A blue gem for greener fuel

Mar 19, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- Sapphire, a brilliant blue gemstone most familiar in jewelry, may soon play an important part in making coal a cleaner fuel source.

Researchers at Missouri University of Science and Technology are investigating sapphire's suitability for that could survive the harsh, hot environment of coal-gasification plants, which produces synthesis gas (syngas), a synthetic form of that can be used as a clean fuel for and transportation.

Sapphire is also a tough mineral and, when grown as single crystal sapphire, is able to withstand . That's why the Missouri S&T researchers think it could handle the heat of coal gasification.

"It's a very harsh environment," Dr. Hai Xiao, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at Missouri S&T, says of the systems that turn coal into syngas. Those harsh environments also require precise temperature and pressure controls to make syngas as cleanly as possible.

"The high temperature ensures the efficient transformation of coal to syngas, creating less waste and sustaining a better environment." Xiao says.

One of the roadblocks to the coal gasification technology is the lack of process control instrumentation that can handle the harsh gasification environment. "There's a huge technology gap for sensing and monitoring in harsh environments in general," Xiao says. For instance, future spacecraft with power systems that run hot also need tough control systems, Xiao says.

Xiao and his colleagues believe sapphire can take the heat. But they still have to figure out how to turn the crystal into a very small sensor. The researchers want to create sensors that are only about 100 microns in diameter - about the thickness of a human hair. The sensors will take the form of fibers.

The researchers' first task is to design and build the sensors with the ability to measure temperature as well as gas pressure. They will then conduct laboratory tests on the sensors, then explore the possibility of testing the sensors in actual production facilities. Missouri S&T will work with AmerenUE, a utility company based in St. Louis, to field-test the sensors.

Explore further: Greater safety and security at Europe's train stations

Related Stories

Coal gasification -- myths, challenges and opportunities

Feb 15, 2008

There is a growing consensus that increased demand for electricity will cement coal’s place in the energy portfolio for years to come. In fact, more than half of the electricity produced in the United States ...

Making coal cleaner

Sep 20, 2006

University of Queensland researchers are working on a process that could make the theory of clean coal a reality. Dr Joe da Costa's research group, from the Division of Chemical Engineering in the School of Engineering, has ...

Recommended for you

Greater safety and security at Europe's train stations

20 hours ago

When a suspicious individual fleas on a bus or by train, then things usually get tough for the police. This is because the security systems of the various transportation companies and security services are ...

Fingerprints for freight items

20 hours ago

Security is a top priority in air freight logistics but screening procedures can be very time consuming and costly. Fraunhofer researchers intend to boost efficiency with a new approach to digital logistics, ...

On the way to a safe and secure smart home

20 hours ago

A growing number of household operations can be managed via the Internet. Today's "Smart Home" promises efficient building management. But often the systems are not secure and can only be retrofitted at great ...

DIY glove-based tutor indicates muscle-memory potential

Aug 31, 2014

A senior editor at IEEE Spectrum worked on a DIY project that enabled his 11-year-old son to improve his touch typing by use of a vibrating glove. His son was already "pretty quick on the keyboard," said ...

User comments : 0