Coming soon to your driveway; Laser Spark Plugs!

For the last 100 years or so, the internal combustion engine has been following a simple design, a spark plug, designed to arc some high electrical current creates a spark, which ignites an air/fuel mixture and propels the piston back down the cylinder, generating the energy required to move the vehicle. Soon though, this will be no more!

At this year’s Conference on Lasers and Electro Optics (CLEO: 2011), to be held in Baltimore May 1 – 6, researchers from Japan will describe the first multi-beam laser system small enough to screw into an engine’s cylinder head.

One of the advantages of using lasers is that they can be focused to ignite the mixture precisely in the right spot, and at the right time. This would yield tremendous increases in fuel economy as well as cleaner emissions. However, the whole ECU system that the engine will use, will have to be remapped for this to work properly. In other words, you will not be able to retrofit laser spark plugs to your yellow ’03 Aztek, regardless of that the eBay seller says. Well OK, you could, but it would not work. At least it would not work properly.

Meanwhile the team is working with DENSO Corporation, a company associated with the Toyota Group. When will this system be available in a commercial vehicle? They don’t know yet, but they are testing and if the results are as positive as they are promising, I’d guess sooner rather than later. Maybe even during our lifetime.

Science and Tech

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