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On emissions and engines: Developing sensors to monitor diesel fuel quality

Posting in Technology

Illinois researchers are developing improved sensors to detect corrosive contaminants in diesel fuel.

Commercially available sensors aren't sensitive enough to detect the contaminants of diesel fuel and biodiesel blended fuel. This isn't good news if you want to prevent your car's engine from corroding and if you want to reduce your car's emission.

In order to follow the Environmental Protection Agency's stringent emissions limits, harmful exhaust emissions are treated as an after-thought (via filters).

But the current system is by no means perfect. Contaminants in the fuel can spoil every intention to filter the harmful emissions before they dissipate into the air.

That's why University of Illinois researchers are testing out electrochemical sensors to see if improved sensors can carry their own weight.

"Our research is contributing to the development of a sensor that, when placed in the fuel line prior to where the fuel enters a diesel engine, can detect if there are any contaminants in or other problems with the fuel," the University of Illinois agricultural and biological engineer Alan Hansen said in a statement. "If biodiesel is used, the sensor would determine the quality and quantity of biodiesel entering the engine."

In theory, a smarter sensor should be able to detect a contaminant like sulfur — in which case, it would either notify the operator of the unwanted substance or the engine would shut down to prevent possible corrosion.

Sulfur can damage the filters. And its by-product, sulfuric acid, can corrode the engine.

After testing current sensors on different fuel types, Hansen noted their limitations — adding that, any improvement to the sensors would likely lead to a breakthrough.

Photo: rrelam/ flickr

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Boonsri Dickinson

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Boonsri Dickinson is a freelance journalist based in San Francisco. She has written for Discover, The Huffington Post, Forbes, Nature Biotech, Technewsdaily.com, Techstartups.com and AOL. She's currently a reporter for Business Insider. She holds degrees from the University of Florida and the University of Colorado at Boulder. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure