Fords, now with lasers!

CharlieJ

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 Originally Posted By: Richard Gray
By Richard Gray, Science Correspondent Published: 9:00PM BST 11 Jul 2009 Scientists at Liverpool University and engineers at car giants Ford have developed a new ignition system which uses focused beams of laser light to ignite the fuel. The researchers claim the technology is more reliable and efficient than current spark plug technology and will enable cars to start more easily in cold and damp conditions. It is understood that Ford, the world's fourth largest car manufacturer, hopes to put the laser ignition system into their top of the range vehicles within the next couple of years before making it more widely available. Dr Tom Shenton, a reader in engineering at Liverpool University who is leading the project, said: "We are running engines everyday in our laboratory with this system now and our ultimate objective is have it inside cars driven by consumers. "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. "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." In current engines spark plugs are positioned at the top or bottom of a cylinder and they can often fail to ignite fuel effectively if the petrol is not in the right position in the cylinder. In the new system the spark plug is replaced by a laser powered by the car battery which is sent along thin optical fibres into the engine's cylinders where lenses focus the beam into an intense pinprick of light. When fuel is injected into the engine, the laser is fired, producing enough heat to ignite the fuel and power the engine. The researchers claim that the laser, which will need to fire more than 50 times per second to produce 3000 RPM, will require less power than traditional spark plugs. Some of the laser can be reflected back from inside the cylinder to provide information for the car on the type of fuel being used and the level of ignition, allowing the car to adjust the quantities of air and fuel automatically to optimise the performance. This raises the prospect of mixed fuel cars which can run on a number of different biofuels while ensuring they still run efficiently. A spokesman for Ford said: "Ford, like all vehicle manufacturers, is obliged by European legislation to reduce emissions and our work in this area is led by Ford's UK R&D centre in Essex. "This collaboration with the University of Liverpool is part of that effort, with Ford contributing in kind, with engineering time and equipment use, as well as financially." The project has now been awarded a £200,000 grant by the Carbon Trust to help develop the system further. Transport accounts for 25 per cent of carbon emissions and it is hoped new ignition systems can help to cut this level of pollution. Robert Trezona, Head of Research & Development at the Carbon Trust, said: "Laser ignition is attractive in a number of ways. "It has a real potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the future by improving the ignition and combustion of fuel, particularly in engines starting from cold, but it can also be used in mixed fuel engines such as biofuels."
 
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Wonder how powerful a laser they are using for this.
 
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Bill in Utah

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Never had any problems with spark plugs (my last set were just fine @ 125,000 miles on them since the factory put them it) and starting in cold or damp conditions.. Even at 4am after sitting all night in below zero snowing weather. Another reason to keep the current vehicles running. I'm sure the laser will be simpler, cheaper and last forever. Bill
 
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I remember when CD players first came out everyone thought that the laser would eventually fail. Have you EVER heard of a laser failure in a CD player?
 
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Seeing as the total efficiency of your typical internal combustion engine is around 20%, anything that can improve said efficiency should be encouraged. Glad to hear Ford is spending money to actually make things work better.
 

Bill in Utah

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 Originally Posted By: brianl703
I remember when CD players first came out everyone thought that the laser would eventually fail. Have you EVER heard of a laser failure in a CD player?
plenty of them in DVD / CDROM burners in computers. In fact, they are the biggest item I've had to replace.
 
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I'm all for it. They'd nearly removed all the wear items from a typical car's ignition system. The plugs are the only thing left that degrade considerably in performance over time and miles. Lasers: 100% efficiency all the time with no degradation in performance as time wears on. I just hope there's not going to be a huge price penalty to get this advancement.
 
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 Originally Posted By: Bill in Utah
plenty of them in DVD / CDROM burners in computers. In fact, they are the biggest item I've had to replace.
How do you know it's the laser that has failed? My experience has been that mechanical problems are the usual cause. Never had one with a failed laser.
 

Bill in Utah

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Well, they still spin and sometimes read the disk, but will not write. Sony, LG and Lite-on all said when they sent me back a new drive that the laser has failed. ALL of them! (BTW. LG really stinks for DVD drives. I've replaced them more than any other brand) Take care, bill
 
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All the ones I've had (readers and burners) that failed either had intermittent read failures (sometimes with awful noises) or wouldn't even spin the disk (motor or driver failed, apparently).The few I've ripped apart, I could still see the red glow from the laser so it apparently was still working. LG stinks for cellphones, too.
 
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Burning drives have a set number of hours before failure, this is rather common, and if you burn a lot of DVD's/CDs, then your going to replace these drives often. Pure CD-Roms...where they just read, have a much longer lifespan. That said, laser lenses can get dirty and scratched, and when that happens it can be a pain. If they use lasers for automotive applications, they are going to be a wear item. The laser diode itself may be ok, but the final lense is going to wear out at some point...especially if its located within an engine cylinder. It would be interesting to see how powerful these lasers would have to be. They would most definately be solid state, as the use of a chemical laser for this application would be virtually impossible. I have never tried to ignite gas vapor with a laser...would be interesting to see whats required to accomplish such.
 
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Ask any Sun engineer about GBICs and you'll understand my reluctance to move from a spark plug to a laser. Neat idea, but probably a very expensive replacement compared to plugs and wires. It could be done in a modular fashion, but I suspect it will be much more costly to replace the laser and fiber that carries it compared to either a COP and plug system, or a block of coils, plug wires, and plugs. Now if Ford offered this with a lifetime warranty when it first comes out... Interesting concept. I'll wait to see how and how well it's implemented.
 
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 Originally Posted By: ViragoBry
I'm all for it. They'd nearly removed all the wear items from a typical car's ignition system. The plugs are the only thing left that degrade considerably in performance over time and miles. Lasers: 100% efficiency all the time with no degradation in performance as time wears on. I just hope there's not going to be a huge price penalty to get this advancement.
Not really true. I have to replace GBICs and SFPs all the time in SAN solutions. Not to mention Fibre HBAs in servers. The lasers go out, the wavelength of the light drifts from the desired value, and so forth. This is not a technology that will not wear out. It may not be as sensitive to tuning in an automotive ignition application. However, I believe that will be more than balanced out by the much harsher environment these components will face under the hood.
 
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 Originally Posted By: brianl703
I remember when CD players first came out everyone thought that the laser would eventually fail. Have you EVER heard of a laser failure in a CD player?
No, but last time I checked, the lasers in my music and video machines weren't being exposed to several hundred bursts of burning gasoline every second or so... ;\)
 
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 Originally Posted By: ekpolk
 Originally Posted By: brianl703
I remember when CD players first came out everyone thought that the laser would eventually fail. Have you EVER heard of a laser failure in a CD player?
No, but last time I checked, the lasers in my music and video machines weren't being exposed to several hundred bursts of burning gasoline every second or so... ;\)
This set up doesn't seem to either. From my understanding they use a fiber optic of some sort to route the beam to the cylinder. It seems the real thing to worry about would be the lens getting dirty.
 
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It will still be in a very hot engine compartment. Lots of dust, water when it rains, snow. This is a much more harsh environment than your typical data center, desk top, or home entertainment cabinet.
 
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