University of Southern Queensland mechanical engineer Dr Toan Dinh.
University of Southern Queensland mechanical engineer Dr Toan Dinh.

How ‘super’ sensors will improve safety for miners

THE University of Southern Queensland’s Dr Toan Dinh has developed sensors capable of detecting the “tiniest of movements” to quickly sense danger on oil and gas mining sites.

The mechanical engineer’s creation has caught the attention of NASA, which is interested in seeing how they could be used in space exploration.

Dr Dinh’s sensors could play a significant role in preventing injury and death on mining sites and he hopes to start testing them out in the real world this year.

They are designed to detect any early mechanical issues in oil and gas pipelines.

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He said they perform a thousand times better than conventional sensors and are capable of operating in 600C heat.

Dr Dinh, who is based at USQ’s Springfield campus, has spent the past six years developing the tiny sensors, which are made of silicon carbide.

“The current silicon technology can’t be used in harsh environments because they can’t survive a long time in conditions of high temperature and corrosion,” he said.

“The sensors I have developed can operate in up to 600C for a wide range of applications, including oil and gas industries and aerospace technologies.

“It is critically important we make working conditions safer for miners and more efficient.

“My sensors can detect and measure the tiniest of movements in the environment, as well as monitor in real-time the structural health of a system, such as a pipeline, in case there is any changes or faults.

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“This can help prevent a major system failure from occurring, not only reducing maintenance costs but potentially avert a catastrophic situation that could lead to injury or death.”

A $440,000 grant from the Australian Research Council Discovery Early Career Researcher Award scheme will allow Dr Dinh to further his research.

The grant will allow him to travel to La Cañada, California to collaborate with researchers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

“It’s a very exciting opportunity and a great chance to focus on improving the technology’s performance so it can operate in more environments and applications,” Dr Dinh said.

“My goal is to start testing the sensors in real industry conditions as early as this year before they are ready for commercialisation.”

Read more stories by Lachlan McIvor here.