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There are no quick fixes to long-term energy challenges. To find solutions, governments and industry benefit from sharing resources and accelerating results. For this reason the IEA enables independent groups of experts - the Energy Technology Initiatives, or ETIs1.

Emissions Reduction in Combustion

This innovative optical instrument measures concentrations of black carbon in diesel engines.*

Shedding light on emissions

Policy context
Nearly three-quarters of atmospheric CO2 emissions in the transport sector result from fuels used for transport, accounting for one-fourth of carbon emissions worldwide. Given the worldwide projected demand, combustion engines will continue to play an important role for years to come. Therefore it is imperative that governments continue to support R&D to improve engine efficiencies. Accelerated, concerted efforts between the public and private sectors will also be needed.

The aims of the ETI focusing on efficiency of combustion engines (ERC) are to carry out research projects related to advanced piston technology; furnaces and combustors; and fundamental research. Each project is carried out in parallel by the members in their national research laboratories or university science or engineering departments. In addition, each project benefits from close collaboration with industry to ensure market relevance. There are 12 Contracting Parties. 

Despite diesel particulate filters (DPF), vehicles burning diesel create particulate emissions such as airborne black carbon.  Black carbon can affect air quality and open-air water sources, resulting in health issues.  Measuring these low levels of black carbon on the road and in real time requires sensitive new diagnostic tools.  

Until now, most tests of these particulate emissions were carried out in laboratories but not in on-road conditions.  The ERC member from Canada, in consultation with the ERC ExCo and with two industries1, has developed and commercialised an instrument that enables extremely precise measurements in on-road, real-time conditions.  

The laser-induced incandescence instrument (LII) is an optical technique that measures the system efficiency of emissions control by sampling and reporting levels of black carbon concentration (parts per billion and milligrams per cubic metre), surface area, and particulate diameter from either the direct exhaust or from a dilution tunnel facility.  It can be applied to evaluate the system efficiency of emissions control of solid particulate matter.  As a result, the LII enables the further development of diesel engines that are emissions compliant, with efficient and effective black-carbon management and strategies for diesel particulate filters, effective engine calibrations for reducing levels of particulate matter at different engine conditions and emissions compliant engine products.  

The optical system includes a computer-controlled automated laser beam, energy detection and adjustment system that maintains constant laser fluence2 in a wide range of environmental conditions.  Other applications include emissions from petrol/gasoline, aircraft engines, gas turbines, and urban air quality atmospheric measurements of black carbon.  

1. A consortium between Natural Research Council (NRC) of Canada, Artium Technologies and Cummins. NRC holds the patent for the device.

2. The amount of laser energy delivered with each pulse. 

* Photo coutesy of Artium Technologies, Inc. 


Current projects

  • Advanced hydrogen-fuelled internal combustion engines
  • Alternative fuels
  • Hydrogen-enriched lean premixed combustion for ultra low emission gas turbine combustors
  • Individual contributor tasks
  • Internal combustion engine sprays 
  • Homogeneous charge compression ignition 
  • Nano-particle diagnostics

For more information:



1.Information or material of the IEA Energy Technology Initiatives, or ETIs (formally organised under the auspices of an Implementing Agreement), including information or material published on this website, does not necessarily represent the views or policies of the IEA Secretariat or of the IEA’s individual Member countries. The IEA does not make any representation or warranty (express or implied) in respect of such information (including as to its completeness, accuracy or non-infringement) and shall not be held liable for any use of, or reliance on, such information.