The auto industry is pursuing various ways to implement more effective fuel saving strategies. Some of them are based on the development of new technology, electric motors, batteries, etc and others are just improving classic petrol-fueled engines to run better. Following the second trend, engineers from The University of Liverpool, UK, in collaboration with Ford and UK-based GSI Group developed a prototype engine ignition, based on lasers rather than on spark plugs.
Along with their laser ignition (LI) system, the researchers also study an improved injection technology – GDI (Gasoline Direct Injection). Their work is funded by the Carbon Trust, a UK independent company established by the government to accelerate the move to a low carbon economy.
They used lasers that operate in near-infrared spectrum and tested various methods, among which delivering the beam through free space and channeling it into the combustion chamber through the optical plug achieved the best results–reducing the coefficient of variation and making combustion smoother and more fuel-efficient. The team identified the optimum LI configuration to achieve the best combustion stability and showed that LI enabled a greater operational window of engine parameters to be exploited, leading to reduced exhaust emissions over the full range of engine load conditions.
Also, several issues arose in the quest to finding the perfect formula for LI, while trying to direct the beam through an optical fiber: “The fiber didn’t respond well to engine vibration, which increased the divergence of the output beam and reduced the beam mode quality,” Dearden reports. “Bending the fiber was also problematical: up to 20 per cent of the beam energy was lost with small bend diameters, while tight bends caused the fibre to fail altogether after a period. What’s more, the high density of laser energy can cause short or longer term degradation, causing loss of beam transmission–and therefore ignition. Careful design of laser parameters, fibre coupling and choice of optical media is crucial to avoid this. We’re confident that we can solve these problems with further research.”
Ford has always been an innovator in car industry, and I don’t doubt they’re going to make it this time. Following multiple ideas towards a better car is good, but I guess investing more in electric motors technology right now, rather than patching the old ICE is better for today’s economy, for Ford and for the environment.