Researchers developed a method to print low-cost, high-fidelity, customizable sensors for monitoring power grid equipment. (Image: Carlos Jones/ORNL, U.S. Dept. of Energy)

Printed radio frequency (RF) surface acoustic wave (SAW) sensor devices are a promising technology for providing highly reconfigurable, cost-effective, and multi-parameter sensing. A new method was developed to print high-fidelity, passive sensors for energy applications that can reduce the cost of monitoring critical power grid assets.

The sensors use SAWs that can pick up changes in temperature and pressure as well as the presence of gases. In search of a simpler, cheaper alternative to sensors that require elaborate assembly in a cleanroom, the researchers developed a method to print SAW sensors on substrates of lithium niobate crystal using nanoparticle inks.

The team that the sensor features can be printed using an aerosol-jet system at a resolution of about 10 micrometers, which increases their operating frequency and sensitivity. Ongoing research aims to reach 1 micrometer resolution and to test the sensors in both a simulated nuclear plant application and on essential grid components such as transformers.

The sensors are low cost, easy to deploy, and customizable so they can be made on-the-fly.

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