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News Release

Release Date: August 29, 2003

NETL Selects Sensor Research Projects
Sensors Will Be Able To Withstand Harsh Environment of Next-Generation Power Plants

Just as the ability to see, hear, smell, touch, and taste helps us enjoy life and safeguards us from harm, sensors in power plants monitor the environment, telling operators when everything is going right or something is going wrong. Unlike most human situations, the conditions in power plants are harsh, and sensors must be able to withstand high temperatures (>500 °C), high pressures (>200 psi), corrosive environments, and the presence of particulates.

Sensors come in all shapes and sizes, from pieces of pipe to computer chips. They are expected to perform reliably in harsh conditions, ensuring that power plants operate efficiently. Existing and future power plants aim to improve efficiency, reduce emissions and unnecessary maintenance, and become more reliable and more flexible to various load demands. To do so, the plants need more accurate and complete information than current sensor and measurement systems can offer. The plants also need control systems and logics that can process a vast amount of information instantly and make intelligent decisions for plant operations.

Under the solicitation “Development of Novel Sensors for Ultra High Temperature Fossil Fuel Applications,” the Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) has selected three projects to develop sensors that will operate in high-temperature, harsh environments. Research will be conducted on the materials, design, and fabrication of micro-sensors that have potential use in advanced fossil-fuel-based energy production systems. Advanced systems include fuel cells, turbines, gasification, and combustion.

The awards are being made in a competitive selection through the Instrumentation, Sensors and Control System program, a part of NETL’s Advanced Research Program, which targets novel research opportunities for fossil-energy systems. Sensors and controls are an essential enabling technology for advanced power generation, including efforts such as DOE’s FutureGen plant to test technologies for producing hydrogen and electricity with extremely high efficiency and near-zero emissions.

Nuonics, Inc., Orlando, Fla., Ultra High Temperature Sensors Based on Optical Property Modulation and Vibration-Tolerant Interferometry
Nuonics will develop a sensor that is ultra-high-temperature resistant and vibration tolerant. The sensor will be able to accurately measure temperature, pressure, and concentrations of combustion materials by comparing the interference of light waves , a process called interferometry. Nuonics will use silicon carbide, a good material for sensing in harsh environments, as the basis for the study. As the pressure and temperature of the system change, the refractive index of the silicon carbide will change, and the small changes will be measured by a high-speed remote-detection system. Nuonics will also study the feasibility of detecting gas species by coating the silicon carbide materials.

Vibration-tolerant, high-temperature and pressure-resistant sensors are needed in the harsh conditions of zero-emission coal-fired energy plants. Nuonics’ proposed technique will address current barriers to this general sensing approach, enabling the transfer of the technology to fossil energy applications.

DOE Award: $950,000
Project Duration: 36 months 

Prime Research, L.C., Blacksburg, Va., New Optical Sensor Suite for Ultrahigh Temperature Fossil Fuel Applications
Prime Research will develop sensors based on sapphire fibers that have been altered to deliver a single wavelength or multiple wavelengths of light. The highly sensitive, ultra-high-temperature micro-sensors will be used in the control systems of next-generation zero-emission fossil-fuel power plants. The feasibility of this technology was recently discovered and focuses on measurements and sensors that are most beneficial to the harsh environment of fossil-energy power plants. Prime Research will fully develop the process to produce these special fibers.

DOE Award: $945,186; Prime Research Share: $38,994
Project Duration: 36 months

SRI International of Menlo Park, Calif., Novel Gas Sensors for High-Temperature Fossil Fuel Applications
SRI International will develop an arrangement of miniature solid-state, electrochemical sensors that are inexpensive, rugged, reliable, and easy to fabricate. The sensors will measure the concentration of nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides, and hydrocarbons, and they will be able to operate in high-temperature and high-pressure environments using a novel array and packaging design. This novel design will serve as a basis for integrating micro-sensors into next-generation power plants because current sensor technologies are inadequate for online monitoring of emissions.

DOE Award: $641,820
Project Duration: 36 months


Contact: David Anna, DOE/NETL, 412-386-4646