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Sensors, Controls, and Novel Concepts

Improving fossil energy and carbon management systems through advanced sensors and controls technologies

Sensors and Controls
Figure 1: Optical fibers, for use as sensors, are grown using a CO2 laser in NETL’s Laser and Optical Processes Lab

The Crosscutting Research Sensors, Controls, and Novel Concepts program is conducting research and development for technologies that will provide pivotal insights into optimizing performance, reliability, and availability of integrated energy and carbon management systems. NETL develops, tests, and matures novel sensor and control technologies that are operable in next-generation energy systems, including hybrid plants incorporating components such as hydrogen-powered turbines and fuel cells, renewables, and energy storage applications. These sensors enable responsiveness to varying conditions in real time, maintaining high efficiencies and reducing emissions. This research will aid in the achievement of DOE goals which include net-zero carbon emissions in the energy sector by 2035 and a decarbonized wider economy by 2050.

Sensors and Controls advances integration of technologies across the following primary research areas:

Harsh Environment Sensors

The Sensors and Controls program enables and enhances carbon management technologies ranging from hydrogen fuel production and power generation to post-combustion carbon capture. Crosscutting research optimizes sensor arrays, allowing for optimal parameters such as temperature, pressure, fluid composition, and the state of materials. Researchers investigate a range of advanced manufacturing techniques (e.g., 3D printing) to determine the feasibility of embedding sensors with condition-based monitoring algorithms to operate in extreme environments, including pipes and tubing to turbine blades, anticipating maintenance needs and reducing plant downtime. Crosscutting research optimizes sensor placement, allowing for optimal characteristic readings such as temperature, pressure, fluid composition, and the state of materials. The information apprises operators of component health and performance in real time. Robots, ranging from drones to crawlers, have transformed the inspection and repair of equipment for a wide variety of systems. These advances in remote inspection are improving performance, reliability, and economics for future energy infrastructure.

Advanced Controls and Cyber Physical Systems

Controls research at NETL enables optimized performance, increased energy system complexity. Optimized controls will reduce emissions including carbon dioxide and methane, while ensuring safe and efficient performance. Smart control systems enable an optimal balance between operational performance and reliability. Advanced controls will also manage complex interactions of hybrid power systems (featuring renewable generation, energy storage, carbon management, etc.) and other subsystems. The resulting technologies help facilitate carbon emissions reductions.

One prominent crosscutting technology is Hybrid Performance (HYPER), a cyber-physical platform that combines virtual numerical models with physical hardware to realize advanced controls and design. For example, HYPER is a test bed for novel control strategies and cyber security concepts that will improve the performance of existing power plants and optimize next-generation power plants.

Novel Concepts

Novel/emerging technologies are being developed to support energy applications that will prove essential to an equitable, clean energy future. These activities start with next-generation technologies such as quantum sensors, visible light communications, and direct power extraction and move towards technology maturation and then transition to the marketplace. These efforts are complemented with cybersecurity projects including blockchain and distributed ledger technology.


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 is a multi-lab collaboration, led by NETL, that seeks 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.



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NETL implements this effort as part of DOE’s Crosscutting Research Program.

HQ Program Manager (Acting):
Robert Schrecengost

Technology Area Contact:

Sydni Credle