UNT professor part of collaboration awarded $1 million research grant to create nuclear monitoring technology

Tuesday, November 15, 2016 - 16:20
Engineering professor Haifeng Zhang. Photo by: Ahna Hubnik
Engineering professor Haifeng Zhang. Photo by: Ahna Hubnik

DENTON (UNT), Texas —  A University of North Texas engineering professor is starting a major new project in November that he hopes will help solve a critical problem in nuclear engineering.

Haifeng Zhang, an associate professor of mechanical engineering technology, is a major part of a collaboration that was recently awarded a $1 million research grant from the Department of Energy. He will be working to use an ultrasound through-wall data transmission technique to transmit a large amount of sensor data from inside spent fuel canisters to an outside data processing center. Those spent fuel rod are typically stored in thick metal shells that normal wireless technology can’t penetrate and data cables also cannot be used since those would require undesirable holes to be made in the canister.

“This is an urgent problem that needs a solution,” said Zhang. “Right now it is difficult to tell what is going on inside that nuclear canister. If we are successful, we can monitor conditions of spent fuel rods inside that canister in real time.”

Zhang is collaborating with Lei Zuo, an associate professor o mechanical engineering at Virginia Tech; Oak Ridge National Laboratory; and Westinghouse Electric Company on this project. Zhang says they will be using innovative techniques that have rarely been done before and that preliminary tests have already shown promising results.

“This is my expertise,” said Zhang. “I’ve been working on these piezoelectric devices for almost twenty years. What this project means to us is that we can actually apply our knowledge and solve a major problem in the nuclear field. The technology we are going to develop can also be applied for data communication through the hulls of ships and submarines and other applications in the future.” 

The project launches this month and is expected to last three years.

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