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 Spark Plugs Could Be Replaced By Lasers

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PostSubject: Spark Plugs Could Be Replaced By Lasers   Mon Apr 25, 2011 1:35 am

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It is a problem most drivers have encountered on a wet morning, when they turn the ignition key only to be met with the fruitless whine of the starter motor as damp spark plugs fail to ignite the fuel.

But the end of the spark plug could be in sight, after scientists designed a laser which can start combustion engines.

Researchers claim that the approach would increase efficiency of engines, and reduce their pollution.

Spark plugs, which have changed little since their invention 150 years ago, are designed to ignite the fuel-air mixture near the spark gap.

But lasers create a more efficient burn, as the beams can be split to ignite the fuel mixture from multiple points deep in the cylinder.

Spark plugs are also susceptible to wear and tear problems and erode easily as they age, and the point at which a plug will spark is also unpredictable.

The idea has only become practical because of the advent of smaller lasers. A team from Romania and Japan has demonstrated a system that can focus two or three laser beams into an engine’s cylinders at variable depths.

“In the past, lasers that could meet those requirements were limited to basic research because they were big, inefficient, and unstable,” said Takunori Taira of the National Institutes of Natural Sciences in Okazaki, Japan. The new lasers, which are the same shape and size as spark plugs, can also be housed in ceramic casings which survive better in the high temperatures of a combustion engine.

They would offer hotter and more precise ignition than spark plugs, which in turn would improve an engine’s fuel efficiency and lower emissions. “Timing — quick combustion — is very important,” Mr Taira said. “The more precise the timing, the more efficient the combustion and the better the fuel economy.”
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