NM Tech's PRRC Uses Nanotechnology to Monitor Gases, Dec. 6, 2005

by Shawna Carter

SOCORRO, N.M., Dec. 6, 2006 — New Mexico Tech researchers Hai Xiao, assistant professor of electrical engineering, and Junhang Dong, assistant professor of chemical engineering, recently teamed up with scientists at Arizona State University (ASU) to start a research project titled “Development of Nanocrystalline Doped-Ceramic Enabled Fiber Sensors for High-Temperature In-Situ Monitoring of Fossil Fuel Gases.”

The ongoing project is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy through the National Energy Technology Laboratory and is part of the Petroleum Recovery Research Center’s (PRRC) push toward alleviating some of the nation’s most pressing energy and environmental problems. The PRRC, located on the university’s campus in Socorro, is a research division of New Mexico Tech.

Xiao and Dong, along with researchers at ASU, hope to create a low-cost, reliable, miniaturized gas sensor capable of fast, accurate, in situ monitoring of gas composition in flue or hot gas streams in harsh environments.

Sensors of this type are essential in developing high-efficiency, clean energy technologies such as low-emission fossil fuel-based power systems. However, currently available gas chemical sensors cannot withstand the hostile environment found in fossil fuel energy systems.

The resulting sensor will be one of many sensors developed using nanotechnology at New Mexico Tech. In recent years, Dong’s and Xiao’s research groups have teamed up to develop new types of nanomaterial-enabled, fiber-based optical chemical sensors, which are used for a multitude of purposes in the energy industry.

These sensors have recently attracted considerable interest from scientific society, industry, and government agencies because of their outstanding advantages, such as capability of in situ monitoring, small size, immunity to electromagnetic interference, safety, remote operation, and survivability in extreme environments.

For example, an all-optical fiber-based sensor has been demonstrated for quick and sensitive detection of trace chemicals in gas and liquid phases. These new types of sensors would be useful in many critical areas, including emission control, environmental pollutant monitoring, food and water quality assurance, biological and medical analysis, and even in homeland security, such as for the detection of explosives.

The collaborative PRRC research project involving Arizona State University began earlier this year in July and will terminate in June of 2008.