Molten salts are high-temperature heat transfer fluids intended for cooling and/or storage purposes in a variety of energy applications. The current work seeks to ultimately study the thermophysical properties of fluoride and chloride salts, which are commonly considered for use in advanced nuclear reactors. Thermophysical properties like thermal conductivity are fundamental to ensuring safe, efficient, and competitive designs for advanced commercial nuclear reactors. Measurement challenges with liquid salts such as electrical conduction, corrosion, convection, and thermal radiation have hindered traditional approaches in their attempts to accurately quantify these properties at high temperatures. Here, a needle probe is developed, which modifies principles from existing instrumental techniques in order to experimentally measure the thermal conductivity of molten salts with reduced error. An analytical heat transfer model is developed to characterize 1D radial heat flow in a multilayered cylindrical system. This includes a thin layer of salt located between the needle probe and a crucible to limit natural convection. After being validated with finite-element methods, the needle probe is used to measure the thermal conductivity of several reference liquids, whose thermophysical properties are well-established at low temperatures. These seven samples are water, sodium nitrate (molten salt), potassium nitrate (molten salt), toluene, ethanol, propylene glycol, and galinstan. The needle probe was able to accurately measure thermal conductivity between 0.40-0.66W/mK for these samples with 3.5-10% uncertainty. Three eutectic halide molten salts (presented by molar composition) were selected for high-temperature testing. These include the ternary fluorides LiF(46.5%)-NaF(11.5%)-KF(42%) and NaF(34.5%)-KF(59%)-MgF2(6.5%), as well as the binary chloride NaCl(58.2%)-KCl(41.8%). Because testing temperatures range between 500-750C, the governing model is adapted to account for radiative heat transfer through the salt sample in parallel with conductive heat transfer. Improvements to the experimental apparatus are also made. For all three salts, the needle probe accurately measured thermal conductivity between 0.490-0.849W/mK with total uncertainty generally being less than 20%. A linear fit to the data demonstrates a clear negative relationship between thermal conductivity and an increase in temperature, which agrees with theoretical and computational predictions. These results indicate that the needle probe successfully handles the assortment of measurement challenges associated with high-temperature molten salts and provides reliable data to create correlations for thermophysical property databases.



College and Department

Mechanical Engineering



Date Submitted


Document Type





thermal conductivity, molten salt, nuclear energy, needle probe, transient hot-wire



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Engineering Commons