Laser Spark Plugs Could Reduce Emissions


James Bond would probably prefer that they were mounted in the grill but how about laser spark plugs under the hood?  The Optical Society (OSA) has announced that researchers from Japan’s National Institutes of Natural Sciences (NINS) will present their research on the development of laser spark plugs for internal combustion engines at the 2011 Conference on Lasers and Electro Optics (CLEO) May 1 - 6 in Baltimore, Maryland.  By igniting the fuel-air mixture of internal combustion engines more efficiently, laser spark plugs will reduce the emission of nitrogen oxides (NOx).

The United Kingdom’s Environment Agency explains: “Nitrogen oxides contribute to acid rain, depletion of the ozone layer and have detrimental effects on health. They are also greenhouse gases. Nitrogen dioxide is one of the eight substances for which the government has established an air quality standard as part of its national Air Quality Strategy.”

Nitrogen oxides are formed from the combustion of carbon fuels, primarily from the creation of energy at electric plants and in transportation.  Nitrogen oxides contribute to a bevy of problems including acid rain, smog, climate change, global warming, and health concerns.  Increasing the level of fine particulate matter in the atmosphere, nitrogen oxides add to the level of respiratory disease in all ages but particularly impact children and the elderly.  Additionally, nitrogen oxides are cited as a cause of the deterioration of the quality of scenic vistas at National Parks in the United States and other views around the world.

Not only do nitrogen oxides impact human and animal health but also plant life.  Numerous species including quaking aspen, eastern white pine, and flowering dogwood are sensitive to the pollution.  By changing water and soil chemistry, nitrogen oxide emissions lead to fish kills and reduce tree growth. (EDF)

The invention of the spark plug dates back over 150 years.  Names on early patents include Nikola Tesla and Robert Bosch.  The essential design ignites the fuel mixture at one end of an engine cylinder and the efficiency of the reaction reduces as it travels the length of the cylinder.  Traditional spark plugs become less efficient over time.  Laser spark plugs should be able to spark more rapidly, thereby increasing fuel efficiency.

The NINS researchers consider their laser technology to be highly promising.  Thus far no production vehicles are being equipped with laser spark plugs.  The NINS researchers are said to be “working with a large spark-plug company and with DENSO Corporation, a member of the Toyota Group.”  (OSA)

Photo Credit: Public Domain - Thanks to Torsten Henning