Experts say ultrasound could have role in diagnosing fuel savings for drivers

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ULTRASOUND technology has been used for years as a vital tool in medicine – but now experts believe it could become a key part of diagnosing problems in cars.

Engineers at Sheffield University say the technique could be harnessed to look inside car engines to improve efficiency, bringing huge fuel savings for motorists.

A team has devised an approach using ultrasound to measure how efficiently an engine’s pistons are moving up and down inside their cylinders.

Rob Dwyer-Joyce, professor of lubrication engineering at the university, said: “There is a real urgency now to improve energy consumption in cars.

“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. The energy used by the piston rings alone amounts to around 4p in every litre of fuel – there is a lot at stake in getting the lubrication right.”

The movement of the pistons drives cars forward and car manufacturers have to calculate how much oil will allow the piston to move efficiently which is crucial for fuel economy. Too much is wasteful and ends up getting burned in the engine and increasing emissions, while too little will result in wear from the two moving parts rubbing against each other.

Using their approach, the 
Sheffield team measures what happens inside the engine by transmitting ultrasonic pulses through the cylinder wall 
from sensors attached to the outside.

The research is part of a project funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council in partnership with Loughborough and Cranfield universities, and a host of industry manufacturers and suppliers. The team is ready to commercialise the technology and is looking for partners interested in pursuing it.

“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 one tonne of oil each day,” Prof Dwyer-Joyce added.