RYAN LUGO – 6/15/2021
Advancing technology can keep conventional engines humming for decades.
Combustion engines won’t completely disappear any time soon, if ever. Certain transportation tasks or operating environments simply don’t lend themselves to battery- or hydrogen-powered electric propulsion. A century and a half of research and development has greatly increased the efficiency of combustion engines, and engineers have loads of additional tricks up their sleeves that promise to extract even more work from a molecule of fuel while producing even fewer harmful emissions. Here are but a few we’re keeping our eyes on, listed in order of complexity and cost to implement.
Fancy Ignition Systems
Because fuel takes time to burn, conventional spark plugs fire as the piston is already moving upward, rendering the initial combustion counterproductive. Schemes to ignite more of the mixture simultaneously promise faster combustion that allows it to mostly happen on the downstroke. Ford developed near-infrared lasers to ignite multiple points in a combustion chamber, but cost and reliability remains problematic. Transient Plasma’s drop-in spark plug replacement injects sheets of low-temperature plasma that promises to ignite ultra-lean mixtures quickly and coolly for a fuel economy boost of 10-15 percent and dramatically reduced NOx. Even Maserati’s new pre-chamber Twin-Combustion system qualifies as an ignition accelerator.