Scientists at Sheffield University have developed a way of using ultrasound to measure how efficiently the pistons in a car engine are moving up and down inside their cylinders.
"There is a real urgency, now, to improve energy consumption in cars," mechanical engineering Professor Rob Dwyer-Joyce said. "Our method will allow engine manufacturers to adjust lubrication levels with confidence and ensure they are using the optimum level for any particular engine, rather than over-lubricating to ensure engine safety."
Automobile manufacturers have to calculate how much oil will allow the piston to move efficiently: Too much oil is wasteful and ends up getting burned in the engine, adding to tailpipe emissions, while too little will result in accelerated wear and reduce the working life on the engine, the researchers said.
"The energy used by the piston rings alone amounts to around 4p in every liter of fuel (22 cents per gallon) -- there is a lot at stake in getting the lubrication right," Dwyer-Joyce said in a Sheffield release Monday.
The Sheffield researchers said they have been measuring the lubricant film inside engine cylinders by transmitting ultrasonic pulses through the cylinder wall from sensors attached to the outside.
"Our system could provide major efficiency savings in car engines, but it could also be used on the larger diesel engines in deep water marine vessels, some of which use up to 1 ton of oil each day," Dwyer-Joyce said.