Ford Developing Laser Ignition System

Ford is teaming up with the University of Liverpool to throw out the old-school spark plugs and design a laser ignition system for internal-combustion engines. According to The Telegraph, a fiber-optic cable--powered by the car's battery--shoots the laser beam to a focusing lens that would consume a much smaller space than current spark plugs. The lenses focus the beams into an intense pinprick of light, and when the fuel is injected into the engine, the laser is fired and produces enough heat to ignite the fuel.

The University researchers claim that the new technology--using lasers to ignite the fuel--is more reliable and efficient than current spark plug technology.  Although the laser will need to fire more than 50 times per second to produce 3000 RPM, it will require less power than current spark plugs. The lasers can also reflect back from inside the cylinders to relay information based on fuel type used and the level of ignition, enabling cars to readjust the quantities of air and fuel for optimum performance.

"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," said Dr. Tom Shenton, leader of the project. "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."

Ford said that it plans to implement the new technology into its top of the range vehicles within the next few years, and then make the laser ignition system available for its remaining models sometime thereafter.