Saturday, April 30, 2011

Lasers May Replace Spark Plugs

Lasers May Replace Spark Plugs: "

By Mike Spinelli, Jalopnik

Much like Jello molds and AC/DC, spark plugs haven’t changed much since their invention 150 years ago. But researchers say lasers can ignite an internal combustion engine’s fuel-air mixture far more efficiently than spark plugs.

The researchers, based in Romania and Japan, say their system uses small lasers that focus beams into the cylinders at varying depths, allowing for more complete combustion than occurs with conventional spark plugs. That would increase efficiency and cut emissions.

One downside is the high pulse energy required to cause ignition. It takes a lot of energy to ignite the fuel-air mixture.

“In the past, lasers that could meet those requirements were limited to basic research because they were big, inefficient, and unstable,” Takunori Taira of the National Institutes of Natural Sciences in Okazaki, Japan said, according to the BBC. “Nor could they be located away from the engine, because their powerful beams would destroy any optical fibres that delivered light to the cylinders.”

The team’s solution is to use lasers made of ceramic powder pressed into spark-plug sized cylinders. They gather energy from compact, lower-power lasers sent through fiber optic cable in pulses 800 trillionths of a second long.

The researchers, who present its findings next month at the Conference on Lasers and Electro-Optics, is talking to automotive supplier Denso about developing the lasers commercially.


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