• Jul 15, 2009

In a breakthrough that may make vehicle starting issues due to fouled plugs or inclement weather a thing of the past, engineers at Ford have reportedly teamed with scientists at Liverpool University to develop a laser beam ignition system to replace ye olde spark plug. The researchers claim their technology is more efficient, more reliable, and it will enable vehicles to start easier in extreme temperatures and damp climates.

Unlike traditional spark plugs (invented way back in 1839 by Edmond Berger), laser light may be split into multiple beams distributing ignition points within the cylinders – not just at the tip of the plug. This not only aids combustion, it also lowers emissions during cold starts. Researchers also point out that the lasers use less energy than their spark plug counterparts, eliminate wear items and wires (fiber optics will carry the laser beam to the cylinders), and improve fuel burn by "watching" ignition from within the combustion chamber and sending messages back to the ECU to adjust fuel mixtures, timing, and ignition.

Ford is expected to introduce the technology in its top models within the next few years, and then make it more widely available. Thanks to everyone for the tips!

[Source: Telegraph UK | Image: New Line Cinema]



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  • 71 Comments
      • 5 Years Ago
      It won't prevent the lenses being clogged/ruined to the point it still won't start...
      • 5 Years Ago
      Soon mechanics are gonna need a degree in Electronics just to know how to repair a car, hehehe..
        • 5 Years Ago
        Exactly my thought, kids will not fight to go to the Massachussets Institute of Technology but will go about the house saying "mum, I want to fix lasers, I want to be a mechanic at Ford".

        Imagine your car being serviced by a bunch of PhDs..... :-)
        • 5 Years Ago
        Sounds rad, but my concern (and I'm guessing this would've been a hurdle) is what happens when you start getting carbon build ups that the light can't penetrate? It'd be no different from carbon build ups on the plugs...
        • 5 Years Ago
        ...bingo.

        My co-op term was with "a major automaker" doing software engineering--not for ICE or anything, but for engine management. From that POV, the engine is almost just... another I/O device.
        • 5 Years Ago
        I think we're already there. We're a long way from carburetors. Have you looked under your hood recently? Wires, sensors, and computer chips everywhere. And don't even get me started on hybrids...

        That said, I don't see how this will be any more complicated to troubleshoot than a laser pointer. All you need is a sealed lasing cavity and a gate input for the trigger. I don't think this will be the type of laser that requires periodic alignment, I think you'll just replace the unit if it acts up (much like you don't bother to re-build a spark plug, you just put in a whole new one).
        • 5 Years Ago
        Sad day, in my opinion.
      • 5 Years Ago
      That is just freaking Cool! Any numbers on the performance improvements?
        • 5 Years Ago
        Now if they just combine it with Nissan's split injectors we should pretty soon not even need hybrids we'll be saving so much gas! ICE tech aint dead yet! :-)
        Quantumphysics
        • 5 Years Ago
        Maybe then I'll stop having to replace my Ford expedition's coil packs.
        • 5 Years Ago
        "Now if they just combine it with Nissan's split injectors we should pretty soon not even need hybrids we'll be saving so much gas!"

        Um no. Unless these give your car 200mpg there will still be need and value for hybrids. And then you miss the obvious which is these could simply be combined with hybrid tech for even better mileage.
      • 5 Years Ago
      I honestly dont think this will be too much more to replace then a good quality spark plug.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Over my adult life I have been continually impressed by the benefits from incremental improvements in the combustion process. From carburetors to throttle-body fuel injection, throttle-body to multi-point, multi-point to direct; then there is 2-valves per to 4 valves per and then variable valve timing with sequenced intake valve opening; flat head to hemispherical to pent roof. Multi-length manifolds. You guys can mention several I've missed. But the one thing that has been a constant in the spark plug, with little more change than playing with the shape of the tip. The ignition has always started from a single point. Given how much difference all those other changes have made, I can't help but think that being able to direct the shape and size the ignition "area" would have to have some real possibilities for improved combustion.

        I wonder if it would allow a lower octane fuel to be used. Or conversely, a higher compression ratio using the same octane.
      • 5 Years Ago
      The car guy in me is saying, "Increased performance and efficiency? Great Idea!"

      The Luddite in me is saying,"The spark plug have been doing just fine for over 110 years and any problems with them is usually a relatively simple and inexpensive fix. Why screw with something that isn't broken?"


      On a side note, I think lasers might make a great replacement for glow plugs if they can evenly and quickly heat an entire combustion chamber. Glow plugs work for the most part, but they're typically somewhat slow and inefficient. I'm not an engineer,s o idon't know for sure; but I get the feeling they might benefit most from this technology.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Lasers are "cold" because they efficiently convert all of their energy into a single wavelength of radiation, instead of a broadband thermal source. Absorption of that single wavelength in the target gas can be incredibly efficient (molecular droplets have laser absorption efficiencies approaching 100%), so your total system efficiency from source to ignition can be very high.

        So if by "cold" you mean "does not produce waste heat as a result of inefficiency," then yes, lasers are cold. That's (one of the reasons) why they're useful.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Glow plugs are rarely used anymore. Advancements in diesel technology have made them relatively unecessary except during the coldest of cold starts. Direct Injection is the primary reason for it and virtually every modern diesel is equipped with DI.
        • 5 Years Ago
        I have my doubts there would be a benefit over glow plugs. Lasers are usually considered "cold", as in not a lot of heat from the beam. The emitter might make some heat, but I doubt the beam has much.

        Of course, I could be wrong about what they've developed here!
        • 5 Years Ago
        "Direct Injection is the primary reason for it and virtually every modern diesel is equipped with DI."

        Diesels have been DI for a long, long time. The faffing around with prechambers was a relatively short-lived thing to try to improve noise and emissions. modern electronic systems no longer need that.

        Besides, my Ram was DI and it still needed an intake heater grid on cold mornings.
      • 5 Years Ago
      My guess is that Ford is listening to all those people who had to pay a Ford dealer over $800.00 plus to change their spark plugs in the 4.6 and 5.4L V-8.
      A guy at work had a friend try to change the spark plugs ( first mistake). The guy didn't know the procedure to change said spark plugs, broke the first one. The owner phoned the Ford dealer to ask their advice on the issue and was told that they have a very special tool to get the remainder of the plug out of the cylinder head and they don't lend it out. The truck was towed to the dealer where upon the owner was charged 1 hour labour per plug and $25.00 Canadian per spark plug. It seems you have to spray liquid wrench on the plug, start the engine, let it run for one minute, stop the engine, undo the plug a quarter turn, spray more liquid wrench, restart the engine, let run for one minute , stop engine and remove the plug.
      I know for a fact that there were garages that would charge owners large for changing spark plugs out of an Ford Aerostar and not change one of the back bank plugs due to having to undo the motor mounts and winch the engine forward to gain access to the plug. They still charged full pop though.
      The only Ford product I have found to be easy on plug removal is my 1995 Jaguar XJS 4.0l straight six. Plug removal and installation takes me 15 minutes, no scratches, scrapes or bruises.
        • 5 Years Ago
        My '94 F150 is a cinch to change plugs in too. 302 V8 with 2894739 cubic feet of unused space under the hood!
        • 5 Years Ago
        I've replaced plugs in both these engines with no issues. I do have to agree that the price of modern spark plugs is a bit ridiculous, though. Still not a big deal for something you do every 75-100K miles.
        • 5 Years Ago
        "they would eject the spark plugs for you...usually as you drive down the road."

        well, that was after some hoof-handed "mechanic" applied several times the intended torque to the plug(s) and rendered the threads useless.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Tony, you should have owned a late '90s or early-mid '00 Ford modular...they would eject the spark plugs for you...usually as you drive down the road.

        Maybe Ford realizes that they cannot EVER get spark plugs right and will instead spend millions of dollars on a technology that will never really catch on.

        Bold Moves Ford...Bold Moves indeed.
        • 5 Years Ago
        "The only Ford product I have found to be easy on plug removal is my 1995 Jaguar XJS 4.0l straight six. Plug removal and installation takes me 15 minutes, no scratches, scrapes or bruises."

        I've got an '03 Ford Mustang Cobra and I had an '02 Mazda Tribute V6. Both are/were extremely easy to change the plugs on.

        The Cobra you undo one side of the intake tubing (to give you room), you undo four bolts to remove the covers on each side, pull the coils out, and all the plugs are right there. Takes no more than five minutes.

        The Mazda was a bit tougher as you have to unbolt the actual plastic intake manifold so you can slide it forward a bit, but after that you just had to unbolt the single bolt on each coil, pull them out, and again the plug is right there for your socket. Again, I don't even think it took me 10 minutes.

        I think I could do both of them in the time it would take me to change the plugs on my Envoy Denali and I would get a lot less dirty doing it.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Hey Matt, what do you think? Will it suck?
        • 5 Years Ago
        Well, there is no doubt that Ford will screw it up. Remember, the screwed up basic spark plugs and cruise control...they don't have a hope in hell of getting this one right.

        But since Ford "engineers" are nothing more than hungry baboons, maybe they should feed them with the hope they actually get something right.
        • 5 Years Ago
        It's okay Matt, Ford didn't make it and it was originated in Europe. It might work.
      Henryk Mongiało
      • 3 Years Ago
      I read your article on laser ignition and wondering why the world is that other solutions such as plasma ignition are skipped. Car makers prefer hybrid cars than to ignite a plasma in U.S. patent that has existed for 11 years. The inventor without the support and money is relegated to the margins, although you would dokononać revolution in the automotive industry. As we know, trying to plan the candle produced from more than 100 years does not provide a high efficiency motor. Does not reduce CO2 emissions. What it would be in your ignition engines use a new plasma in the form of a new spark plug called FireStorm Spark Plug. Unwanted and the existing 11-year U.S. patent for zero CO2 emissions and reduce engine combustion 70%. New spark plug -plasma spark plug reduce 70% fuel reduce CO2 zero-O- emissions CO2 !!!!!
      • 5 Years Ago
      Oh, cool! Freakin' Fords with freakin' laser beams attached to their freakin' engines!
        • 5 Years Ago
        Awesome comment.
        Awesome design.

        This post and the associated comments are just awesome.

        I like the word 'awesome'. It's awesome.
      • 5 Years Ago
      We now have the most complicated and expensive ICE drive lines ever conceived, complete with direct injection, turbos, variable valve timing and a whole expensive smog subsystem to help snuff out the bad air. Over the hundred or so years ICEs have been around, they have grown from a fairly simple device to something that is exceeded by only by rocket ships and aircraft in complexity.

      Well! we have a chance to start over again using electric motors and controls that are at this juncture fairly simple. And, except for the batteries fairly inexpensive. Why continue to spend masses of money on developing ICEs? Why not spend it on mass market BEVs and bring them to market as soon as possible? We can live with what we have in the IC world!

        • 5 Years Ago
        Yes, because electronics is simple and inexpensive.



        Batteries are fairly inexpensive because those who extract it's raw materials are exploited to the point slavery could be considered a luxury - ex.: with a full workday's pay they'll barely be able to pay for one single (yes, single) daily meal and that's it (yes, not cash left for them or families) - now, put that in your ecological pipe and smoke it, to see if it gives you an ecological high.

        Also, you're forgetting the ecological costs of extraction, refining, producing, discarding and recicling said raw materials and batteries - including byproducts.
        • 5 Years Ago
        What happened to the /sarcasm tag after the first sentence?
        • 5 Years Ago
        cm:
        You are telling me something I was not aware of. Where is this explotation taking place? Are you talking about Li? ...???

        If you compare the cost of materials between ICEs and BEVs, don't forget to include the damage and lives drilling for oil costs.
      • 5 Years Ago
      [...] What if nitro is installed in this ford with all racing component integrated.. than this ford will be wow i am really crazy about racing and racing cars, i have installed every single component related to racing expect online navigator [...]

      http://www.electrocomputerwarehouse.com/
      • 5 Years Ago
      Gasoline has a good shot going back to being a dino in the ground, if algae-based diesel takes off.

      And I honestly would rather drive a series diesel hybrid with farmed algae hydrocarbons than a laser-ignited gasoline engine. Its not a matter of complexity, but simply getting away from any fossilized fuel as a primary source of power.

      Will I miss engine sounds? Sure. But ending the hegemony of dictatorial states (and the volatile markets they trade in) on vehicle fuel supplies? Priceless.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Petroleum is not just used as fuel for automobiles. Not by a long shot.

        Anything made of plastic comes from petroleum and petroleum byproducts, just for one example.

        We, as humans, are currently utterly dependent upon the many fantastical wondrous things that petroleum and petroleum byproducts has brought us.

        The cleanest car is the one that is never built.

        JZeke, I appreciate your sentiment regarding "dictatorships" and "chokeholds", but this isn't just about money and power. It's about everyone on this planet being dependent on oil for so many aspects of their lives, with everyone pretty much oblivious to the fact.

        What you're talking about would require such a massive, wholesale, sea change in peoples' lifestyles - which will NEVER happen, no matter how righteous and correct that sea change would be.

        If humans were a bit more like ants (every person has a dedicated place in the colony, with clear responsibilities), we could just snap our fingers and change the world. Unfortunately, we are all unique individuals, just like everyone else. I would like to be able to ditch my *need* for a car, but it's more complicated than that.

        Oh hell, I'm rambling. Do you see where I'm coming from, though?

        • 5 Years Ago
        Both fair points, I concede.


        However, regarding Geekengineer's points about people not changing - I think a lot of change can be brought about through a variety of incentives. One obvious one is economic. If oil prices continue to remain volatile through wars or speculative trading, manufacturers will (and have been) seek out less volatile alternatives. Social stigma can be a disincentive as well. Other incentives to embrace oil substitutes could be enhanced performance, longevity or other positive traits of an alternative.

        What could some of those alternatives look like? Regarding petroleum by-products specifically I see a lot of potential in bio-plastics, bio-polymers etc. That could mean jatropha plastic, maybe food stock materials - but ideally lab-grown synthetics from materials even more raw than oil. It might seem like science fiction - and to Jim I concede it likely is for the forseeable future - but I imagine 50 years from now grown materials are going to pass petroleum products in our daily lives.

        The pure punch of oil, and the greater ease of getting at it - combined with the heinousness of the whale trade made oil very desirable in the beginning of the 20th century. It will be the same with biomaterials in the 21st century.


        In the short term however, I think it sends a very positive signal to companies undertaking the risk to support the nascent alternatives. Early successes almost guarantees future investment, potentially leading us faster to a better future.

        Can we reduce our consumption in the short term? Absolutely. Little changes in lifestyle make massive global impact. Like using reusable bags for shopping. Or finding alternatives to disposable drink containers. Theres a myriad of simple things we can all do that will make a noticeable impact on our oil consumption.

        I do see where both of you are coming from. I think its important that those of us with means start accepting the alternatives and vote with our wallets to pick which companies and methods are acceptable for our future.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Indeed I would, hence why I never explicitly set a date... nor did Ford.

        I give algae biodiesel 10 years to prove itself, laser ignition 5-8.

        You would be a fool to continue blithely supporting marginally democratic dictatorships and their chokehold on oil just to drive a car. Arguments for Canadian oil shales, or risky ventures in our Alaskan or Gulf coastal areas are meaningless here.
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