Beta
×

Welcome to the Slashdot Beta site -- learn more here. Use the link in the footer or click here to return to the Classic version of Slashdot.

Thank you!

Before you choose to head back to the Classic look of the site, we'd appreciate it if you share your thoughts on the Beta; your feedback is what drives our ongoing development.

Beta is different and we value you taking the time to try it out. Please take a look at the changes we've made in Beta and  learn more about it. Thanks for reading, and for making the site better!

Lasers To Replace Sparkplugs In Engines?

samzenpus posted more than 3 years ago | from the lift-the-hood-and-avert-your-eyes dept.

Transportation 351

An anonymous reader writes "For more than 150 years, spark plugs have powered internal combustion engines. Automakers are now getting close to being able to replace this long-standing technology with laser igniters, which should enable cleaner, more efficient, and more economical vehicles. Price and size have been issues holding up such an advance, but a Japanese team is set to announce they've overcome those hurdles."

Sorry! There are no comments related to the filter you selected.

I can't wait for the hacks (4, Insightful)

plover (150551) | more than 3 years ago | (#35886218)

Seriously, just think of the potential hacking uses of a pencil sized high powered laser! Cutting and drilling through hardened steel. Remote ignition of fires or detonation of explosives. Actual blinding weapons in a flashlight case.

I'm afraid they'll be too cool to be let out in public.

Re:I can't wait for the hacks (4, Funny)

dlingman (1757250) | more than 3 years ago | (#35886266)

I just realized that we're planning on arming our self parking, navigation aware vehicles with burning lasers. I thought Skynet day was yesterday...

Re:I can't wait for the hacks (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35886672)

Even more absurd: Niggers To Replace Farm Equipment In Agriculture?

Now THAT would be a fucking slashdot story. Just once I wanna see that on the front page. Get all the little bleedin' heart pansy types to wet their pants while they cry a river of offended tears. Beautiful. No breakfast would be complete without a few drops of liberal bed-wetter tears. It's just a word and they can't get over it and I love it. Niggers!

Re:I can't wait for the hacks (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35886404)

Remote ignition of fires or detonation of explosives.

Your comment was duly noted and a shiny black DHS van was dispatched to your location.

Re:I can't wait for the hacks (4, Informative)

causality (777677) | more than 3 years ago | (#35886802)

Seriously, just think of the potential hacking uses of a pencil sized high powered laser! Cutting and drilling through hardened steel. Remote ignition of fires or detonation of explosives. Actual blinding weapons in a flashlight case.

I'm afraid they'll be too cool to be let out in public.

All you'd have to do is find a way to carry around an engine, a gas tank, an alternator, and any needed transformer/induction coils and you'll be all set. Maybe you can start doing some push-ups or something.

Relatively small yet powerful (enough to do serious damage) lasers have been around for a while now. It's the power supply that tends to be big and bulky. That's the main reason that laser pistols have not replaced traditional firearms. If you want to quickly dump 800-2000+ joules into a distant target, gunpowder and lead remain the easiest way to do it.

Re:I can't wait for the hacks (3, Insightful)

Vectronic (1221470) | more than 3 years ago | (#35886952)

...carry around an engine, a gas tank, an alternator...

You know, I could be wrong of course... but I'm pretty sure it doesn't take the entire engine to power the lasers that run the engine.

Pretty sure your average household outlet could power all the lasers at once, or even just the car battery, if only for a second or two.

Re:I can't wait for the hacks (1)

causality (777677) | more than 3 years ago | (#35886984)

...carry around an engine, a gas tank, an alternator...

You know, I could be wrong of course... but I'm pretty sure it doesn't take the entire engine to power the lasers that run the engine.

Pretty sure your average household outlet could power all the lasers at once, or even just the car battery, if only for a second or two.

Portability seemed like a big concern to GP, considering the uses he was talking about.

The point was that the possibilities you mention predate the invention of this sparkplug replacement system.

Re:I can't wait for the hacks (2)

Jeremi (14640) | more than 3 years ago | (#35887054)

All you'd have to do is find a way to carry around an engine, a gas tank, an alternator, and any needed transformer/induction coils and you'll be all set.

Sounds to me like they will be sold with such a system already included. All you need to do is add an aimable mirror under the hood... :)

Re:I can't wait for the hacks (1)

Timmmm (636430) | more than 3 years ago | (#35886934)

None of your applications will be remotely possible with these lasers. This laser only fires an 800 picosecond pulse. It's also going to be impossible to focus at a distance as well as this laser is.

Besides you can already do all the things you said with existing lasers.

Re:I can't wait for the hacks (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35887028)

You can do all the things he said with a drill. I'll never cease to be amazed by the amount of enthusiasm geeks have for completely impractical and absurd ideas. They seem to have no sense of the order of magnitudes involved with energy. I guess as software geeks, they think they can type "import HUGE LASER" and it's the same thing as "import os".

A laser designed for use *inside* an engine ... (3, Insightful)

perpenso (1613749) | more than 3 years ago | (#35887012)

Cutting and drilling through hardened steel.

Doubtful for a laser designed for use *inside* an engine. :-)

No thanks (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35886232)

do we really want to trust the zippers with detonating fuel? they've done such a bang-up job with nuclear

Re:No thanks (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35886400)

A better job than the US, outside of the military.

Keeping the emitter clean... (3, Interesting)

dlingman (1757250) | more than 3 years ago | (#35886234)

Um - I've looked at spark plugs. They start out nice and shiny, but get gummed up rather quickly. Are the lasers going to need to be strong enough to burn through the carbon buildup as well as igniting diesel/gasoline?

Re:Keeping the emitter clean... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35886262)

Simple, just rig up some kind of high-voltage system to send sparks at the laser to clean its face. I will call this invention "the spark plug".

Re:Keeping the emitter clean... (1)

Sycraft-fu (314770) | more than 3 years ago | (#35886276)

Not likely because they'll burn thorough it each time. The beam will always pass out a given point and of course the stuff on it will get all its energy. So it will remain at a steady state.

Re:Keeping the emitter clean... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35886312)

So it will grow a carbon "millitube" around the point where the light emits, right? (obviously not a nanotube as the scale would be wrong).

Re:Keeping the emitter clean... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35886338)

I was thinking the same thing. Aren't optics very sensitive to dirty lenses? Does that apply here? I'm not an expert in optics, but it seems that the beams would often be refracted by buildup and either not ignite the right area of the fuel to be as efficient or possibly even start to damage other parts or themselves.

Re:Keeping the emitter clean... (2)

blair1q (305137) | more than 3 years ago | (#35886354)

That's a good question. Since the scheme seems to involve using more than one low-power laser focussed on a point in space to create one high-power hotspot, AND to pulse it multiple times to build up the heat at that spot, each pulse of of one laser beams doesn't anywhere near the ability to ignite the fuel. So if something does crust over the laser's output hole, it's possible it will never burn off.

Unless using these things somehow results in random chemicals (gasoline of varying grade and quality; oil; STP; etc.) burning without any carbon soot being produced, or in the flame front auto-cleaning the lasers, it's going to crust over.

Re:Keeping the emitter clean... (5, Informative)

Daniel_Staal (609844) | more than 3 years ago | (#35886366)

According to the article, one of the main reasons spark plugs get gummed up is the electrical sparks they are putting out. Electric arcs tend to corrode their endpoints. With a laser, this isn't a problem. Also, the lasers aren't going to try to ignite combustion right in front of them: It's more efficient to ignite it away from them, in the center of the cylinder. Spark plugs can't do that at all.

Plus, of course, any laser capable of igniting a fuel-air mixture reliably in a few nanoseconds can burn through a bit of soot on the way.

Not quite true (4, Insightful)

Dcnjoe60 (682885) | more than 3 years ago | (#35886560)

According to the article, one of the main reasons spark plugs get gummed up is the electrical sparks they are putting out. Electric arcs tend to corrode their endpoints. With a laser, this isn't a problem. Also, the lasers aren't going to try to ignite combustion right in front of them: It's more efficient to ignite it away from them, in the center of the cylinder. Spark plugs can't do that at all.

Plus, of course, any laser capable of igniting a fuel-air mixture reliably in a few nanoseconds can burn through a bit of soot on the way.

If the air fuel mixture is correct, the plugs on a healthy engine won't get gummed at all. If it is too rich or burning oil, it won't matter where the plug or spark originates as the build up occurs everywhere in the combustion chamber (although the rings scrape the wall clean). One only has to pull the heads off an engine to look at the carbon buildup that is no where near the spark gap.

But the article talks about it being cheaper (okay, more economical). Sparkplugs cost around $3 to $6 each. It seems that a laser strong enough to get through the carbon build up is going to cost more than that. Since plugs now last well over 36,000 miles in new vehicles, it seems trying to improve on an inexpensive technology with a high tech solution is anything but economical.

Re:Not quite true (3, Insightful)

Daniel_Staal (609844) | more than 3 years ago | (#35886618)

Depends on:

A: How much they can improve the fuel efficiency.

B: How long they last.

C: How much they cost.

A $15 laser solution that doesn't improve efficiency but that lasts 100,000 miles is worth the money. If you had one that doubles efficiency but doesn't do last any longer, it can probably cost more and be worth it.

So far they've got a technology preview that they think meets all the needs of an automotive application. They'll need to design and test an engine that can use it before they'll know the rest, but it's impressive tech so far. It's made from fairly cheap materials, can handle the heat and stress, and can preform a reliable ignition. Is that enough? Maybe, but it looks like enough to be worth trying in a more complete test. Which is all they are trying to do at the moment.

Re:Not quite true (1)

Balthisar (649688) | more than 3 years ago | (#35886712)

100,000 miles is the current norm for a set of spark plugs. Not related to the story, but thought you might want to know that. And while I'm at it, don't change your oil every 3,000 miles either.

Re:Not quite true (1)

Bengie (1121981) | more than 3 years ago | (#35886916)

Co-worker just bought a new Toyota. The book says to only change the oil every 10k miles. cool.

Re:Not quite true (1)

HornWumpus (783565) | more than 3 years ago | (#35887006)

Car makers say 'don't change oil so often', Oil makers say 'change oil more often'.

Is anybody surprised? No automaker has ever recommended 3k miles oil changes.

Re:Not quite true (1)

andydread (758754) | more than 3 years ago | (#35887066)

As someone who has taken apart a quite a few engines I prefer clean oil in my engines thank you very much. The sand paper effect from 10000 miles of dirt buildup is will wear down your engine prematurely. I have seen the difference with my own two eyes and believe me. Its not pretty.

Re:Not quite true (1)

Locutus (9039) | more than 3 years ago | (#35886818)

the cost also must include the whole electrical firing system which today means those large coils on top of every plug. There could be a slight weight savings too. I do see your point though since plugs today are good for 40,000 miles or so and cost so little. It will be interesting to follow though and if what is said is true, we should see some nice fuel economy increases. It would be nice if there was an easy way to retro fit if there really are those kinds of efficiency numbers.

LoB

Re:Not quite true (0)

Marcika (1003625) | more than 3 years ago | (#35886820)

Since plugs now last well over 36,000 miles in new vehicles, it seems trying to improve on an inexpensive technology with a high tech solution is anything but economical

Don't think cars, think ginourmous gas turbines with hundreds or even thousands of horse powers. If a spark plug can save just 2% of fuel, it can be worth thousands in cost savings over its lifetime.

Power-efficient spark plugs (like e.g. multitorch spark plugs) can indeed cost up to hundreds of dollars each - and the engine manufacturers still pay it without even flinching...

Re:Not quite true (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35886994)

gas turbines don't need an ignition source once they spin up. they just keep squirting fuel on to the continuous flame. diesel is used for large stationary piston engines, which also does not use a spark. these are designed for good ol' gasoline motors. what common production car has hundred dollar spark plugs?

Re:Keeping the emitter clean... (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35886532)

Diesel engines don't have spark plugs.

Re:Keeping the emitter clean... (1)

confused one (671304) | more than 3 years ago | (#35887020)

They start out nice and shiny, but get gummed up rather quickly.

Then you're doing it wrong. Switch to a hotter heat range. Use platinum or iridium plugs. Make sure your coil is putting out the prescribed voltage. Tune your mixture so it's not too rich. Then, assuming you're not burning oil, at 35,000 miles the plugs should still look clean.

But how... (2, Funny)

blair1q (305137) | more than 3 years ago | (#35886254)

Okay. This is really cool. But, how are they going to get the fricken' shark in there?

use the sharkvan! (2)

Joe The Dragon (967727) | more than 3 years ago | (#35886316)

sharkvan!

Re:But how... (1)

SnarfQuest (469614) | more than 3 years ago | (#35886372)

Will they need a separate shark for each cylinder, or can one shark handle all of them? Maybe you could get away with one shark per side of the engine.

Re:But how... (1)

armyofone (594988) | more than 3 years ago | (#35886510)

Sharks won't fit. Mutated sea-bass OTOH...

Re:But how... (1)

kimvette (919543) | more than 3 years ago | (#35887064)

Mutated sea-bass OTOH...

. . . which is why it took a team in Japan to solve the problems. Between Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and now Fukushima sharks are no longer required, thanks to the recent development of angry mutated sea bass!

Re:But how... (5, Funny)

GaryOlson (737642) | more than 3 years ago | (#35886948)

Shark injectors, obviously.

Laser beams you say? (1)

masterwit (1800118) | more than 3 years ago | (#35886258)

Upon reading the article I saw the mention of leaner fuels. Will this require an alternative fuel mixture to truly improve efficiency or did I interpret this wrong? Thoughts?

cheers

Re:Laser beams you say? (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35886344)

It expands the distance from stoichiometric that you can go (on the lean side, at least) while still being able to get it to catch on fire correctly while having a good lifespan of your igniter.

So it's not that the laser "needs" leaner mixtures; it's saying they enable leaner mixtures than current (mass-market) spark plug technology. And for steady-state cruising, that could be a great way to cut down on NOx emissions. (Not sure if it will reduce fuel consumption.) Of course, I thought the catalytic converters were already digesting all the NOx, so, I'm not sure why this is super-awesome...

Re:Laser beams you say? (3, Informative)

Daniel_Staal (609844) | more than 3 years ago | (#35886422)

Catalytic converters are expensive and relatively heavy. Take them out and you get a cheaper, lighter car. Cheaper is always good, and lighter translates to better handling and better fuel economy. Probably nothing major, but every little bit helps.

Re:Laser beams you say? (2)

mlts (1038732) | more than 3 years ago | (#35886598)

It also saves $300-$1000 from the production of the car, which is good all around, due to the platinum used for the catalytic work.

Re:Laser beams you say? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35887094)

Lean burning increases NOx emissions

Re:Laser beams you say? (2)

Daniel_Staal (609844) | more than 3 years ago | (#35886390)

If by 'fuel mixture' you mean 'ratio of air to fuel', yeah, you'd need a new mix to get the most benefits.

If by 'fuel mixture' you mean switching out gasoline for something else, probably not.

Re:Laser beams you say? (1)

Michael Woodhams (112247) | more than 3 years ago | (#35886420)

No, 'lean' just refers to the mix of fuel and air. You put less fuel into the cylinder each cycle, and the energy of the fuel is used more efficiently. So you might end up with a 2000cc engine which performs like a 1500cc engine but consumes fuel like a 1300cc engine - except that you have the option to run richer (more fuel per cycle) if you need to, getting 2000cc performance at 2000cc fuel consumption (and also without the reduction in nitrogen oxide emission.)

I am not an automotive engineer, feel free to correct me if I've made errors in the above.

Re:Laser beams you say? (1)

nomel (244635) | more than 3 years ago | (#35886464)

With a rich mixture, the flame from ignition moves slower [innovatemotorsports.com] so the pressures after TDC (top dead center) are lower. With a lean mixture, they move so quickly that the pressure and heat from it can be sufficient to detonate [alexap.com] the fuel. Running leaner gives better fuel efficiency (nice graph) [alexap.com] , but also increases your chance of detonation under power (high cylinder pressures).

I *think* that by using a laser system, you don't have a spark plug sticking in the cylinder with sharp edges that would usually get very hot and kick off the detonation [wikipedia.org] , meaning you can run leaner while applying power since you'd have only the smooth cylinder walls, cylinder top, and laser window...all with coolant flower nearby.

???

Re:Laser beams you say? (2)

subreality (157447) | more than 3 years ago | (#35886616)

By "leaner fuel mixtures" they're not saying that you have to change the gasoline itself - you just inject less of it.

Even without running leaner, yes, this can improve efficiency: it can ignite the fuel closer to the center of the combustion chamber, which makes for a better burn. It might also ignite a longer path of the fuel, resulting in a quicker burn without detonation. You retard timing a little bit, and then do a quick burn to bring up pressure right at the best moment. This is already done on some current engines by using more than one spark plug per cylinder.

Can't see it. (1)

mirix (1649853) | more than 3 years ago | (#35886264)

You thought replacing flaky early-run coil-packs was expensive. What does a replacement laser-ignitor cost?

Is it susceptible to fouling and such? Can it be cleaned in such cases? If your engine pings does it destroy the laser? etc.

I'm not afraid of change or anything, but igntion systems have come a long way since the model T. All you need to change now is the plugs, no more rotor, cap, points, condenser. It's a nice reliable system.

Be curious to see this though.

Re:Can't see it. (1)

icebike (68054) | more than 3 years ago | (#35886328)

I'd like to see the data on improved fuel consumption.

I don't see why laser ignited fuel-air mixture will be all that much cleaner than a spark ignited mixture.
The only possible source of improvement would be that a laser could ignite fuel over its entire path, rather than at a single point, making for a more even combustion pattern.

Re:Can't see it. (3, Insightful)

blair1q (305137) | more than 3 years ago | (#35886402)

TFA talks about that.

The shape of the flame makes a difference in how well the fuel burns, and in how efficiently the piston transduces the pressure curve into mechanical motion. Same reason for differing piston and head shapes.

You don't really want fuel to explode, you want it to burn quickly and in the right shape. Apparently, starting the flamefront from a single point is not super-efficient even if you have control of the shape of the cylinder.

Re:Can't see it. (1)

xMrFishx (1956084) | more than 3 years ago | (#35886406)

I wonder if this would also reduce the electrical noise on the car circuits. That would be good news for in car electronics.

Re:Can't see it. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35887074)

more of that comes from the alternator than anything else. ground everything well, use toroidal cores around your cable ends, run your electronics bus straight from the battery (fused, of course) with the thickest wire you can afford. proper installation is all you need to get rid of noise.

Re:Can't see it. (2)

Sooner Boomer (96864) | more than 3 years ago | (#35886416)

The only possible source of improvement would be that a laser could ignite fuel over its entire path, rather than at a single point, making for a more even combustion pattern.

Not a good idea. This is essentially what detonation (pinging) is. You need a specific spot of origin, then a progressive burn across the combustion chamber. This yields a slow gentle pressure wave (relatively speaking) on the power stroke, rather than a massive, parts-breaking kick.

Re:Can't see it. (1)

icebike (68054) | more than 3 years ago | (#35886498)

Not a good idea. This is essentially what detonation (pinging) is. You need a specific spot of origin, then a progressive burn across the combustion chamber. This yields a slow gentle pressure wave (relatively speaking) on the power stroke, rather than a massive, parts-breaking kick.

Hmmmm, maybe you could look at Blair1Q's post [slashdot.org] and TFA
and explain to both of them that what they invented won't work.

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.

Lasers, Taira explains, can focus their beams directly into the center of the mixture. Without quenching, the flame front expands more symmetrically and up to three times faster than those produced by spark plugs

Re:Can't see it. (2)

aXis100 (690904) | more than 3 years ago | (#35886962)

With a super fast laser initiated frame front, I imagine they'll adjust the timing closer too, or ever after top dead center. That will stop the parts-breaking kick.

The reason pinging is so bad is that it happens whilst the piston is still on the upstroke.

Re:Can't see it. (1)

Locutus (9039) | more than 3 years ago | (#35886848)

the focal point will get you combustion at a point and TFA talks about this.

LoB

Re:Can't see it. (1)

Locutus (9039) | more than 3 years ago | (#35886876)

ok, it mentioned the ability to set a combustion point and moving it to an optimal position. to me that said focal point.

LoB

Re:Can't see it. (1)

WrongSizeGlass (838941) | more than 3 years ago | (#35886360)

You thought replacing flaky early-run coil-packs was expensive. What does a replacement laser-ignitor cost?

From Rain Man:
Doctor: Ray, do you know how much a candy bar costs?
Raymond: 'Bout a hundred dollars.
Doctor: Do you know how much one of those new compact cars costs?
Raymond: 'Bout a hundred dollars.
Doctor: Do you know how much a replacement laser-ignitor costs?
Raymond: 'Bout a hundred dollars.

Re:Can't see it. (1)

nabsltd (1313397) | more than 3 years ago | (#35886440)

All you need to change now is the plugs, no more rotor, cap, points, condenser. It's a nice reliable system.

Yeah, at this point unless spark plugs are responsible for greatly increased fuel use, then the cost of switching to something else has to be close to zero to make a change worthwhile.

I think I spent about $300 total for spark plugs (including the labor for somebody else to replace them) in the 10 years I had my last vehicle (an 8-cylinder, BTW).

Tough working conditions. (-1, Redundant)

geekmux (1040042) | more than 3 years ago | (#35886286)

"...but a Japanese team is set to announce they've overcome those hurdles."

A Japanese team? Working from where I wonder...

Re:Tough working conditions. (1)

xMrFishx (1956084) | more than 3 years ago | (#35886388)

In the shed, next to the Gundam.

Re:Tough working conditions. (3, Funny)

blair1q (305137) | more than 3 years ago | (#35886414)

At least in part at "Japan’s National Institutes of Natural Sciences," according to a string of letters and spaces in TFA.

Re:Tough working conditions. (1)

NEDHead (1651195) | more than 3 years ago | (#35886448)

Another Japanese project that glows in the dark

Wowthat article is full of wrong. (0)

Lumpy (12016) | more than 3 years ago | (#35886292)

Um yeah, they trot out this bull-cockey every year. until they can make the laser spark plugs less than $0.29 each and as durable as a current one there is no market. plus the spark plug has nothing to do with the engine efficiency. The article is full of Wrong in almost every corner of it.

Wowthat article is full of Wong. (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35886318)

The article is full of Wong in almost every corner of it.

Re:Wowthat article is full of wrong. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35886358)

The spark plug has nothing to do with engine efficiency?

Now that's just wrong.

Is it a primary driving factor? No, but they do matter.

Re:Wowthat article is full of wrong. (1)

nabsltd (1313397) | more than 3 years ago | (#35886476)

The spark plug has nothing to do with engine efficiency?

Now that's just wrong.

Not really, assuming you are using the correct plugs and they are installed correctly.

If you do something wrong, it will almost certainly reduce fuel efficiency for that vehicle, but I can't imagine any system that would replace a spark plug that could ignite the same fuel in the same engine and give you significantly higher efficiency.

Re:Wowthat article is full of wrong. (2)

Daniel_Staal (609844) | more than 3 years ago | (#35886552)

Which would be why they want to talk to auto manufacturers about designing engines that can take advantage of the specific capabilities of this new tech.

There's nothing in the article that makes me think they think they can produce a drop-in replacement for current vehicles.

Re:Wowthat article is full of wrong. (1)

cbhacking (979169) | more than 3 years ago | (#35886666)

Yeah - this calls for a different cylinder design. A more efficient one, provided you can ignite the fuel/air mizture in the midle of the cylinder (which is done by having multiple beams pulse such that they intersect on one spot).

Re:Wowthat article is full of wrong. (1)

blair1q (305137) | more than 3 years ago | (#35886452)

If they work, you may never have to replace them.

And if you think the plug has nothing to do with engine efficiency, then (a) you didn't read their explanation in TFA and (b) you don't know much about the internal combustion part of internal combustion engines.

The idea of being able to time the ignition more accurately, and to shape its inception, definitely is a key to improving efficiency of the process of turning fuel vapor into exhaust gas and transforming the released energy into motion.

But I doubt they've cracked it. The cockey of their bull is much deeper than you looked.

Re:Wowthat article is full of wrong. (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 3 years ago | (#35886570)

also, they have less space then a Nomad, lame.

Re:Wowthat article is full of wrong. (1)

mirix (1649853) | more than 3 years ago | (#35886626)

My Nomad [wikimedia.org] has plenty of space, thank you.

Re:Wowthat article is full of wrong. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35886798)

The cockey ... is much deeper.

That's what she said.

And subsequently cried out in ecstasy.

Wowthat slashdotter is full of wrong. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35886518)

Sounds like another slashdotter who didn't read the article. They already explain those elements that the laser would improve which will likewise improve the efficiency.

Re:Wowthat article is full of wrong. (2)

geekoid (135745) | more than 3 years ago | (#35886566)

What if there 5 dollars each, but you get 5% better mileage?

Re:Wowthat article is full of wrong. (1)

willy_me (212994) | more than 3 years ago | (#35886898)

plus the spark plug has nothing to do with the engine efficiency

Not exactly true, but I doubt there is much room for improvement. What this does allow for is a rethinking of how to size and position the valves. This depends on the head space requirements of a laser, but it could possibly allow for more efficient valve design allowing smaller motors to produce more power.

Finally! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35886342)

We've arrived in the 21st century!

Where are plasma plugs? (1)

ThreeGigs (239452) | more than 3 years ago | (#35886380)

I remember an article from.. oh... 25 years ago in Popular Mechanics or similar saying similar things about plasma jet spark plugs. Igniting a larger portion of the mixture farther from the head, etc.

Now it's lasers. Ok.. if the laser is collimated before it leaves the 'plug', wouldn't it ignite the air/fuel mix right at the plug tip just like current spark plugs do? If there's a lens focusing the laser to an ignition point farther from the tip, then is the laser light concentrated enough to burn off any residues? Plus, when a piston is at TDC, there's not a lot of distance to cover to get ignition in the center of the charge, an extended tip spark plug works well in that case, so wouldn't a laser be overkill? Ok, I can see two lasers from one plug in two different directions, but dual plugs are nothing new either.

Color me skeptical about the potential improvements to be had from using lasers instead of spark plugs.

Re:Where are plasma plugs? (1, Insightful)

geekoid (135745) | more than 3 years ago | (#35886582)

exfept here's the thing:
You can buy a LASER that can cut steel, right now. As a consumer.

"...wouldn't it ignite the air/fuel mix right at the plug tip just like current spark plugs do?"
Nope

"so wouldn't a laser be overkill?"
also, Nope.

"Color me skeptical about the potential improvements to be had from using lasers instead of spark plugs."
How about if I just color you ignorant?

Re:Where are plasma plugs? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35886610)

The laser ignites the fuel at the far end of the cylinder faster than the normal ignition of the fuel would. Think about it for a little bit and draw yourself a picture and it might help you visualize it. Speed of light vs speed of ignition of gas. Big difference...

Re:Where are plasma plugs? (1)

cbhacking (979169) | more than 3 years ago | (#35886692)

It's not one laser firing one beam that ignites the fuel. Instead you use multiple lasers firing in a pattern that intersects at one point in the middle of the cylinder. No single beam is powerful enough to ignite the fuel, so the situation you mention doesn't occur. It requires a different cylinder design and different fuel/air ratio for maximum efficiency, but that maximum efficiency is higher than a spark plug ignited engine can get.

I drive a diesel (1, Interesting)

MyNicknameSucks (1952390) | more than 3 years ago | (#35886418)

I drive a diesel, you insensitive clods.

But, seriously, diesels work on compression alone and don't need spark plugs.

Re:I drive a diesel (-1, Flamebait)

geekoid (135745) | more than 3 years ago | (#35886588)

diesel driver, also stinking the smelly ass into every conversation about automobiles.
Are you compensating for something?...oh, right you drive a diesel~

Just in time... (0)

chunkyasparagus (890907) | more than 3 years ago | (#35886466)

Awesome work, dudes. Way to spend years perfecting a technique that will be obsolete in a few short years when all the oil runs out...

Re:Just in time... (1)

confused one (671304) | more than 3 years ago | (#35887068)

That's fine. It'll also work on syn-gas and alcohol fuels.

they aren't the only ones doing this (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35886530)

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/motoring/news/5803066/Cars-to-be-started-by-lasers-instead-of-spark-plugs.html

But it's an optic solution! (1)

angiasaa (758006) | more than 3 years ago | (#35886548)

Which means, any oils or soot that happens to settle on the lens will rapidly reduce the efficiency of the laser. Considering an average internal combustion engine requires about a dozen controlled explosions a second, and over a million times in a days worth of driving, I'd imagine that there's a very good chance that something will end up smearing the lens of the laser. I'm sure they can't release this to the market without first solving this problem. I for one would be interested to find out how that's done!

100 jigawatts per square centimeter? (1)

greghodg (1453715) | more than 3 years ago | (#35886608)

Great scott!

Or... (3, Interesting)

jensend (71114) | more than 3 years ago | (#35886634)

you could just go diesel and skip this business entirely. More than half of the vehicles sold in Europe are diesel; it just makes more sense fuel-economy wise. We need to get with the program on this side of the pond.

I'm still waiting for my VW XL1...

I got rid of spark plugs a different way entirely. (3, Insightful)

Tumbleweed (3706) | more than 3 years ago | (#35886658)

I bought a diesel. My 2001 VW Jetta TDI gets about 45mph highway. No spark plugs, no lasers, no problem. *shrug*

Re:I got rid of spark plugs a different way entire (1)

ArcCoyote (634356) | more than 3 years ago | (#35886806)

Only 45 MPH? I'd be afraid to take that out on the highway.

Re:I got rid of spark plugs a different way entire (1)

Tumbleweed (3706) | more than 3 years ago | (#35886880)

Ha, oops, 45mpg. That's with a 10+ year-old car, too, which is pretty nice. Too bad it's loud as hell.

Re:I got rid of spark plugs a different way entire (1)

mirix (1649853) | more than 3 years ago | (#35886844)

My 2001 VW Jetta TDI gets about 45mph highway.

I would hope it goes faster than that. :p

A few of my relatives have TDIs, great little engines, excellent mileage.
I opted for the gas fueled GTI though... double the power and starts better in our -40 climate. At the cost of half the mileage though. Way it goes I guess.

If I had a longer commute or travelled more, I'd definitely have gone with the diesel though.

Re:I got rid of spark plugs a different way entire (1)

Tumbleweed (3706) | more than 3 years ago | (#35886936)

I keep wondering how efficient a diesel _series_ plug-in hybrid would be. Diesels are, by their very nature, far more efficient than gasoline engines, and thus make great engines for generators. I'm wondering if natural gas is more efficient yet for a generator? Gas turbine? A series plug-in hybrid with a generator using whatever the most-efficient engine *for a generator* seems like a good idea. Now that the unsprung weight issue has been solved and we can use wheel hub motors for some very nice weight distribution, and can get rid of the old-style transmissions which saves a great deal of weight, and makes up for the weight of batteries, as well as making the whole system much less complex (and thus less breakable) than a parallel hybrid system. Seems like the way to go, and I keep waiting...

Cost isn't a huge issue (1)

librarybob (1043806) | more than 3 years ago | (#35886722)

If it geeks a Lexus, what's $100 per plug? The buyers won't care.

The spark is not the problem (2)

theManInTheYellowHat (451261) | more than 3 years ago | (#35886750)

The problem that needs to be solved is the reason for the spark. The reason for the spark is the need for the ignition of fuel. Switching to laser beam driven electron motors would be crazy cool (or whatever other cool use there is for a laser in an electric motor if there is one). "Fixing" something that is not broke with a gadget that needs to bought (and thus sold) seems like a great idea for an infomercial, not a solution to the worlds problems.

What's next? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35886804)

Come on guys!
It's just a step, not the entire show!
It took the auto industry how long to put in seat belts?
Yeah. I thought so. :-)

is TFA factually wrong? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35886832)

I'm not a scientist but isn't lean burning the major cause of, not the way to reduce NOx emissions?
When the fuel finishes burning the oxygen in the air there is no more oxygen to bind to the nitrogen. If you burn it lean however the high temperatures bind the oxygen to the nitrogen - which is why all modern cars must have catalytic converters to pass emission laws.

Also the mention that the laser can produce two beams to ignite fuel in two places at once is a moot point. Nissan already did that in the 80's and it wasn't worth the effort.

And 100 gigawatts of energy? Why not just use 1.21GW and go back in time? No lasers needed, just a flux capacitor

Don't lean mixtures produce more NOx? (1)

robbak (775424) | more than 3 years ago | (#35886914)

I think there is (at least) one error in the article.

Don't lean mixtures produce /more/ NOx? Excess oxygen on the hot gasses oxidize anything they can find, which is the 70% nitrogen in the air?

Lean mixes produce NOx. Rich mixtures produce CO (Not enough oxygen to completely burn all the carbon.). Correct mixes produce both (although not as much!)

Of course, laser ignition may well enable leaner mixes, probably using more Exhaust gas recirculation, while not producing excess NOx, which is a good thing, certainly. But wrong is wrong. (cue xkcd reference.)

I misread the title (1)

DeathElk (883654) | more than 3 years ago | (#35886982)

I misread the title to read "Lasers to replace fins on sharks". That's it. I'm giving up surfing.
Load More Comments
Slashdot Login

Need an Account?

Forgot your password?