A new anode material for oxygen evolution in molten oxide electrolysis

Nature. 2013 May 16;497(7449):353-6. doi: 10.1038/nature12134. Epub 2013 May 8.


Molten oxide electrolysis (MOE) is an electrometallurgical technique that enables the direct production of metal in the liquid state from oxide feedstock, and compared with traditional methods of extractive metallurgy offers both a substantial simplification of the process and a significant reduction in energy consumption. MOE is also considered a promising route for mitigation of CO2 emissions in steelmaking, production of metals free of carbon, and generation of oxygen for extra-terrestrial exploration. Until now, MOE has been demonstrated using anode materials that are consumable (graphite for use with ferro-alloys and titanium) or unaffordable for terrestrial applications (iridium for use with iron). To enable metal production without process carbon, MOE requires an anode material that resists depletion while sustaining oxygen evolution. The challenges for iron production are threefold. First, the process temperature is in excess of 1,538 degrees Celsius (ref. 10). Second, under anodic polarization most metals inevitably corrode in such conditions. Third, iron oxide undergoes spontaneous reduction on contact with most refractory metals and even carbon. Here we show that anodes comprising chromium-based alloys exhibit limited consumption during iron extraction and oxygen evolution by MOE. The anode stability is due to the formation of an electronically conductive solid solution of chromium(iii) and aluminium oxides in the corundum structure. These findings make practicable larger-scale evaluation of MOE for the production of steel, and potentially provide a key material component enabling mitigation of greenhouse-gas emissions while producing metal of superior metallurgical quality.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alloys / chemistry
  • Aluminum / chemistry
  • Chromium / chemistry
  • Conservation of Energy Resources / methods*
  • Electrodes
  • Electrolysis / instrumentation*
  • Electrolytes / chemistry
  • Graphite / chemistry
  • Greenhouse Effect / prevention & control
  • Iron / chemistry
  • Metals / chemistry
  • Oxides / chemistry*
  • Oxygen / chemistry*
  • Steel / chemistry*
  • Steel / supply & distribution
  • Temperature


  • Alloys
  • Electrolytes
  • Metals
  • Oxides
  • Chromium
  • Steel
  • Graphite
  • Aluminum
  • Iron
  • Oxygen