Xiaofei Guan

September 2013
Novel Process for Recycling Magnesium Alloy Employing Refining and Solid Oxide Membrane Electrolysis
Committee Members: Advisor: Uday Pal, MSE/ME; Srikanth Gopalan, MSE/ME; Adam C. Powell, IV, INFINIUM; Emily Ryan, ME; Appointed Chair: Chuanhua Duan, MSE/ME

Abstract: Magnesium is the least dense engineering metal, with an excellent stiffness-to-weight ratio. Magnesium recycling is important for both economic and environmental reasons. This project demonstrates feasibility of a new environmentally friendly process for recycling partially oxidized magnesium scrap to produce very pure magnesium at low cost. It combines refining and solid oxide membrane (SOM) based oxide electrolysis in the same reactor. Magnesium and its oxide are dissolved in a molten flux. This is followed by argon-assisted evaporation of dissolved magnesium which is subsequently condensed in a separate condenser. The molten flux acts as a selective medium for magnesium dissolution, but not aluminum or iron, and therefore the magnesium collected has high purity. Potentiodynamic scans are performed to monitor the magnesium content change in the scrap as well as in solution in the flux. The SOM electrolysis is employed in the refining system to enable electrolysis of the magnesium oxide dissolved in the flux from the partially oxidized scrap. During the SOM electrolysis, oxygen anions are transported out of the flux through a yttria stabilized zirconia membrane to a liquid silver anode where they are oxidized. Simultaneously, magnesium cations are transported through the flux to a steel cathode where they are reduced.

The combination of refining and SOM electrolysis yields close to 100% removal of magnesium metal from partially oxidized magnesium scrap. The magnesium recovered has a purity of 99.6w%.

To produce pure oxygen it is critical to develop an inert anode current collector for use with the non-consumable liquid silver anode. In this work, an innovative inert anode current collector is successfully developed and used in SOM electrolysis experiments. The current collector employs a sintered strontium-doped lanthanum manganite (La0.8Sr0.2MnO3 or LSM) bar, an Inconel alloy 601 rod, and a liquid silver contact in between. SOM electrolysis experiments with the new LSM–Inconel current collector are carried out and performance comparable to the state-of-the-art SOM electrolysis for Mg production employing the non-inert anode has been demonstrated.

In both refining and SOM electrolysis, magnesium solubility in the flux plays an important role. High magnesium solubility in the flux facilitates refining. On the other hand, lower magnesium solubility benefits the SOM electrolysis. The dissolution of magnesium imparts electronic conductivity to the flux. The effects of the electronic conductivity of the flux on the SOM electrolysis performance are examined in detail through experiments and modeling. Methods for mitigating the negative attributes of the electronic conductivity during SOM electrolysis are presented.