University of Illinois professor of agricultural and biological engineering, Alan Hansen, and his contemporaries are working towards developing new sensor technology to help address key fuel-quality issues, that, the currently available sensors fail to identify.
The research team is designing a sensor that will ascertain the quality of diesel that enters the engine and check for contaminants as well as other problems present in the fuel. In the case of biodiesel-blended fuels, the sensor will determine the quantity and quality of the fuel.
Typically, in the US, a 2%-5% blending of natural oils with regular diesel takes place in the manufacture of biodiesel. Some engine manufacturers use up to 20% biodiesel to support engine warranties, but are averse to engines running on high volumes of the fuel. Electrochemical sensors would make an ideal solution.
Electrochemical processes are under investigation to aid contaminant detection of specific chemicals, including sulphur. Such a system will either alert the operator, or shut off the engine in the event of the fuel containing high sulphur to curb hazardous emissions, catalyst damage, and the creation of sulphuric acid. The sensors currently available are, also being tested for sulphur detection as well as for other diesel-fuel quality problems. Hansen says that their success in improving existing sensors to include sulphur detection would be a major breakthrough.