Sensors & Controls Research Areas

The optical sensing area addresses a range of devices to enable real-time measurement of temperature, pressure, strain/stress, and gas species. Approaches range from non-contact, laser-based techniques to novel fiber-optic sensor designs.

The microsensor research focus area encompasses a significant research effort to develop materials and structures to enable sensing at elevated temperatures.

New approaches not only to sensing technologies but also to manufacturing and utilization of sensor data includes functional sensor materials, chemical sensors for subsurface monitoring, thermionic sensors, and sensor packaging.

Advanced process controls use fast reduced order models in conjunction with estimation algorithms and other types of predictive algorithms to enable model-based control to be used for real-time process control.


Sensor placement encompasses novel computational approaches to optimize sensor placement for various objectives and to enable cognitive capability within sensing such that intelligence can be distributed within a control architecture.




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.

Sensors and Controls 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)
  • 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.