Since its humble beginnings in the 19th century, the sparkplug has been a mainstay of the combustion engine.
Some engineers at Ford, in collaboration with Liverpool University researchers have decided to modernize spark plug technology. Since we’re in the 21st century, that replacement is going to be lasers.
Yes, I said lasers.
Ford is currently testing a new laser ignition system for implementation on their high end cars in a few model years. This system is designed to increase the efficiency of the automotive ignition system. Since laser beams can be split into multiple beams, it would be possible for the laser ignition system to create multiple points of ignition.
Increasing the number of ignition points also enable the engine to start in cold and damp conditions, as well as providing for a more complete combustion of the fuel mixture, increasing fuel efficiencies.
Dr Tom Shenton, a researcher at Liverpool University leading the project, said:
“Lasers can be focused and split into multiple beams to give multiple ignition points, which means it can give a far better chance of ignition. This can really improve the performance of the engine when it is cold, as this is the time when around 80 per cent of the exhaust emissions are produced and the engine is at is least efficient.
“The laser also produces more stable combustion so you need to put less fuel into the cylinder.”
In the new laser ignition system, the car battery powers a laser which is directed into the engine cylinders by optical fibers and special lenses. Liverpool researchers claim that the laser will also require less power than traditional spark plugs, even though the laser system will need to fire more than 50 times per second to produce 3000 RPM.
The promise of significant fuel savings, as well as potentially developing alternative fuel mixes that would be ignitable thanks to this technology have sufficiently piqued the interest of the UK’s Carbon Trust for them to award this project a £200,000 grant.
Image Credit – AndrewEick via flickr.com on a Creative Commons license