Novel sensors could help boost efficiency at fossil-fuel plants

US researchers are developing an array of novel high-temperature sensors that they claim will help fossil-fuel plants to increase their efficiency and potentially reduce emissions.

Prof Mauricio Pereira da Cunha of Maine University will lead the project to develop thin-film electrodes, piezoelectric smart microwave acoustic sensor devices and sensor encapsulation materials that will be engineered to function for long periods of time at up to 1,200ºC.

The US Department of Energy has awarded the project $1.2m (£732,000) as part of the sensors and controls area of the National Energy Technology Laboratory’s Advanced Research (AR) programme.

Research and development projects within the AR programme are directed towards the implementation and operation of the next generation of fossil energy power systems and improvements to existing systems. According to a statement, the ultimate aim is for highly efficient, near-zero-emission power systems that use domestic resources.

The Maine technology is said to be based on tiny wireless battery-free microwave acoustic sensors that can measure temperature and pressure in harsh environments. A large number of sensors will be tested at strategic locations in power plants and will be used to optimise the coal utilisation process and provide information about the maintenance and status of the combustors and steam-generator components.

The work also includes developing a radio-frequency wireless interrogation electronics unit that will be located outside the high-temperature environment.

This project stems from more than a decade of research and development on thin-film materials and sensor devices that can withstand high-temperature operation in harsh environments.

The technology has also been supported by funding from the US Air Force, which is interested in placing the sensors into jet turbine engines.