Sapphire sensors for more efficient coal

Researchers at the Missouri University of Science and Technology are creating crystal sensors to aid the production of syngas.
Written by Melissa Mahony, Contributor

Sapphires are blue stones that can take a lot of heat. Behind diamonds, this typically navy gemstone is also the second hardest thing on Earth.

In addition to these illustrious responsibilities (which include being my birthstone), sapphires might one day help reduce carbon emissions from coal.

Researchers from the Missouri University of Science and Technology are examining the sapphire's ability as a sensor to monitor the coal-gasification process in which coal is heated to create synthesis gas, or syngas. While not as energy efficient as natural gas, syngas burns cleaner than straight coal.

The problem with coal gasification is few materials are able to endure it. Within gasifiers, temperatures can climb more than 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Made into very thin fibers between 3 and 6 feet long, the sapphires would monitor for temperature and gas pressure. If successful, the blue mineral would help gasification plants to access the coal's combustion in order to achieve maximum efficiency.

Hai Xiao (right), associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, says in a statement:

It's a very harsh environment. The high temperature ensures the efficient transformation of coal to syngas, creating less waste and sustaining a better environment. There's a huge technology gap for sensing and monitoring in harsh environments in general.

Xiao will experiment with different widths for the crystal fibers, created by placing a sapphire seed within molten sapphire and stretching it.

AmerenUE, a St. Louis-based power company, plans to test the sapphire sensors at its plants.

Images: Wikipedia, MST
: Discovery

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

Editorial standards