Fuel injection Introduction
Fuel injection is a system for mixing fuel with air in an internal combustion engine. It has become the primary system used in automotive engines, having almost completely replaced carburetors in the late 1980s.
A fuel injection system is designed and calibrated specifically for the type(s) of fuel it will handle: gasoline (petrol), Autogas (LPG, also known as propane), ethanol, methanol, methane (natural gas), hydrogen or diesel. The majority of fuel injection systems are for gasoline or diesel applications. With the advent of electronic fuel injection (EFI), the diesel and gasoline hardware has become similar. EFI's programmable firmware has permitted common hardware to be used with multiple different fuels. For gasoline engines, carburetors were the predominant method to meter fuel before the widespread use of fuel injection. However, a wide variety of injection systems have existed since the earliest usage of the internal combustion engine.
The primary functional difference between carburetors and fuel injection is that fuel injection atomizes the fuel by forcibly pumping it through a small nozzle under high pressure, while a carburetor relies on low pressure created by intake air rushing through it to add the fuel to the airstream.
The fuel injector is only a nozzle and a valve: the power to inject the fuel comes from farther back in the fuel supply, from a pump or a pressure container.
The functional objectives for fuel injection systems can vary. All share the central task of supplying fuel to the combustion process, but it is a design decision how a particular system will be optimized. There are several competing objectives such as:
ability to accommodate alternative fuels
driveability and smooth operation
range of environmental operation
Certain combinations of these goals are conflicting, and it is impractical for a single engine control system to fully optimize all criteria simultaneously. In practice, automotive engineers strive to best satisfy a customer's needs competitively. The modern digital electronic fuel injection system is far more capable at optimizing these competing objectives than a carburetor.
Operational benefits to the driver of a fuel-injected car include smoother and more dependable engine response during quick throttle transitions, easier and more dependable engine starting, better operation at extremely high or low ambient temperatures, increased maintenance intervals, and increased fuel efficiency. On a more basic level, fuel injection does away with the choke which on carburetor-equipped vehicles must be operated when starting the engine from cold and then adjusted as the engine warms up.
An engine's air/fuel ratio must be accurately controlled under all operating conditions to achieve the desired engine performance, emissions, driveability, and fuel economy. Modern electronic fuel-injection systems meter fuel very accurately and precisely, and use closed loop fuel-injection quantity-control based on feedback from an oxygen sensor (or "O2 sensor"). This enables fuel-injected engines to produce less air pollution than comparable carbureted engines. Properly-designed fuel injection systems can react rapidly to changing inputs such as sudden throttle movements, and will control the amount of fuel injected to match the engine's needs across a wide range of operating conditions such as engine load, ambient air temperature, engine temperature, fuel octane level, and prevailing barometric pressure.
A multipoint fuel injection system generally delivers a more accurate and equal mass of fuel to each cylinder than can a carburetor, thus improving the cylinder-to-cylinder distribution. Exhaust emissions are cleaner because the more precise and accurate fuel metering reduces the concentration of toxic combustion byproducts leaving the engine, and because exhaust cleanup devices such as the catalytic converter can be optimized to operate more efficiently since the exhaust is of consistent and predictable composition.
Fuel injection generally increases engine fuel efficiency. With the improved cylinder-to-cylinder fuel distribution, less fuel is needed for the same power output. When cylinder-to-cylinder distribution is less than ideal, as is always the case to some degree with a carburetor or throttle body fuel injection, some cylinders receive excess fuel as a side effect of ensuring that all cylinders receive sufficient fuel. Power output is asymmetrical with respect to air/fuel ratio; burning extra fuel in the rich cylinders does not reduce power nearly as quickly as burning too little fuel in the lean cylinders. However, rich-running cylinders are undesirable from the standpoint of exhaust emissions, fuel efficiency, engine wear, and engine oil contamination. Deviations from perfect air/fuel distribution, however subtle, affect the emissions, by not letting the combustion events be at the chemically ideal (stoichiometric) air/fuel ratio. Grosser distribution problems eventually begin to reduce efficiency, and the grossest distribution issues finally affect power. Increasingly poorer air/fuel distribution affects emissions, efficiency, and power, in that order. By optimizing the homogeneity of cylinder-to-cylinder mixture distribution, all the cylinders approach their maximum power potential and the engine's overall power output improves.
A fuel-injected engine often produces more power than an equivalent carbureted engine. Fuel injection alone does not necessarily increase an engine's maximum potential output, for increased airflow is needed to burn more fuel to generate more gas molecules to generate more mechanical power. The combustion process converts the fuel's chemical energy into heat energy, whether the fuel is supplied by fuel injectors or a carburetor. However, airflow is often improved with fuel injection, the components of which allow more design freedom to improve the air's path into the engine. In contrast, a carburetor's mounting options are limited because it is larger, it must be carefully oriented with respect to gravity, and it must be equidistant from each of the engine's cylinders to the maximum practicable degree. These design constraints generally compromise airflow into the engine. Furthermore, a carburetor relies on a restrictive venturi to create a local air pressure difference, which forces the fuel into the air stream. The flow loss caused by the venturi, however, is small compared to other flow losses in the induction system. In a well-designed carburetor induction system, the venturi is not a significant airflow restriction. Aside from airflow considerations, fuel injection offers a more homogeneous air/fuel mixture due to better atomization of the fuel entering the cylinders.
In cars with a manual transmission, fuel can be saved while the car is coasting in gear. This is because the car's movement is keeping the engine rotating, so there is no need to use fuel for this purpose. Control units on modern transmissions recognize this and stop all fuel flow to the engine when possible. (Automatic transmission cars rely on torque converters, not clutches, to transmit power from the engine to the gearbox, and whereas clutches can transmit power in both directions, torque converters, especially when tuned as they are in cars, are not good at transmitting power in the opposite direction.)
The process of determining the amount of fuel, and its delivery into the engine, are known as fuel metering. Early injection systems used mechanical methods to meter fuel (non electronic, or mechanical fuel injection). Modern systems are nearly all electronic, and use an electronic solenoid (the injector) to inject the fuel. An electronic engine control unit calculates the mass of fuel to inject.
Modern fuel injection schemes follow much the same setup. There is a mass airflow sensor or manifold absolute pressure sensor at the intake, typically mounted either in the air tube feeding from the air filter box to the throttle body, or mounted directly to the throttle body itself. The mass airflow sensor does exactly what its name implies; it senses the mass of the air that flows past it, giving the computer an accurate idea of how much air is entering the engine. The next component in line is the Throttle Body. The throttle body has a throttle position sensor mounted onto it, typically on the butterfly valve of the throttle body. The throttle position sensor (TPS) reports to the computer the position of the throttle butterfly valve, which the ECM uses to calculate the load upon the engine. The fuel system consists of a fuel pump (typically mounted in-tank), a fuel pressure regulator, fuel lines (composed of either high strength plastic, metal, or reinforced rubber), a fuel rail that the injectors connect to, and the fuel injector(s). There is a coolant temperature sensor that reports the engine temperature to the ECM, which the engine uses to calculate the proper fuel ratio required. In sequential fuel injection systems there is a camshaft position sensor, which the ECM uses to determine which fuel injector to fire. The last component is the oxygen sensor. After the vehicle has warmed up, it uses the signal from the oxygen sensor to perform fine tuning of the fuel trim.
The fuel injector acts as the fuel-dispensing nozzle. It injects liquid fuel directly into the engine's air stream. In almost all cases this requires an external pump. The pump and injector are only two of several components in a complete fuel injection system.
In contrast to an EFI system, a carburetor directs the induction air through a venturi, which generates a minute difference in air pressure. The minute air pressure differences both emulsify (premix fuel with air) the fuel, and then acts as the force to push the mixture from the carburetor nozzle into the induction air stream. As more air enters the engine, a greater pressure difference is generated, and more fuel is metered into the engine. A carburetor is a self-contained fuel metering system, and is cost competitive when compared to a complete EFI system.
An EFI system requires several peripheral components in addition to the injector(s), in order to duplicate all the functions of a carburetor. A point worth noting during times of fuel metering repair is that early EFI systems are prone to diagnostic ambiguity. A single carburetor replacement can accomplish what might require numerous repair attempts to identify which one of the several EFI system components is malfunctioning. Newer EFI systems since the advent of OBD II diagnostic systems, can be very easy to diagnose due to the increased ability to monitor the realtime data streams from the individual sensors. This gives the diagnosing technician realtime feedback as to the cause of the drivability concern, and can dramatically shorten the number of diagnostic steps required to ascertain the cause of failure, something which isn't as simple to do with a carburetor. On the other hand, EFI systems require little regular maintenance; a carburetor typically requires seasonal and/or altitude adjustments.