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NETL Researcher Wins R&D 100 Award
A picture of Michael Buric, a Caucasian man with a dark brown beard, brown eyes, and a buzzcut hairstyle.

A cutting-edge optical fiber sensor technology developed by the University of Pittsburgh and NETL that provides unprecedented measurement capabilities in environments previously thought impossible to probe has earned a 2022 R&D 100 Award.

NuSense Technology — High Spatial Resolution Optical Sensors for Harsh Environments, an innovation developed by Kevin Chen’s group at Pitt together with NETL as the co-developer, can function in extreme environments found in nuclear reactor cores. It also can be used to monitor structural health in critical energy production systems such as gas turbines, boiler tubes, reactor coolant pipes or core containment vessels. These measurements can provide valuable early warnings before accidents or breakdowns occur.

“Our collaboration with Pitt has created a new tool to improve safety and operating efficiency for nuclear energy, hydrogen fuel cells and other systems, which are crucial to achieving our nation’s goals for a carbon-free power sector by 2035 and a net-zero carbon emissions economy by 2050,” said NETL Director Brian Anderson.

Nuclear reactors and other energy-producing systems are notoriously difficult to measure during operation due to their harsh environments. Using proprietary high-temperature glass sealant packaging and other advanced technologies, NuSense sensors can perform dynamic strain measurements at unprecedented high temperatures that no current commercial strain sensor can reach.

NETL researcher Michael Buric serves on the project team. Pitt-NETL researchers co-developed four patents to support the technology. Besides Buric, NETL’s Kirk Gerdes, deputy director for Research & Innovation, contributed to the efforts to develop the patents.

NuSense Technology was named a winner in the Analytical/Test category. NETL’s Targeted Rare Earth Extraction (TREE) process, an environmentally friendly and cost-effective technology to extract rare earth elements and critical minerals (REEs-CMs) from a broad range of coal and coal-processing materials and waste streams, was named a finalist in the Process/Prototyping category.

The members of NETL’s TREE research team are Ward Burgess, AlisonTREE team members (top row from left) are Mengling Stuckman, Christina Lopano and Thomas Tarka. Second row from left are Ward Burgess, Jonathan Yang and Alison Fritz. Fritz, Christina Lopano, Mengling Stuckman, Thomas Tarka and Jonathan Yang.

“The TREE technology is an important achievement as NETL drives innovation and delivers solutions to address the nation’s complex energy issues and ensure no communities are left behind as the United States undergoes a historic transformation to clean energy,” Anderson said.

The R&D 100 awards will be presented at a banquet on Nov. 17 in San Diego, California. Click here to review a list of NETL’s previous R&D 100 winners. Select R&D 100 Awards from the drop-down menu.

NETL is a U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory that drives innovation and delivers technological solutions for an environmentally sustainable and prosperous energy future. By leveraging its world-class talent and research facilities, NETL is ensuring affordable, abundant and reliable energy that drives a robust economy and national security, while developing technologies to manage carbon across the full life cycle, enabling environmental sustainability for all Americans.