A bright spark

Posted on 13 Jul 2009 by The Manufacturer

Ford engineers have teamed up with scientists from Liverpool University to develop a new engine starting process which uses lasers instead of spark plugs.

The new system, its creators claim, is more efficient, more reliable and better for the environment. And, owing to this final benefit, the project has now been given a cash injection of £200,000 by the Carbon Trust.

The laser works by shining a pinprick of light into a cylinder which is hot enough to ignite petrol and begin the combustion process.

Dr Tom Shenton of Liverpool University explains: “Lasers can be focused and split into multiple beams to give multiple ignition points, which means it can give a far better chance of ignition.

“This can really improve the performance of the engine when it is cold, as this is the time when around 80 per cent of the exhaust emissions are produced and the engine is at is least efficient.

“The laser also produces more stable combustion so you need to put less fuel into the cylinder.”

A spokesperson for the Carbon Trust pointed out that the system is also effective when applied to mixed fuel engines such as biofuels, increasing its scope for widespread adoption in a low carbon economy.

Ford is expected to begin using the new system in its top end models within the next couple of years.