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Complete Description of the LaCl3–NaCl Melt Structure and the Concept of a Spacer Salt That Causes Structural Heterogeneity

Publication Type
Journal Name
Journal of the American Chemical Society
Publication Date
Page Numbers
21751 to 21762

Lanthanides are important fission products in molten salt reactors, and understanding their structure and that of their mixtures is relevant to many scientific and technological problems including the recovery and separation of rare earth elements using molten salt electrolysis. The literature on molten salts and specifically on LaCl3 and LaCl3–NaCl mixtures is often fragmented, with different experiments and simulations coinciding in their explanation for certain structural results but contradicting or questioning for others. Given the very practical importance that actinide and lanthanide salts have for energy applications, it is imperative to arrive at a clear unified picture of their local and intermediate-range structure in the neat molten state and when mixed with other salts. This article aims to unequivocally answer a set of specific questions: is it correct to think of long-lived octahedral coordination structures for La3+? What is the nature as a function of temperature of networks and intermediate-range order particularly upon dilution of the trivalent ion salt? Is the so-called scattering first sharp diffraction peak (FSDP) for neat LaCl3 truly indicative of intermediate-range order? If so, why is there a new lower-q peak when mixed with NaCl? Are X-ray scattering and Raman spectroscopy results fully consistent and easily described by simulation results? We will show that answers to these questions require that we abandon the idea of a most prominent coordination state for M3+ ions and instead think of multiple competing coordination states in exchange due to significant thermal energy in the molten state.