Sodium expansion plays an important role in cathode deterioration during aluminum electrolysis. In this work, the sodium expansion of semigraphitic cathode material has been measured at various cathodic current densities using a modified Rapoport apparatus. We have studied the microstructural changes of carbon cathodes after aluminum electrolysis using high-resolution transmission electron microscopy (HRTEM). Because of an increasing trend toward higher amperage in retrofitted aluminum reduction cells, an investigation is conducted both at a representative cathode current density (0.45 A/cm2
) and at a high cathodic current density (0.7 A/cm2
). The results indicate that the microstructures of carbon cathodes can be modified by Joule heating and electrostatic charging with higher current densities during aluminum electrolysis. With the penetration of the sodium and melt, zigzag and armchair edges, disordered carbon, and exfoliation of the surface layers may appear in the interior of the carbon cathode. The penetration of the sodium and melt causes remarkable stresses and strains in the carbon cathodes, that gradually result in performance degradation. This shows that increasing the amperage in aluminum reduction cells may exacerbate the material deterioration of the cathodes.
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