Ford Developing Laser Ignition to Cut Exhaust Emissions

Ford Developing Laser Ignition to Cut Exhaust Emissions

Ford Motor Co. and researchers at the University of Liverpool are developing a car ignition system that swaps spark plugs for a laser beam to start vehicles while generating fewer greenhouse gas emissions.

The team has just received nearly £200,000 (US$320,000) in grants to test the technology from the Carbon Trust, a government funded entity charged with helping businesses in the transition to a low carbon economy. The award is part of the Carbon Trust’s Applied Research grant that supports the development of low carbon technologies.

Ford reportedly plans to install the laser ignitions in a select range of vehicles in the next few years before expanding the laser ignitions on a larger scale.  The technology works like this: The laser is quickly directed toward the combustion chamber where the fuel is most concentrated, allowing the engine to run on a more efficient mix of fuel and air. Bigger diameter valves that improve engine gas flow could be used in such a system because the thin fiber optic cable delivering the laser beam is smaller than a spark plug. The laser is also more reliable than a traditional spark plug.

The laser ignition may also overcome a significant barrier to widespread adoption of biofuels -- starting the vehicle when the engine is cold. According to the Telegraph, reflecting part of the laser back from inside the cylinder can deliver information on fuel type and ignition level to allow vehicles to optimally adjust the air/fuel mix.

“Laser ignition is a really exciting technology because it improves the efficiency of petrol cars and could, in the future, speed the uptake of cars run on biofuels derived from sustainable organic materials such as algae,” Mark Williamson, the Carbon Trust’s director of innovations, said in a statement.

Fleet image licensed by stock.xchng user dailyinvention; Spark plug CC licensed by Flickr user The Wong Family Pictures.