Award Date


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science in Engineering (MSE)


Mechanical Engineering

First Committee Member

Robert Boehm

Second Committee Member

Yi-Tung Chen

Third Committee Member

Brendan O'Toole

Fourth Committee Member

William J. Smith

Number of Pages



Due to the inherently intermittent nature of solar energy caused by cloud cover among other sources, thermal storage systems are needed to make solar energy more consistent. This same technology could be used to prolong the daily number of useful hours of solar energy power plants. Salt-ceramic materials are a relatively new prospect for heat storage, but have been researched mostly with magnesium oxide and several different carbonate salts. Salt ceramics are a phase change material where the salt changes phase inside the ceramic structure allowing for the system to use the sensible heat of both materials and the latent heat of the salt to store thermal energy. Capillary forces within the ceramic structure hold in the salt when the salt melts.

The focus here is on the possibility of creating a low-cost salt-ceramic storage material for high temperature solar energy applications. A theoretical analysis of the resulting materials is performed. While most of the existing salt ceramics have been made from magnesium oxide, aluminum oxide is more readily available from various companies in the area. Magnesium oxide is often considered a custom ceramic, so it is more expensive. A cost and material property comparison has been completed between these two materials to determine which is better suited for solar storage. Many of the existing salt-ceramics use carbonate salts, but nitrate salts are commonly used in graphite/salt composites. Therefore, a cost and theoretical performance comparison is between these materials also. For comparisons' sake, zirconia and graphite have also been analyzed as the filler in the composite. Each combination of salt and ceramic or graphite has been analyzed.

In order to make the use of salt-ceramics more cost-effective and available to Nevada's energy providers, research has been done into which ceramics have high availability in Nevada, low cost, and the best material properties for this application. The thermal properties and cost of these materials have been compared to the price that Nevada's energy utilities are willing to pay per unit of stored energy, which was approximated through a survey conducted by the National Science Foundation (NSF)- Experimental Project to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. The surveys were completed on Nevadan energy purveyors concerning climate change attitudes, but included questions regarding the usefulness and cost of solar storage.

The cost per unit of energy has also been calculated and whether the utilities would be willing to pay for each combination will be determined using information obtained from the surveys mentioned above. This information will dictate which combination will be best for use in the state of Nevada at solar energy power plants.


Ceramic materials – Thermal properties; Energy storage; Heat storage; Salt-Ceramics; Salts; Solar Energy; Storage; Thermal Properties


Ceramic Materials | Engineering | Oil, Gas, and Energy