An exploratory study of the solar thermal electrolytic production of Mg from MgO

W. Sheline, L. Matthews, N. Lindeke, S. Duncan, R. Palumbo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


The electrolytic production of Mg from MgO was experimentally and theoretically investigated near 1550 K. The experimental work was carried out in a SiC electrolytic cell housed in a 10 kW solar receiver that was located at the focal point of a concentrating solar furnace. The oxide was dissolved in either CaF2 or MgF2. The cathode was Mo and the anode was either Pt or Cgraphite. Mg evolved as a gas, was quenched on cooling coils at the exit of the reactor and was collected for analysis. A thermodynamic cycle study indicates that the ideal thermal efficiency for the solar process is 35 percent for an inert anode and 39 percent for a carbon anode. Experimental results from both current-cell potential traces and X-ray diffraction verify the successful electrolysis of MgO and the production of Mg. The experimental decomposition potential of the oxide was near the expected thermodynamic value. As expected, the experimental decomposition potential was reduced when carbon replaced the inert anode. In the experiment with Pt as the anode and MgF2 as the solvent, a current efficiency of 14 percent was measured.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)163-170
Number of pages8
StatePublished - 2013

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We are grateful for the financial support of the United States National Science Foundation through grant 0551749 , and for financial support from the Alfred W. Sieving family through the Alfred W. Sieving Chair of Engineering for R. Palumbo. We thank Professor Aldo Steinfeld of ETH-Zurich and the Solar Technology Laboratory personnel at the Paul Sherrer Institut (PSI), Switzerland for the use of their Solar Furnace and their help with using the facility. All experiments were conducted in the Solar Furnace at PSI. We are grateful to the College of Engineering Senior design team of 2009–2010 for developing and building the reactor: Nikke Ault,Jared Case, Ben Erickson, Justin Gandhi, Jackie Kondratko, Leanne Matthews, and Jeff Polacek.


  • Concentrated solar energy
  • Electrolysis
  • Magnesium oxide
  • Magnesium production
  • Molten salt


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