An ambitious EU project created new pollution sensors for the automotive industry
that could enable a multibillion euro market in emission control systems by
2010. The sensors will also help Europe to meet its CO2 obligations under the
The IMITEC project developed an emission control system for light duty diesel
vehicles. Diesel powered vehicles are increasingly becoming a major part of the
European market and already occupy more than 50 per cent of the car fleet in
several European countries such as France.
During its research IMITEC scored a remarkable number of firsts. "I think when
we started the project it was considered highly ambitious, but we have met out
targets and we now have several technologies that will be commercialised," says
Dr Athanasios G. Konstandopoulos, project coordinator and director of the Aerosol
and Particle Technology Laboratory at CERTH/CPERI in Thessaloniki, Greece.
Diesel is the most efficient combustion engine currently available, says Konstandopoulos,
but it comes with emissions of particulates, a soot made mainly of carbon, and
Nitrogen Oxides (NOx) as by-products. IMITEC's major innovation was to create
the first particulate sensors for next generation diesel exhaust emission control
Emission control invariably consists of a particulate filter, and the particulate
sensor developed by IMITEC is vital for the so called ‘closed-loop' control of
this filter. As the filter is clogged by the collected particulate it needs to
be cleaned by oxidation of the accumulated soot and this requires the raising
of the exhaust temperature as diesel engines are so efficient the regular exhaust
temperature is too low to oxidise soot. This process is termed ‘regeneration'.
The IMITEC sensor platform enables the activation of ‘regeneration' in an adaptive
and efficient fashion leading to fuel savings and increased reliability of the
emission control system.
Sometimes filters need to regenerate after 500km, or 1000km, but to know exactly
when, you need a sensor. "But the only way to know when to begin the regeneration
process is to know the history of the filter, the driving profile of the vehicle," says
Konstandopoulos. "It's a key part of the whole system."
But IMITEC built more than sensors; they built an entire Emissions Control System
for diesel engines, initially for light duty and passenger cars but the technology
could be adapted for trucks. Particulate sensing and filter regeneration strategy,
however, were the key parts of the project.
IMITEC developed two types of sensors during its research. Hardware sensors measure
directly the values of particulates, temperature and pressure in the exhaust.
Virtual sensors, on the other hand, are software that measure other sensors in
the car and then apply an algorithm to discover a given measurement.
An example is the virtual sensor that computes the amount of soot load in a Diesel
Particulate Filter from signals of filter pressure drop, exhaust flow and exhaust
temperature. The output of these virtual sensors are used by the Engine Control
Unit to adaptively and efficiently manage the emission control system.
All of IMITEC's achievements go a long way to fulfilling the need for emission
controls of the future.
It also attracted the intense interest of the automotive industry. The research
centre of Fiat, one of Europe's leading carmakers joined the project, as did
UK-based Johnson Matthey, the world's number one supplier of automotive catalysts,
and Bosch Germany, the world's leading supplier of exhaust sensors, fuel injection
systems, and engine control units. The consortium also included Austria-based
AVL, the largest independent automotive engineering company in the world and
the CDL-ACT laboratory of the University of Leoben.
"We've been approached by many carmakers, and there are a lot of opportunities
for spin-offs products, too," says Konstandopoulos. For example, the team may
develop a highly portable unit for use in garages, to aid repairs and system
Konstandopoulos believes the diesel emission control market could reach €10bn
to €15bn a year by 2010. "Projections indicate that 50 per cent of European
cars will be diesel by 2010, or 10m to 15m annually. If we estimate the cost
of the entire emission control system at €1,000, which may be a reasonable
estimate today, then you have a very important economic impact," he says.
The team developed a demonstrator of their Emissions Control System, fitted into
a Fiat Ducato. "We have a demonstrator, in a real car, that will meet the anticipated
Euro V emission standards expected to be finalised by the end of 2005," says
Konstandopoulos. "This is another major result."
It's just one more ambition achieved by a very ambitious project.
Dr Athanasios Konstandopoulos
Aerosol and Particle Technology Laboratory