Using a new £1.6 million grant from the Government's Science Research Investment Fund and £350,000 from Ford, the University of Bath's Department of Mechanical Engineering is carrying out research into ways of significantly improving the fuel consumption of diesel engines and reducing harmful emissions.
These changes include making the temperature control and cooling mechanism of the engines more efficient and increasing the number of engine parts that are powered by electricity rather than mechanically.
The research will help to reduce the pollutants coming from diesel engines by half over the next seven years, continuing a long trend of reducing vehicle waste emissions. The research will help Ford's work with PSA Peugeot Citroen on improved diesel engines.
The cleaner, more efficient engines are behind the dramatic increase in diesel sales - it is estimated that by 2008 half of all new cars sold in Europe will use diesel.
"Diesel used to be thought of as a dirty and messy fuel," said Professor Gary Hawley, who heads the University of Bath's Powertrain and Vehicle Research Unit which is carrying out the research.
"But research over the past decades has reduced the waste emissions in diesel so that they are as low as those of conventional petrol engines, and the fact that diesel vehicles have a lower fuel consumption means they are now as low-polluting as petrol engines. The latest generation of diesel vehicles are ultra low polluting compared to those ten years ago."
"The University of Bath has had a close relationship with the Ford Motor Company for 25 years, and our latest research will make diesel engines more refined and greener."
"This isn't research that sits on a shelf gathering dust - our results will be in the cars people drive, cutting diesel bills and reducing waste products, within five or ten years."
Dr Hawley also said that research at the University of Bath was looking farther ahead. He believed that in the next five years vehicle electrical systems would switch from using a 12-volt system to 36 volts.
This would mean that car engines would have the capability within their starter system to cut out when drivers stopped the car at, say, junctions and traffic lights, and restart automatically when drivers put their foot on the accelerator. This would virtually eliminate pollution from standing traffic, making the air in cities such as Bath and London cleaner.
It would also allow car parts like water pumps and air conditioning to be completely driven by electricity, rather than mechanically, and allow for more elaborate car entertainment and communications systems. Catalyst converters would benefit from electrical heating which would allow them to work efficiently from the moment the engine was turned on and not after a few miles, as at present.
Professor Hawley said that the Powertrain and Vehicle Research Unit had been given grants of £7 million from government and industry over the past eight years to research improvements to vehicle engines.
Its work was praised earlier this month (July) by Dr Horst Schulte, Chief Engineer for Diesel Research and Advanced Engineering at the Ford Motor Company, during his speech accepting an honorary Doctor of Engineering degree from the University.
"Recently you have developed your new automotive research facility, the Powertrain Vehicle Research Unit, and the University of Bath must now rate as one of the leading centers for automotive powertrain research in Europe," said Dr Schulte.
"The challenges to the automotive industry are to provide personal mobility in an affordable and convenient form whilst controlling and reducing the potentially negative effects on the environment.
"I look forward to a continued and deepening relationship with the University of Bath as we address these challenges."
Information courtesy of the University of Bath