Spark plugs have been around for 150 years in automobiles to power the internal combustion of engines. But, this all set to change with lasers igniters stepping up to replace the conventional spark plug.

Laser small enough to be fitted on an engine cylinder head

Laser on an engine cylinder head (Image courtesy: Geeky Gadgets)

Spark plugs function by emitting small, high-voltage electrical sparks across a gap between two metal electrodes. A controlled explosion forces the piston down to the bottom of the engine cylinder thus generating the horsepower required to move the vehicle. It is produced by the spark that ignites the air fuel mixture in the cylinder.

Researchers from Japan will describe the first small enough multibeam laser system at this years Conference on Lasers and Electro Optics (CLEO: 2011) which will be held in Baltimore from May 1st – 6th,2011. Before this, laser systems were too large to be fitted into an engine’s cylinder head.

Yet another interesting aspect is that the new laser system is made from ceramics, stated Takunori Taira, Japan's National Institutes of Natural Sciences. This enables it to be produced at low costs and at a larger production volume. Taira also claims that the lasers can focus their beams directly into the air-fuel mixture and the flame front will expand more symmetrically which is up to three times faster than spark plugs.

Also according to Taira, conventional spark plugs pose a barrier to improving fuel economy and reducing emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx), a key component of smog. If engines ran leaner,  burnt more air and less fuel, they would produce significantly smaller NOx emissions.

Taira’s team is working with a spark plug manufacturing company called DENSO Corporation which is a part of the Toyota Group and although highly promising, these laser systems have not yet been installed in automobiles.

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