Temperature sensors are vital to a variety of everyday products. For example, household ovens, refrigerators, and thermostats all rely on temperature maintenance and control in order to function properly.
Temperature control also has applications in chemical engineering. Examples of this include maintaining the temperature of a chemical reactor at the ideal set-point, monitoring the temperature of a possible runaway reaction to ensure the safety of employees, and maintaining the temperature of streams released to the environment to minimize harmful environmental impact.
While temperature is generally sensed by humans as “hot”, “neutral”, or “cold”, chemical engineering requires precise, quantitative measurements of temperature in order to accurately control a process. This is achieved through the use of temperature sensors, and temperature regulators which process the signals they receive from sensors.
From a thermodynamics perspective, temperature changes as a function of the average energy of molecular movement. As heat is added to a system, molecular motion increases and the system experiences an increase in temperature. It is difficult, however, to directly measure the energy of molecular movement, so temperature sensors are generally designed to measure a property which changes in response to temperature. The devices are then calibrated to traditional temperature scales using a standard (i.e. the boiling point of water at known pressure). The following sections discuss the various types of sensors and regulators.
Types of Temperature Sensors
Temperature sensors are devices used to measure the temperature of a medium. There are 2 kinds on temperature sensors:
- contact sensors and
- noncontact sensors.
However, the 3 main types are thermometers, resistance temperature detectors, and thermocouples. All three of these sensors measure a physical property (i.e. volume of a liquid, current through a wire), which changes as a function of temperature.
In addition to the 3 main types of temperature sensors, there are numerous other temperature sensors available for use.
Contact temperature sensors measure the temperature of the object to which the sensor is in contact by assuming or knowing that the two (sensor and the object) are in thermal equilibrium, in other words, there is no heat flow between them.
- Resistance Temperature Detectors (RTDs)
- Full System Thermometers
- Bimetallic Thermometers
Most commercial and scientific noncontact temperature sensors measure the thermal radiant power of the Infrared or Optical radiation received from a known or calculated area on its surface or volume within it. An example of noncontact temperature sensors is a pyrometer,