The research will focus on the microscopic fuel droplets as they reach combustion chambers. Current thinking is based on the premise that droplets are spherical but the new research shows there are different shapes.
Scientists believe that understanding the processes involved will lead towards cleaner and more efficient fuels.
The research 'Investigation of Non-Spherical Droplets in High-Pressure Fuel Sprays' is due to begin this October and funding has come mainly from the government's Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, with a financial and technical contribution from BP.
Dr Cyril Crua, principal research fellow in the university's Centre for Automotive Engineering, and the School of Computing, Engineering and Mathematics, said: "This is an exciting project which has the potential of reaping great benefits in reducing fuel consumption and improving the efficiency of engines."
"The project will underpin research in many other areas that rely upon the efficient delivery of liquid fuel, pharmaceutical drugs, cryogens, lubricants and selective catalytic reducing agents."
Dr Cyril Crua in the Sir Harry Ricardo laboratories
A spokesman for BP said: "We are delighted to be working on this research project. We look forward to seeing the results which will help us to develop fuels for our customers in the future."
The university will be collaborating with City University London, as well as Italy's University of Bergamo, Moscow State University, and CNRS, France's National Centre for Scientific Research.
Professor Andrew Lloyd, Dean of the University of Brighton's Faculty of Science and Engineering, said: "This research is a great example of how the university is working in partnership with industry and academic institutions to secure funding for fundamental research which is likely to have a significant industrial impact.
"We are hopeful this project will produce important benefits in the drive towards building ever-more efficient engines."