New sensor is hot stuff

A new sensing device developed by Virginia tech electrical engineers for use in harsh environments may lead to energy intensive industries saving on their energy bills.

The sensor, dubbed the self-calibrated interferometric/intensity based (SCIIB) sensor, could also reduce the emission of pollutants.

The sensor has been designed for use in harsh environments, particularly where temperatures exceed 1500ºC, said Anbo Wang, director of the Virginia Tech Photonics Laboratory (VTLP).

The researchers said that the sensor could be deployed in a jet engine where it would monitor sound-wave pressures, and warn the pilot that the engine is on the verge of shutting down. Alternatively, the SCIIB could be employed in a vehicle engine to keep it operating at its most efficient temperature and pressure.

In the past, industry has primarily relied upon semiconductor pressure sensors that are said to have several major drawbacks.

These include a limited maximum operating temperature of 482ºC, poor reliability at high temperatures, severe sensitivity to temperature changes, and susceptibility to electromagnetic interference.

The Virginia Tech engineers produced the new sensor by combining several technologies into a single sensor system.

In addition to the advantage of working in very high temperatures, the new sensor is smaller in size, has higher resolution and accuracy, and a higher frequency response than its predecessors.

It is also said to be immune to electromagnetic interference, has a strong resistance to chemical corrosion, is self-calibrating, and provides for an absolute measurement.

Another key to the success of the new sensor is one of the materials the engineers have chosen.

The VTPL researchers used fibres made of single-crystal sapphire. According to Wang, ‘sapphire is an excellent material for the construction of harsh environment sensors due to its high melting point, excellent transparency, and well-documented resistance to corrosion

Honeywell, ABB, Howmet, and Corning are a few of the companies that have teamed with the Virginia Tech Photonics Laboratory and Oak Ridge National Laboratory to help commercialise the new sensing technology.

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