Sparkplug (bottom) versus optical laser plug (top)
A Ford that shoots laser beams? No, we’re not talking about James Bond’s next Ford Fusion. Nor are we talking about Ford bringing back the Laser nameplate. Ford and the University of Liverpool have just received a £200,000 grant from UK government-funded Carbon Trust to develop a car ignition system that uses laser beams instead of spark plugs to ignite combustion.
A laser (that can be fired over 50 times per second) is directed through a lense towards a point in the combustion chamber where the fuel is most concentrated. It could also be split into multiple beams to give multiple ignition points.
Using a laser could result in better use of cylinder head space as the fiber optic cable that can be used to deliver this laser beam is much thinner than a relatively big spark plug. This will allow more space in the head to be used for other things such as larger valves. However, apparently tests showed that fiber optic cables were too affected by vibration in the engine bay, so the best would be via an “optical plug”.
If you want to read more about laser ignition, it’s best to hear it from the horse’s mouth themselves. Read the report by the University of Liverpool. Watch a video after the jump comparing a conventional spark with laser ignition.