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Laser Spark Plugs?

plug_construction

American automobile company Ford and the University of Liverpool are about to breathe some new life into Nikola Tesla’s spark plug, which was invented in 1898.  The plan is to use lasers to replace the spark plug technology, which has been rockin’ like Dokken since way before my parents were born.  The laser mechanism will apparently improve ignition conditions when the vehicle is started in the cold, or in damp conditions.  From the article at the Telegraph:

“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 current engines spark plugs are positioned at the top or bottom of a cylinder and they can often fail to ignite fuel effectively if the petrol is not in the right position in the cylinder.

In the new system the spark plug is replaced by a laser powered by the car battery which is sent along thin optical fibres into the engine’s cylinders where lenses focus the beam into an intense pinprick of light.

When fuel is injected into the engine, the laser is fired, producing enough heat to ignite the fuel and power the engine.

The researchers claim that the laser, which will need to fire more than 50 times per second to produce 3000 RPM, will require less power than traditional spark plugs.

Some of the laser can be reflected back from inside the cylinder to provide information for the car on the type of fuel being used and the level of ignition, allowing the car to adjust the quantities of air and fuel automatically to optimise the performance.

This raises the prospect of mixed fuel cars which can run on a number of different biofuels while ensuring they still run efficiently.

A spokesman for Ford said: “Ford, like all vehicle manufacturers, is obliged by European legislation to reduce emissions and our work in this area is led by Ford’s UK R&D centre in Essex.

I didn’t expect to read that today! That’s a pretty interesting innovation – you have to ask yourself what other ideas like this we’ll find the laser participating in to make better.