientists are playing a significant role. Each of these centers has also been renewed for four years:

Center for Mesoscale Transport Properties (m2M/t), led by Esther Takeuchi, co-named Stony Brook University/Brookhaven Lab. Lei Wang of Brookhaven Lab’s Interdisciplinary Science Department is the lab’s principal investigator.

Quantum Materials for Energy-Efficient Neuromorphic Computing (Q-MEEN-C), led by Ivan Schuller, University of California, San Diego. Yimei Zhu from Brookhaven’s Department of Condensed Matter Physics and Materials Science is the lab’s principal investigator.

Programmable Quantum Materials (Pro-QM), led by Dmitri Basov, Columbia University, Valentina Bisogni of NSLS-II is the Brookhaven Lab PI.

Bioinspired Light-Escalated Chemistry (BioLEC), led by Greg Scholes, Princeton University. Matthew Bird of Brookhaven Lab’s Chemistry Division is the local PI.

At the same time, the Office of Science announced $140 million in funding for further clean energy research, of which $11 million will go to Brookhaven Lab projects on catalysts for the electrolysis of carbon dioxide. water, batteries and bioproducts.

“It’s exciting to see the scientific community coming together to address these critical issues facing us as a nation,” said James Misewich, associate laboratory director for energy and photon sciences at Brookhaven Laboratory.

NSLS-II and the Spallation Neutron Source are user facilities of the DOE Office of Science.

Brookhaven National Laboratory is supported by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science. The Office of Science is the largest supporter of basic physical science research in the United States and works to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit

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