Aussies Develop Real-time Oil Sensor

Scientists at Australias Edith Cowan University have developed a real-time sensor to detect when an engine oil has degraded and needs changing.

The director of the universitys Electron Science Research Institute, Kamal Alameh, said the oil quality sensor enables drivers to prevent critical engine failure caused by engine oil degradation.

It indicates when the engine oil is no longer adequate due to undesirable acidic byproducts caused by oxidation, the dominant cause of motor engine oil degradation, Alameh said.

The development could also save oil from going to waste because it was changed prematurely.

On-road trucks use up to 60 liters of engine oil per year, or 10 times more than a family car. Some mining trucks and vehicles operating 24 hours a day use as much as 500 liters.

The new sensor looks like a disc with a diameter of around 2.5 millimeters, or almost double the size of a pin head. Its thickness is nano-sized, at 500 times thinner than a human hair.

The automobile industry has long been interested in finding a way to directly monitor engine oil quality in real time. Several vehicle lines have oil monitors, but most of those systems- such as GMs - are based on algorithms, explained Don Smolenski, Evonik Oil Additives OEM Liaison Manager, North America. Smolenski formerly worked at GM and is co-holder of the patent for that companys oil monitoring system.

There would be curiosity for ECUs sensor, Smolenski added, but not without a healthy dose of skepticism, regarding the robustness of the system in handing variables such as vibrations and temperature extremes; ability to keep the sensor clean from varnish; accuracy across all types of service and all types of oils; and cost.

Alameh said ECUs sensor is cost-effective to produce because its so tiny, similar to mass-produced microelectronic chips. But he added that it needs funding to go to the next step and have it linked to an electronic signaling system.

Alameh said two businesses - one German and one Australian - are considering moving the sensor to market.

The benefits of the sensor are numerous, Alameh said, citing reduced maintenance costs, extended oil change intervals, maintained high performance and reliability and reduced carbon footprint.

It sounds snazzy, said Brett Elphick, business development manager for oil condition monitoring at SGS-OGC, a Perth-based oil monitoring group. It can only be value-adding to reliability, but there would be no guarantees it is actually providing complete protection against the oil failing.

Elphick said that from what he had read about the technology, the sensor measured the acetic byproducts of the oil, which was only one of a number of factors in engine oil degradation.

As an example, if fuel dilution is occurring, it will thin the oil, causing it to lose its lubricity, he said. It will also dilute the additives. From what I have read, this scenario would not be picked up.

The sensor is now on display at the Electron Science Research Institute, at ECUs Joondalup campus.