Can Gas Tank Sensors Save Energy?

gas_pump_handleA $25 sensor will be installed in some modern automobiles which will improve fuel efficiency and lower pollution rates. The sensor will signal the engine how to react based on the makeup of fuel in the tank. Why the need for such a sensor? According to an article on the Businessweek.com website, fuel efficiency can decline up to 5 percent and greenhouse emissions can increase up to 20 percent when nonoptimal fuel is used in an engine, and fuel blends vary among gas stations.

Bob Domino is a senior calibration engineer with over 35 years experience in all aspects of engine calibration, including emissions, drivability, performance and fuel economy. Domino explains that finding optimal fuel is not really an issue. “Vehicle engines are not built and calibrated around one specific blend of gasoline. Refiners change blends five different times throughout the year to account for different atmospheric conditions, and blends are different in different parts of the country for the same reason. As someone who has calibrated powertrains for most of my career I can attest to the fact that a wide variety of fuels are used when the vehicle is optimized for performance. Yes, it is true that a special blend of fuel is used when testing for emissions, and in fact the vehicle lines are certified at the EPA lab in Ann Arbor, MI using this fuel. However, its content is not vastly different than that of road fuel, as the EPA requires vehicles that are currently in use after sale must still meet emission requirements using currently available road fuel.”

Domino explains, “A $25 microprocessor sensor that supposedly will ‘sniff’ the contents of the gas will not result in any improvement in fuel economy or performance. Vehicle powertrains use finely tuned control strategies (software) and powertrain control unit (PCM) is tied the vehicle identification number (VIN). This device would have to somehow interact with the PCM and control strategy in order to be able to alter the calibration to do what it claims it can do. Since each vehicle manufacturer uses different PCMs and control strategies, it’s highly unlikely that such a low-cost ‘sensor microprocessor’ would do anything but void the vehicle warranty, in the event that it could actually interact with the PCM.”

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Comments

  1. Jeff DiCarlo says:

    Mr. Domino has missed the point of this proposed devise. It is being pushed not as an aftermarket add-on, but as a device which OEs would incorporate into their vehicles. As such it has some potential, but my belief is that the industry is not yet ready for this level of combustion control.
    Please note that Mr. Domino is correct about the fuels used for calibration, and its similarities to everyday road fuels. And any claim of emissions and fuel economy improvements would need to be verified by independent labs, as current vehicles already have some “fuel sensing” capabilities.
    Most modern engines incorporate some form of knock sensing (preignition). This allows the default spark timing strategy to advance as much as possible, thus taking advantage of higher octane ratings in some fuels.

  2. Jeff DiCarlo says:

    And all emission regulated engines now also have oxygen sensing capabilities in their exhaust streams. These sensors feed back to the ECU information about the air/fuel ratio, to allow for a better mix. This by default already compensates for some combustion variables.
    I see the real value of the proposed sensor to come when more flexibility and control of the injection scheme is available to engine tuners. Currently all an ECU can do is vary the timing and amount of the fuel being injected, and also the timing of the spark. Optimizing these variable alone for fuel “quality” will yield little gain. Until there is on-board control of droplet size, penetration, air swirl and mixing, the proposed sensor’s input will be of limited use.

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