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Optical fiber sensors for the next generation coal-burning power generation

Photonics researchers are developing fiber sensors to operate in the super harsh environment of coal generation systems that emit 30-35 percent less CO2 than the conventional technology.

The fiber sensors will measure strain, temperature, and pressure at temperatures greater than current sensor capabilities. The sensors will be capable of operating in a distributed network, providing the first such capability for ultra-super critical steam (USC) designs, according to Anbo Wang, director of the Center for Photonics Technology.

“Distributed sensor capability is critical for these new generators,” he said. “The larger coverage will enable models to more accurately identify operating conditions that can impact boiler reliability and plant availability.” USC boilers have an efficiency target between 45 and 47 percent — a 10 percent increase in efficiency that results in a 25-30 percent decrease of CO2 emissions compared with current technology.

USC boilers are targeted for operation at 760° C and 5000 psi. These extreme conditions lead to accelerated degradation and places new challenges on all the materials and components. Increased and accurate monitoring is critical to keeping efficient and reliable operation, Wang said. “Our new sensors must perform in the boiler with the same or better accuracy and long-term operating reliability as their lower-temperature predecessors.”

To meet the stringent requirements, the CPT team is developing a suite of sensors for a measurement network based on a technology recently demonstrated at Virginia Tech.

The project is funded by an $850,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy. For information: