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NETL sensors withstand challenging conditions

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World Coal,

The inside of today’s energy systems host some of the harshest environments anywhere on the planet, and the faults, fractures and carbon dioxide plumes deep underground present an array of challenges for resource recovery. Sophisticated sensors help energy systems to operate more efficiently. However, creating sensors that can withstand these formidable environments is a challenge.

Sensors are detectors that can measure physical quantities like temperature and pressure. The sensors convert measurements into a signal that communicates with an electronic device that is read by operators who take actions to adjust conditions if necessary.

Sensors measure fuel composition, heat rates, pollutants, temperatures, pressures, and other parameters key to efficient operation in power generation systems. Fibre optic sensors are one novel approach for wireless communication in these harsh environments. Only slightly thicker than a human hair, optical fibres can transmit signals over long distances and without electromagnetic interferences – a key advantage as compared to conventional metal wires. Optical fibres also require no active electrical power at the sensing location and can reach otherwise inaccessible places by transmitting light or radiation from the fibre to a measurement device, which better facilitates their use in remote locations.

NETL researchers are using fibre optics to monitor the operating conditions inside solid oxide fuel cells (SOFCs). SOFCs are electrochemical devices that convert the chemical energy of a fuel and oxidant directly into electricity. SOFCs run on hydrogen that can be produced from fossil fuels, including coal, and they are much more efficient and environmentally benign than conventional electric power generation processes that rely on combustion. However, SOFC degradation is a key factor impeding wide-scale deployment. Fuel cells operate at temperatures around 800°C, and fibre optic sensors can offer new insights into the details of chemical and thermal processes occurring within the cell. This new sensing approach from NETL is being developed to work in elevated temperatures and highly reactive, hydrogen-containing environments, such as those found inside an SOFC. This successful technology development will ultimately provide information on these previously inaccessible locations and enable optimised operation with improved efficiencies.

Currently, NETL is demonstrating fibre optic sensors on SOFC applications, and this technology has potential to translate to sensors in other advanced power systems, including turbines and boilers.

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