Thursday, July 21, 2011

Lasers for Spark Plugs?

Cool! Replace the Aging Spark Plug with Lasers
Lasers make everything better, and internal combustion engines are no exception. The spark plugs driving combustion in conventional gasoline motors do their jobs effectively enough, but not as efficiently as they could. In order to achieve ignition the fuel-air mix has to contain a certain minimum amount of gasoline. A hotter spark would ignite a mix with more air and less fuel, but hotter sparks also degrade the electrodes more quickly. Once again, a design compromise is struck here.

Ideally an engine would run on a hotter spark and a leaner fuel-air mixture, and laser ignition can deliver exactly that. Unlike spark plugs, lasers are highly tunable. That means they can deliver a hotter spark and better ignition timing (spark plugs are actually pretty erratic), reducing fuel consumption and increasing the overall efficiency of the combustion process.

Researchers at Japan's National Institutes of Natural Sciences have developed tiny, 9-millimeter diameter ceramic lasers designed just for this purpose. Such ignition hardware could quickly lead to serious boosts in efficiency without huge tweaks in engine design.
Several neat up and coming ideas for improvements for the venerable (and yet still irreplaceable) internal combustion engine.  At least one of these ought to come to fruition.

Hey, I've been waiting for fusion reactors for 50 years. I'll wait a few more for these.

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