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27.4.11

Spark plugs, which have hardly changed in 150 years since they were invented, as we know them, could be sent for a revolutionary change
Lasers could soon replace spark plugs in cars to make engines greener, according to researchers.
Experts from from Romania and Japan will reveal their findings - that inexpensive lasers could ignite the fuel-air mixture in combustion engines - at the Conference on Lasers and Electro-Optics in Baltimore next month.
The team, who are believed to be in talks with a spark plug manufacturer, will speak about their studies on May 1 and it could revolutionise the efficiency of vehicle engines.
The revolutionary approach would - in theory - reduce their pollution, by igniting more of the mixture.
Spark plugs are used to ignite the fuel mixture near the spark gap, reducing the combustion efficiency.

One of the biggest drawbacks of the spark plug is that and the metal that they are manufactured with slowly erodes as they age.
Many other people have tried to replace the spark plug - an object which has not really changed since it was invented a century and a half ago - with lasers.
Unfortunately inventors found that the lasers needed to do the job of the spark plug would be cumbersome, inefficient and unstable.

However, the team believe that they have now developed a system that can focus two or even three laser beams into an engine's cylinders at variable depths.
This development increases the completeness of combustion while also avoiding the issue of erosion.
On the minus side it does, however, require lasers of high pulse energies - so, as with spark plugs, a considerable amount of energy is needed in order to ignite fuel.

Takunori Taira of the National Institutes of Natural Sciences in Okazaki, Japan, told the BBC: '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.'
In addition the team has been trying to make the lasers out of ceramic powders that are pressed into cylinders which are a similar size to spark plugs.
The ceramic devices are lasers in their own right and gather energy from compact, lower-power lasers.

The scientists have found that unlike the delicate crystals which are usually used in high-power lasers, the ceramics are stronger and can withstand the heat better within combustion engines.
They are currently in talks about commercialising the technology with Denso, a leading automobile component manufacturer.

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