Research & Innovation Services

High precision evaluation of vehicle fuel consumption for reduced carbon dioxide emissions

KTA Partnership Development Award

Department of Mechanical Engineering and Ford Motor Company Ltd.
Dr Chris Brace and Dr Sam Akehurst  

“In the last 12 months Ford has sold more than 1.5 million new vehicles in Europe. If the fuel consumption of these were improved by just 3%, this would reduce carbon dioxide emissions by at least 138,000 tonnes a year.”
Dr Chris Brace, KTA Project Lead, Department of Mechanical Engineering

“The project has accelerated the improvements we were already making to reduce variability in test measurements of fuel consumption and emissions. As consumption and emissions fall, any benefits become increasingly difficult to measure, which is why this project has been so useful. By making our test procedures more discriminating, it allows our development engineers to make best use of our facilities. Some of these improvements have been carried over to other labs, particularly in Germany and the United States.”
Dr Phil Price, Technical Specialist/Supervisor, Vehicle Evaluation & Verification Europe, Ford Motor Company Ltd

The challenge

Ford Motor Company, a world-leading motor vehicle manufacturer, makes several million vehicles each year. Small improvements in engine fuel consumption – of the order of 1-3% – can have a significant impact on global carbon emissions while benefiting millions of consumers economically.  However, achieving such reductions requires great precision and reliability in measuring fuel consumption and exhaust emissions when new models of motor vehicle are tested to meet emissions legislation.

The response

An 18-month collaboration between Bath’s Powertrain and Vehicle Research Centre (PVRC) and Ford’s Dunton Technical Centre focused on improving the repeatability of Ford’s vehicle testing. By doing so, minor improvements that lower fuel consumption and reduce vehicle emissions – hitherto undetected – could be accurately and reliably distinguished against the background ‘noise’ of variation from test-to-test.  Bath’s project team, led by Dr Chris Brace with co-investigators Professor Gary Hawley and Dr Sam Akehurst, worked with Dunton staff seeking to achieve this improvement in various ways. Methods ranged from greater precision in measuring exhaust gas emissions and fuel consumption, to rigorous and repeatable drive cycle procedures. Doing so involved transferring some of Bath’s practical and scientific expertise to Dunton’s test operations by having a Knowledge Transfer Fellow, Ed Chappell, working closely with Dunton’s staff.

Benefits and outcomes

Developments to reduce test-to-test variability included:

  • Data-logging devices recording critical variables from driver input, such as the position and movement of the accelerator pedal, and the vehicle’s operating parameters, such as engine temperature, in order to better standardise procedures.
  • Drive variability standards being reviewed and a modified SAE drive energy procedure being developed and implemented by the KT Fellow.
  • The KTA Fellow carrying out regular briefings with test drivers to convey the benefits behind improvements in test procedures and monitoring of critical variables, and to gain valuable feedback about problems and opportunities.
  • A repeatable state of battery charge is crucial in comparing driving test cycles. Procedures and instrumentation to facilitate this were trialled successfully at Dunton, and revised practices are to be rolled out more widely within Ford.
  • An automated procedure has been introduced in setting the vehicle’s loading characteristics, which reduces variability in the road load applied during testing.
  • The project achieved its main aim of reducing variability in carbon dioxide measurement by half.

Project team

Dr Chris Brace, KTA Project Leader, Deputy Director of the Powertrain and Vehicle Research Centre (PVRC), Department of Mechanical Engineering
Professor Gary Hawley, Director of the PVRC, Department of Mechanical Engineering
Dr Sam Akehurst, EPSRC Advanced Research Fellow, PVRC, Department of Mechanical Engineering
Ed Chappell, KTA Fellow, PVRC, Department of Mechanical Engineering
Dr Phil Price, Technical Specialist/Supervisor, Vehicle Evaluation & Verification Europe, Ford Motor Company Ltd.

Funded by Ford Motor Company Ltd. and the University of Bath’s EPSRC Knowledge Transfer Account.