NETL: News Release -Innovative Sensors and Controls to Support Efficient Operation of State-of-the-Art Power Plants
News Release

Release Date: August 9, 2011

Innovative Sensors and Controls to Support Efficient Operation of State-of-the-Art Power Plants
R&D Projects Focused on Computational Techniques, "Smart" Materials, Advanced Sensors

Washington, D.C.—The Department of Energy’s Office of Fossil Energy (FE) has selected three projects to develop novel sensing and control technologies aimed at the efficient operation of advanced, zero-emission power systems and the improvement of operations at existing fossil energy power plants. The total value of the projects is approximately $4.9 million, with $3.9 million of DOE funding and $1 million in recipients’ cost-sharing.

The projects will help FE’s Advanced Research Program lead the effort to develop sensing and control technologies for seamless, integrated, intelligent power systems that use domestic resources.

Progress in the areas of advanced combustion, gasification, turbines, gas cleaning and separation technologies and carbon capture have brought challenges to the Advanced Research Program’s sensors and controls area. Harsh environments where temperature and pressure conditions are extreme and process conditions are highly reactive and corrosive are inherent to new systems that aim to achieve high efficiency with low emissions. Additionally, these systems are complex, with operational constraints and system integration challenges that push the limits of traditional process controls. New, robust sensing approaches, including durable materials and highly automated process controls, are needed to optimize the operation and performance of these advanced systems.

One of the selected projects will focus on the development of computational techniques that can interface with multiple sensors and nodes to transform data into information and enable cognitive-type computation at the network level. The remaining two bench-scale efforts will develop embedded sensors and "smart" materials that can be applied to power systems to enable real-time, online assessment of a system or component.

The projects will be managed by FE’s National Energy Technology Laboratory.

Descriptions of the projects follow.

  • Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio—Case Western, teaming with Charles Stark Draper Laboratories in Cambridge, Mass., will develop a theoretic sensing and control framework that will use connections between control, estimation, signal processing, and communication theory to provide a systematic context for acquiring, processing, fusing, and using data from heterogeneous sensor networks to support advanced power plant operations. (DOE share: $1,500,000; recipient share: $434,827; project duration: 36 months)
  • Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, Va.—Virginia Tech will develop a first-of-a-kind technology for remote fiber optic generation and detection of acoustic waves for structural health monitoring. The technology requires no electric power supply at the monitoring site and the detected acoustic signature, as well as the additional returned optical signal, allow extraction of information about multiple material conditions including temperature, strain, corrosion, and cracking. (DOE share: $1,195,770; recipient share: $298,944; project duration: 36 months)
  • University of Maine, Orono, Maine—The University of Maine will team with Environetix of Orono, Maine, to develop novel high temperature harsh environment thin film electrodes, piezoelectric smart microwave acoustic sensing elements, and sensor encapsulation materials that are engineered to function over long times at 1200°C, and a radio-frequency (RF) wireless interrogation electronics unit that will be located outside the high temperature harsh environment. (DOE share: $1,198,738; recipient share: $314,937; project duration: 36 months)