Feeds

Lasers set to replace spark plugs in car engines

Squeeze, bang pew pew, blow, suck

SANS - Survey on application security programs

Spark plugs in petrol engines are set to be replaced by laser ignition systems, following development of new manufacturing techniques by Japanese boffins.

The new research is to be presented to the world at an optics conference in Baltimore next month by Takunori Taira of Japan's National Institutes of Natural Sciences and his colleagues. Taira and his team have been working with spark-plug firms and Toyota subsidiaries to address the problems facing ordinary petrol-engine ignition.

At the moment, as any automotive fule kno, the fuel-air mixture in a petrol engine's cylinder is ignited by a plug which generates a spark between its electrodes using high-voltage electricity. The spark plug is the limiting factor on how "lean" - how low in fuel - the mixture can be: in order to ignite a leaner mixture the spark must be hotter, and past a certain point this destroys the electrodes.

But designers would like to make leaner-running engines as this would improve fuel economy and cut down on emissions.

Lasers would potentially offer hotter ignition, and they have other advantages too. The timing of ignition would be more precise than with sparkplugs - on the very brief timescales over which cylinder mixtures change, the exact point at which a plug will spark is quite unpredictable.

“Timing – quick combustion – is very important," says Taira. "The more precise the timing, the more efficient the combustion and the better the fuel economy.”

Ignition by photon beam would also offer the option of focusing the hot spot in the centre of the cylinder rather than generating it at the top. This would allow the "flame front" of the exploding mixture to spread out in all directions and act more efficiently.

All in all, then, laser-ignition engines would be a boon. But the trouble thus far has been that the necessary laser machinery is large. It can't practically be deployed at the cylinder head, and there's no option to pipe the laser pulses in as they are of such frequency and energy as to destroy optical hardware.

“In the past, lasers that could meet those requirements were limited to basic research because they were big, inefficient, and unstable,” Taira says.

But not any more. The Japanese boffins have come up with a way of making small, high-power lasers out of ceramics. Their protoype unit is made from two yttrium-aluminum-gallium (YAG) segments, one doped with neodymium, the other with chromium. It is just 9mm in diameter and 11mm long, and by using bursts of pulses less than a nanosecond in duration it can ignite a volume of lean fuel-air mix at two points simultaneously - this develops power more quickly and efficiently than lighting at just one point.

The ceramic laser material is thought to be easily tough enough to stand up to conditions in a running car engine. The tech ought to permit much more efficient, lower-emission petrol cars in years to come - perhaps swinging the pendulum back towards petrol and away from diesel engines, which in recent times have become the fuel-sipping low-emissions choice.

As petrol is somewhat cheaper than diesel to buy, and petrol engines are somewhat cheaper to make, this could be very popular.

Taira and his colleagues will present full details of their work at the 2011 Conference on Lasers and Electro-Optics in Baltimore on 2 May. ®

Top three mobile application threats

More from The Register

next story
Red-faced LOHAN team 'fesses up in blown SPEARS fuse fiasco
Standing in the corner, big pointy 'D' hats
KILLER SPONGES menacing California coastline
Surfers are safe, crustaceans less so
LOHAN's Punch and Judy show relaunches Thursday
Weather looking good for second pop at test flights
Discovery time for 200m WONDER MATERIALS shaved from 4 MILLENNIA... to 4 years
Alloy, Alloy: Boffins in speed-classification breakthrough
Curiosity finds not-very-Australian-shaped rock on Mars
File under 'messianic pastries' and move on, people
Elon Musk's LEAKY THRUSTER gas stalls Space Station supply run
Helium seeps from Falcon 9 first stage, delays new legs for NASA robonaut
Top Secret US payload launched into space successfully
Clandestine NRO spacecraft sets off on its unknown mission
New FEMTO-MOON sighted BIRTHING from Saturn's RING
Icy 'Peggy' looks to be leaving the outer rings
Melting permafrost switches to nasty, high-gear methane release
Result? 'Way more carbon being released into the atmosphere as methane'
prev story

Whitepapers

Designing a defence for mobile apps
In this whitepaper learn the various considerations for defending mobile applications; from the mobile application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies needed to properly assess mobile applications risk.
3 Big data security analytics techniques
Applying these Big Data security analytics techniques can help you make your business safer by detecting attacks early, before significant damage is done.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Securing web applications made simple and scalable
In this whitepaper learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.