Sensors & Controls

Sensors & Controls research activity supports the development of novel sensors critical to the implementation and optimization of advanced fossil fuel-based power generation systems, including new classes of sensors capable of monitoring key parameters (temperature, pressure, and gases) while operating in harsh environments. The sensor effort involves the development of innovative analytical techniques for on-line industrial use, in either an extractive or in-situ mode.

The controls development work centers around artificial and distributed intelligence for process control and decision making in networks. Improved process control allows for more efficient operation during transient conditions, providing for more stable operation, with tighter environmental control allowing fossil plants to cycle load more easily.

These new technologies are designed to benefit both existing and advanced power systems such that meaningful improvements can be made with respect to their efficiency and availability. As generational and transformational systems mature, sensors and controls will serve as an essential and enabling technology to operate these systems under conditions where optimal performance is balanced with reliability. Alongside the sensors and controls efforts, users need the ability to make and implement decisions and derived optimizations in real time. This capability will be attained by means of new computational tools capable of matching sensor data and analytical inputs to decision-making assistance and controls actuation resulting in desired outcomes.

The sensor and controls program will also evaluate other novel concepts that possess the potential for eliminating technology barriers in fossil energy systems: These concepts address high risk, high payoff technologies with the potential to eliminate technology barriers in fossil energy systems.


Explores a new classes of sensors and measurement tools that manage complexity; permit low-cost, robust monitoring; and enable real-time optimization of fully integrated, highly efficient power-generation systems can greatly enhance performance of existing and new power plants. Research is focused on sensors capable of monitoring key parameters (temperature, pressure, and gas compositions) while operating in harsh environments, and analytical sensors capable of online, real-time evaluation and measurement. New approaches not only to sensing technologies but also in advanced manufacturing (e.g., of smart parts) and utilization of sensor data (e.g., imaging/visualization) have the potential to be transformative.


Controls research is centered on self-organizing information networks and distributed intelligence for process control and decision making. The work includes the study of fundamental combustion and gasification chemistry to better represent rates and mechanisms affecting emissions behavior under combustion and gasification conditions.

Benefit Analyses
The Program is focused on the key benefit of increases in process efficiency and performance, reduction of environmental risk, and opportunities to lower cost with the introduction of new technologies improved efficiency, increased availability, improved systems performance, and advanced systems modeling. Table 1 presents a summary level set of benefits for the CRP program, however, benefit analysis is ongoing and updates to this area are part of an iterative program assessment effort.

Crosscutting Research Program Summary Level Benefits

  • Increased unit efficiency from use of advanced sensors and controls can reduce CO2 emissions
    • Refurbishing  the U.S coal fired fleet with advanced sensors and controls could reduce CO2 emissions by over  14 million metric tons per year for every 1% heat rate improvement
    • Results in low cost per ton of CO2 avoided—$2-$10/mt CO2
  • Availability a key driver for unit refurbishment that includes advanced sensors and controls1
    • Advanced sensors and controls could reduce forced outages by 10%, making it economical for the coal fleet to refurbish sensors and controls at capital cost under $1 million
    • 500 MW coal fired units could produce an additional 44 million kWh/yr in added generation for each 1% improvement in availability, resulting in ≈$2.6 million/yr in sales (@ 6 cents/kWh)
  • Materials technologies that allow use of advanced steam cycles in coal-based power plants operating at steam conditions of up to 760 °C (1400 °F) and 5,000 psi
  • Enable oxygen fired A-USC plant would lower balance of plant cost due to less coal handling and smaller pollution control components for the same net plant output
  • New novel materials can allow for increased temperature and pressure, resulting in advanced ultrasupercritical power plant efficiencies  of 45–47%, and CO2 emissions reduction of 15 to 20%
  • Availability of advanced materials could support the export of $21 billion in A-USC equipment worldwide, resulting in over 20,000 job-years and over $14 billion in income in the U.S. from 2025-2035 (2010 dollars)
  • Software tools for sensor placement and lifecycle asset management could enhance overall gasifier performance by realizing:
    • 1–2% improvement in gasifier availability over 3 years of refractory life
    • $5M increase in revenue due to improved availability
    • 1% improvement in efficiency through better management of refractory degradation and other fouling issues
  • Computational methods applied to the design, development, and optimization of materials to accelerate creation of cost-effective, functional materials deployable with less repetitive testing; and for advanced plant designs go operational more rapidly
  • Advanced model-based tools may shorten power system component development cycles and improve assessment of uncertainties and risks
    • Enhanced knowledge sharing with industry may reduce capital cost by five percent during commercialization and yield cost savings for power industry on the order of $3 billion
    • Achieving CCSI goal could allow development cycle to skip over one intermediate scale plant (e.g., 120 MWe) while improving risk assessment. Reaching larger scale demonstration 5 years earlier could result in estimated cost savings of ≈$100 million
    • Achieving NRAP goal can create science-based tools that will raise confidence in defined storage-security metrics and identify safe operational envelops to ensure 99% permanent storage
  • Integrated model-based control algorithm and associated sensors can achieve:
    • Increase ramping rate gasifier by 20–25% compared to current approaches
    • Save significant O2 with 7–10% savings at partial load of the gasifier
    • 1–2% improvement in MW via improved operation

Note: Analysis based on 2011 coal costs and 2011 coal-fired power plant fleet
1Source: Outage Data - NERC GADS Database 9/19/12 Accessed 1/9/13;  $55.07 Avg. Wholesale Price Data – EIA Wholesale Market Data, PJM West, NEPOOL, ERCOT Wtg. Avg.

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