Project has surface perspective on engine performance

Leeds University is taking part in a project to investigate how the use of advanced diamond-like carbon surfaces can help optimise engine performance.

Engine oils rely on chemical additives to protect against wear and reduce friction, helping extend the life of moving parts and minimise fuel consumption.

According to Leeds University, many of these additives poison catalytic converters, prompting a hunt for ‘greener’ lubricants. However, maintaining performance without these key ingredients is a major challenge.

But the oil itself is only one part of the equation, according to engineers at Leeds University. They are instead advocating a more holistic approach that looks at the lubricant and the surfaces it coats simultaneously. All reactions between the oil and any parts it touches — the interface — will be taken into account during the design of a whole new lubrication system.

‘This concept of “interface design” is central,’ said Prof Anne Neville, who is coordinating the 2020 Interface project. ‘In the past, work in this area has focused either on the relatively good design of the lubricant or the development of functional coatings — not the relationship between the two.’

‘While relatively good progress has been made… we now need a major improvement in efficiency. We believe that our approach is the best way to achieve that. By designing the interface, rather than the separate components, we can be sure to get the properties we want in terms of engine efficiency,’ she added.

In this new project, co-ordinated by Leeds University, a team of European universities and companies will investigate how the use of diamond-like carbon surfaces can help optimise engine performance.

The researchers will draw on the latest lubricant additive technology using, as far as possible, formulations that do not contain any sulphur or phosphorus — chemical additives that may be further restricted in future. The work will be applicable to petrol and diesel engines, for domestic and commercial vehicles.

The €6m (£5m) project is due to run for three years, with €3.5m contributed from the European Union.