Back to Top
Skip to main content

Harsh Environment Sensors

Next generation energy systems with carbon management depend critically on harsh environments for their operations, from electrical generation with carbon capture and storage to the production of synthetic fuels. As hybrid energy resources (e.g., renewable energy generation, energy storage, etc.) and the electrification of transportation and interconnection to the grid increase, these harsh-environment processes will need to be more efficient and more closely monitored and controlled. This calls for advanced sensor technologies that can operate reliably, durably, in concert, and in real-time under these conditions.

New requirements for energy storage and decarbonization place new demands on sensing and control systems. Hydrogen will become a more prominent fuel in this decade, and technologies to monitor and manage its production, storage, and dispensing are needed. Energy storage technologies (e.g., batteries, pumped hydro, etc.) require physical sensing such as, but not limited to, temperature, voltage, and strain.

200 sensors across the turbine generate 300 data points per second
Figure 1 Instrumented Turbine: Operations View (Left), close view of turbine (right)

The harsh environments in which these sensors operate include high temperatures and pressures (>500°C; up to 40 atm), corrosive atmospheres, and cyclic loading. These processes and environmental conditions must be monitored and balanced to ensure efficient low-emissions operations. This requirement becomes more complex in systems involving hybrid generation, including carbon management and energy storage.

Sensors hardened against harsh conditions will address hydrogen embrittlement of steel and other materials used for containers and transport in future hybrid plants. The sensors will monitor material degradation, helping to optimize maintenance intervals. Hydrogen emissions will be monitored at each stage, including fueling, and fuel quality and usage monitoring will use advanced sensors and controls as well.

NETL’s sensor development expertise helps to facilitate the design and production of new, cost-effective engineering prototypes that can one day be reproduced for wide distribution. NETL pushes technologies toward maturation so they can be taken by industry to commercialization.

Research Areas

  • NETL Raman Gas Analyzer
    The NETL Raman Gas Analyzer (RGA) is a real-time gas composition monitoring instrument using Raman laser spectroscopy, intended to improve the performance of power generation systems through better process control. It is designed for monitoring the natural gas species methane, ethane, and propane; the syngas species hydrogen, carbon monoxide, and carbon dioxide; and nitrogen and oxygen. The NETL Raman Gas Analyzer enables smarter and faster control of power systems (e.g., hydrogen turbines, etc.) using gaseous fuels, providing the capability for greater energy-conversion efficiency and cleaner operation along with increased fuel flexibility.
  • Laser-Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy
    Laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS) is a rapidly advancing analytical technique that provides a cost-effective, quick and precise method of determining the elemental composition of any solid, liquid, or gas sample. The LIBS technology optimizes measurement capability in prototype field systems for use in subterranean and industrial process environments. Selection and use of suitable optical materials and concomitant optical collection techniques to maximize the signal to noise ratio is key to accurate measurements. A split sensor with fiber optic coupled probe head system is currently under development.
  • Optical Fibers
    Optical fibers are a promising solution because they can eliminate electrical wiring and contacts directly at the sensing location and can be tailored as necessary for specific environments. Optical fibers also eliminate the possibility for interference with electrical systems embedded in the equipment. NETL’s laser-heated pedestal growth system refines the techniques needed to make high-temperature crystalline optical fibers (with materials such as sapphire or garnet), and develop a durable optical cladding needed to confine light within the optical fiber in many application environments..

NETL Capabilities

Figure 2: HYPER experimental facility
Figure 2 HYPER experimental facility

As part of an effort to improve reliability and decrease cost and emissions, NETL aggressively pursues a robust sensor development approach to create sensors that can operate in extreme conditions. The program develops solutions that are transferable to many other technologies in the Fossil Energy and Carbon Management (FECM) R&D portfolio and across other energy sectors.

NETL maintains uncommon technical facilities that are specifically tailored to test and demonstrate the performance of emerging sensor technologies.

For example, the laboratory’s High-Pressure Combustion Facility simulates the hot gas path of a turbine. Using either natural gas or hydrogen fuel, it can generate temperatures up to 1300°C.

In addition, NETL’s Hybrid Performance Facility (HYPER) is a reconfigurable, cyber-physical system that currently features both virtual components (i.e., 300kW solid oxide fuel cell) plus real-world hardware (gas turbine), and other sub-systems, in which engineers can change and measure more than 100 different process variables. These and other facilities enable the rapid development of advanced sensor technologies.


List of projects here

Additional Links and Resources

EDXThe Energy Data eXchange (EDX) is the Department of Energy (DOE)/Fossil Energy and Carbon Management's (FECM) virtual library and data laboratory built to find, connect, curate, use and re-use data to advance FECM and environmental R&D. Developed and maintained by the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL), EDX supports the entire life cycle of data by offering secure, private collaborative workspaces for ongoing research projects until they mature and become catalogued, curated, and published. EDX adheres to DOE Cyber policies as well as domestic and international standards for data curation and citation. This ensures data products pushed public via EDX are afforded a citation for proper accreditation and complies with journal publication requirements.

SAMIThe Science-Based Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning Institute (SAMI) builds off NETL’s unique strengths in science-based modeling and research data curation and management capabilities. It also capitalizes on NETL’s world-class capabilities in high-performance scientific computing. This simulation science is driving breakthroughs in advanced materials design and discovery and reducing the cost and risk of carbon capture utilization and storage. More information about SAMI is available at its data exchange webpage.

EANETL’s Strategic Systems Analysis and Engineering group conducts a variety of energy analyses to identify and evaluate promising R&D opportunities. Check out their website for specific studies related to sensors and controls technology.

EACybersecurity, Energy Security, and Emergency Response (CESER) To find out more about DOE Cybersecurity initiatives, check out the Office of Cybersecurity, Energy Security, and Emergency Response (CESER) webpage.

BLOSEMBlockchain Technology BLOSEM was a multi-lab collaboration, led by NETL, seeking to develop energy sector guidance, standardized metrics, and testing environments for technology maturation of novel blockchain-based concepts for device security, secure communications, and grid resilience. Check out their website.

Explore the Site