Questions and discussions about oxygen (O2) sensors. Oxygen sensors are used to measure the exhaust gas concentration of oxygen for internal combustion engines in automobiles and other vehicles.
According to Wikipedia, automotive oxygen sensors, colloquially known as O2 sensors, make modern electronic fuel injection and emission control possible. They help determine, in real time, if the air–fuel ratio of a combustion engine is rich or lean. Since oxygen sensors are located in the exhaust stream, they do not directly measure the air or the fuel entering the engine but when information from oxygen sensors is coupled with information from other sources, it can be used to indirectly determine the air-fuel ratio. Closed loop feedback-controlled fuel injection varies the fuel injector output according to real-time sensor data rather than operating with a predetermined (open-loop) fuel map. In addition to enabling electronic fuel injection to work efficiently, this emissions control technique can reduce the amounts of both unburnt fuel and oxides of nitrogen entering the atmosphere. Unburnt fuel is pollution in the form of air-borne hydrocarbons, while oxides of nitrogen (NOx gases) are a result of combustion chamber temperatures exceeding 1,300 kelvin due to excess air in the fuel mixture and contribute to smog and acid rain. Volvo was the first automobile manufacturer to employ this technology in the late 1970s, along with the three-way catalyst used in the catalytic converter.
A three-wire oxygen sensor suitable for use in a Volvo 240 or similar vehicle
The sensor does not actually measure oxygen concentration in the exhaust, It produces a voltage when excess fuel in the exhaust stream requires oxygen to complete the combustion process.A rich mixture causes an oxygen demand as the excess fuel burns on the sensor exhaust side electrode. This demand causes a voltage to build up, due to transportation of oxygen ions through the sensor layer. Lean mixture results in a low voltage, since there is an oxygen excess and none is transported across the sensors solid electrolyte.
Modern spark-ignited combustion engines use oxygen sensors and catalytic converters in order to reduce exhaust emissions. Information on oxygen concentration is sent to the engine management computer or engine control unit (ECU), which adjusts the amount of fuel injected into the engine to compensate for excess air or excess fuel. The ECU attempts to maintain, on average, a certain air–fuel ratio by interpreting the information it gains from the oxygen sensor. The primary goal is a compromise between power, fuel economy, and emissions, and in most cases is achieved by an air-fuel ratio close to stoichiometric. For spark-ignition engines (such as those that burn gasoline or LPG, as opposed to diesel), the three types of emissions modern systems are concerned with are: hydrocarbons (which are released when the fuel is not burnt completely, such as when misfiring or running rich), carbon monoxide (which is the result of running slightly rich) and NOx (which dominate when the mixture is lean). Failure of these sensors, either through normal aging, the use of leaded fuels, or fuel contaminated with silicones or silicates, for example, can lead to damage of an automobile's catalytic converter and expensive repairs.
Tampering with or modifying the signal that the oxygen sensor sends to the engine computer can be detrimental to emissions control and can even damage the vehicle. When the engine is under low-load conditions (such as when accelerating very gently, or maintaining a constant speed), it is operating in "closed-loop mode". This refers to a feedback loop between the ECU and the oxygen sensor(s) in which the ECU adjusts the quantity of fuel and expects to see a resulting change in the response of the oxygen sensor. This loop forces the engine to operate both slightly lean and slightly rich on successive loops, as it attempts to maintain a mostly stoichiometric ratio on average. If modifications cause the engine to run moderately lean, there will be a slight increase in fuel economy, sometimes at the expense of increased NOx emissions, much higher exhaust gas temperatures, and sometimes a slight increase in power that can quickly turn into misfires and a drastic loss of power, as well as potential engine damage, at ultra-lean air-fuel ratios. If modifications cause the engine to run rich, then there will be a slight increase in power to a point (after which the engine starts flooding from too much unburned fuel), but at the cost of decreased fuel economy, and an increase in unburned hydrocarbons in the exhaust which causes overheating of the catalytic converter. Prolonged operation at rich mixtures can cause catastrophic failure of the catalytic converter (see backfire). The ECU also controls the spark engine timing along with the fuel injector pulse width, so modifications which alter the engine to operate either too lean or too rich may result in inefficient fuel consumption whenever fuel is ignited too soon or too late in the combustion cycle.
When an internal combustion engine is under high load (e.g. wide open throttle), the output of the oxygen sensor is ignored, and the ECU automatically enriches the mixture to protect the engine, as misfires under load are much more likely to cause damage. This is referred to as an engine running in 'open-loop mode'. Any changes in the sensor output will be ignored in this state. In many cars (with the exception of some turbocharged models), inputs from the air flow meter are also ignored, as they might otherwise lower engine performance due to the mixture being too rich or too lean, and increase the risk of engine damage due to detonation if the mixture is too lean.