Efficiency Boost: Laser Ignition of Combustion Engines

Gray box containing a laser warning symbol on it and optical wires protruding from the end of the device going to each of the cylinders of a combustion engine.

Next Big Future reports onĀ an advancement that could boost vehicle mileage by ~10 mpg (miles per gallon). Cars that previously achieved 40 mpg could achieve 50 mpg with a nearly 30% advancement in efficiency. The advancement comes from using a laser to ignite the fuel within the combustion cylinders instead of spark plugs.

Lasers have been a potential replacement for spark plugs for decades but were too big and power-hungry to use within a car. Since then miniaturization of the technology as well as efficiency gains in laser technology are allowing the technology to be used in smaller vehicles without overloading the capacity of the battery. The system is also being considered for larger vehicles such as shipping vessels to improve fuel usage and reduce emissions.

Princeton Optronics, Inc., a New Jersey based producer of lasers and related optical systems has already demonstrated the use of laser ignition in an engine. Ignition using a laser is more efficient than spark plugs since the ignition point can be designed to happen lower in the cylinder allowing for a more thorough burn of the fuel. Lasers could also fire multiple types during a single cycle allowing burn-off of a greater amount of fuel which can reduce emissions further. Even through oil prices have dropped we still continue to look for ways to make engines more and more efficient while simultaneously seeking alternative fuels. Low oil prices are a relief but will not last forever.