Scientists can use the patented technique, called electrical capacitance volume tomography (ECVT), to observe how the density of materials varies inside a reactor. The end result could be better monitoring of reactor systems, including power plants.
Industrial plants need tomography for the same reasons hospitals do, explained L.S. Fan, a Distinguished University Professor and the John C. Easton Professor of Engineering in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at Ohio State.
"Hospitals use tomography to view areas of the body that aren't easily or safely accessible," Fan said, "and the interiors of boilers and other high temperature reactors in industry are similarly inaccessible."
Fan studies the processes for converting coal to liquid fuels and chemicals, in order to optimize the energy conversion efficiency while reducing power plant emissions.
"Right now, the way to convert coal or natural gas to liquid fuels is in high-temperature, highpressure reactors," Fan said. "But if we're going to develop processes to achieve high energy conversion efficiency, we need to be able to see inside those reactors to know how they work. That's why we developed ECVT."
Fan described the imaging technique at the national meeting of the American Chemical Society on March 27, as he gave the keynote address for the Chinese American Chemical Society 25th Anniversary Symposium.
The invention includes a sensor system that measures the capacitance of the materials inside the reactor -- their ability to store an electrical charge. Software then converts those measurements to information about the materials' composition.