In a move that is sure to be a stepping stone to the flying car, Ford is currently testing a new type of laser ignition system to replace the conventional spark plug (invented way back in the 19th century).
The new laser ignition system is reportedly more reliable – especially in cold weather – and aims to reduce fuel consumption and tailpipe exhaust emissions, particularly CO2.
This is something we really care about in the Middle East.
Most modern engines, use multiple spark plugs positioned at the top or bottom of the cylinder in order to ignite as much of the fuel as possible.
Laser beams however, can be focused and split into multiple beams to give multiple ignition points, which means it can give a far better chance of ignition, and far better fuel efficiency.
To produce 3000 RPM, the laser will need to fire more than 50 times per seconds, but should still require less power than a conventional spark plug.
Dr. Tom Shenton, the project lead in Liverpool University mentions a few other advantages:
“[Multiple ignition points] 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 its least efficient.
“The laser also produces more stable combustion so you need to put less fuel into the cylinder.”
Some of the laser beams can even be reflected back from inside the cylinder to provide real time feedback to the car about the level of ignition, and even the type of fuel being used, allowing the car’s computer to adjust the mixture of air and fuel being used, in order to optimize performance.
This optimization of the fuel mixture in real time opens new possibilities for cars which run on mixed fuels, including biofuels.
The project is backed by a £200,000 grant by the Carbon Trust and is already being used in engines in the lab by the scientists at Liverpool University, and the engineers at Ford.
Ford is hoping to offer this technology in their higher end cars by 2011.
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