The electrochemical reduction processes of solid compounds in high temperature molten salts

Chem Soc Rev. 2014 May 21;43(10):3215-28. doi: 10.1039/c3cs60327j. Epub 2014 Feb 18.


Solid electrode processes fall in the central focus of electrochemistry due to their broad-based applications in electrochemical energy storage/conversion devices, sensors and electrochemical preparation. The electrolytic production of metals, alloys, semiconductors and oxides via the electrochemical reduction of solid compounds (especially solid oxides) in high temperature molten salts has been well demonstrated to be an effective and environmentally friendly process for refractory metal extraction, functional materials preparation as well as spent fuel reprocessing. The (electro)chemical reduction of solid compounds under cathodic polarizations generally accompanies a variety of changes at the cathode/melt electrochemical interface which result in diverse electrolytic products with different compositions, morphologies and microstructures. This report summarizes various (electro)chemical reactions taking place at the compound cathode/melt interface during the electrochemical reduction of solid compounds in molten salts, which mainly include: (1) the direct electro-deoxidation of solid oxides; (2) the deposition of the active metal together with the electrochemical reduction of solid oxides; (3) the electro-inclusion of cations from molten salts; (4) the dissolution-electrodeposition process, and (5) the electron hopping process and carbon deposition with the utilization of carbon-based anodes. The implications of the forenamed cathodic reactions on the energy efficiency, chemical compositions and microstructures of the electrolytic products are also discussed. We hope that a comprehensive understanding of the cathodic processes during the electrochemical reduction of solid compounds in molten salts could form a basis for developing a clean, energy efficient and affordable production process for advanced/engineering materials.