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Researchers turn up the heat on molten salt technology

Research & Development

MOLTEN salt technology researchers will increase temperatures to 850C and beyond for the first time to develop new applications.

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The University of South Australia has formed a collaborative research funding partnership with Centrex Metals Limited in a bid to use the cutting-edge technology to significantly reduce energy and water usage, and therefore the cost of mineral processing using molten salts.

Molten salt technology has previously been used in the solar and nuclear energy industries at temperatures up to 600C, including at the 110MW Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project in Nevada.

University of South Australia Associate Research Professor Frank Bruno said the research could have broader implications for mineral refinement in the mining industry and provide valuable insights for its further development in the solar and nuclear industries.

“Salts at the higher temperatures are generally more corrosive and also because you’re at higher temperatures that in itself creates greater reactions,” he said.

The UniSA team received a Eureka Award last year for Innovative use of Technology. Assoc Prof Bruno has also been involved with developing energy efficiency guidelines at Australia’s leading green village in suburban Adelaide and has led testing programs for South Australian air conditioning company Seeley International .

The University of South Australia is a world leader in molten salt technology, which has focused on applications for thermal energy storage for the past four years.

“At that point in time we would never have thought we would be able to use it for this application,” Assoc Prof Bruno said.

“Now that people know that we are working with a higher temperature molten salt they are coming to us with all sorts of applications they are wanting us to look at.”

The research, based around the Oxley Potassium Project in Western Australia and undertaken by UniSA’s School of Engineering and Future Industries Institute, will expand current molten salt research for solar energy applications into minerals processing with a view to maximising successful technology development and commercialisation. 

The research program will develop a minerals processing circuit to leach, extract and purify metals from silicate minerals in a solely molten salt environment, without the need for subsequent aqueous processing.

If the research successfully provides the ability for all processing steps to be undertaken in a molten salt environment it will significantly lower energy and water use and the associated costs.

South Australian company Centrex Metals Limited will use the technology to be the first commercial and cost competitive manufacturer of bulk potassium chloride fertiliser from potassium feldspar ore.

Centrex CEO Ben Hammond said the technology would take advantage of the unique liquid properties of molten salt to not only convert metals within silicate ore to an extractable form, but also separate and purify them, saving energy, water and reducing the overall project footprint.

“It will allow us to look at competing in the bulk fertiliser space for our globally unique large scale potassium feldspar deposit at Oxley, creating more long-term jobs in Australia’s currently struggling mining industry,” Hammond said.

UniSA Division of Information Technology, Engineering and the Environment (ITEE) Pro Vice-Chancellor Professor Simon Beecham said molten salt technology had been studied for more than a century but remains a cutting edge area of research.

“This project is a good example of research inspired by real-world challenges and opportunities, partnered with end-users, and underpinned by excellence,” Prof Beecham said.

“It involves UniSA researchers from a variety of disciplines, ranging from engineering to minerals processing, together with a South Australian industry partner to manufacture low-cost fertilisers.”

South Australia’s capital Adelaide has three long-standing public universities, Flinders UniversityUniversity of South Australia, and the University of Adelaide, each of which are consistently rated highly in the international higher education rankings.

This is a Creative Commons story from The Lead South Australia, a news service providing stories about innovation in South Australia. Please feel free to use the story in any form of media. The story sources are linked in with the copy and all contacts are willing to talk further about the story.

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