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Dated: 25 April 2011

Lasers to Replace Spark Plugs?


According to new research carried out by teams in Romania and Japan – an odd combination – lasers could soon replace spark plugs.

Newly designed lasers have been developed which are much better suited to igniting the fuel mixture in a combustion engine and the team who developed these new lasers are expected to report on their work at the upcoming Conference on Lasers and Electro-Optics.

Despite the fact that spark plugs have worked reliably since their invention, they are only able to ignite the fuel near “the spark gap”, causing the engine to not be as efficient as it could be.

The main benefit from laser power, compared to the traditional spark plug – which has barely changed since being invented over 150 years ago – is that the lasers are able to greatly improve engine efficiency. This in turn will help to reduce pollution as more of the mixture is ignited.

Takunori Taira, a member of the National Institutes of Natural Sciences in Okazaki, Japan, was recently quoted on the BBC website as saying, "in the past, lasers that could meet those requirements were limited to basic research because they were big, inefficient, and unstable."

"Nor could they be located away from the engine, because their powerful beams would destroy any optical fibres that delivered light to the cylinders."

To get around these problems, the newly designed lasers are made from ceramic powders; these are then placed into cylinders similar in size to a spark plug.

This new design and construction means that these type of lasers are far more robust than their delicate crystal cousins.

At present the teams are in talks with Denso, a major automobile component manufacturer, as they try to commercialise the new product.

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