The Combustion Chamber Evolves

Scientists are talking about replacing spark plugs with frickin’ “lasers”:

Engines make NOx as a byproduct of combustion. If engines ran leaner — burnt more air and less fuel — they would produce significantly smaller NOx emissions.

Spark plugs can ignite leaner fuel mixtures, but only by increasing spark energy. Unfortunately, these high voltages erode spark plug electrodes so fast, the solution is not economical. By contrast, lasers, which ignite the air-fuel mixture with concentrated optical energy, have no electrodes and are not affected.

Lasers also improve efficiency. Conventional spark plugs sit on top of the cylinder and only ignite the air-fuel mixture close to them. The relatively cold metal of nearby electrodes and cylinder walls absorbs heat from the explosion, quenching the flame front just as it starts to expand.

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