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Unraveling Local Structure of Molten Salts via X-ray Scattering, Raman Spectroscopy, and Ab Initio Molecular Dynamics

Publication Type
Journal Name
The Journal of Physical Chemistry B
Publication Date
Page Numbers
5971 to 5982

In this work, we resolve a long-standing issue concerning the local structure of molten MgCl2 by employing a multimodal approach, including X-ray scattering and Raman spectroscopy, along with the theoretical modeling of the experimental spectra based on ab initio molecular dynamics (AIMD) simulations utilizing several density functional theory (DFT) methods. We demonstrate the reliability of AIMD simulations in achieving excellent agreement between the experimental and simulated spectra for MgCl2 and 50 mol % MgCl2 + 50 mol % KCl, and ZnCl2, thus allowing structural insights not directly available from experiment alone. A thorough computational analysis using five DFT methods provides a convergent view that octahedrally coordinated magnesium in pure MgCl2 upon melting preferentially coordinates with five chloride anions to form distorted square pyramidal polyhedra that are connected via corners and to a lesser degree via edges. This is contrasted with the results for ZnCl2, which does not change its tetrahedral coordination on melting. Although the five-coordinate MgCl53– complex was not considered in the early literature, together with an increasing tendency to form a tetrahedrally coordinated complex with decreasing the MgCl2 content in the mixture with alkali metal chloride systems, current work reconciles the results of most previous seemingly contradictory experimental studies.