American startup has developed the ignition of the futureMay 19, 2020
Advanced technologies aim to increase efficiency and reduce emissions.
When burning fuel, the improvement of average indicators of its economy is very simple: when driving less fuel is consumed in the cylinder. To this end, engine designers worked to make dry mixes work with the Chrysler electronic dry combustion system in the mid-70s. But obtaining such mixtures for ignition through the spark plug (in engines starting with model T) was problematic. Today, California-based startup Transient Plasma Systems offers a low-temperature plasma ignition system that claims to replace the spark plug.
How do traditional spark plugs work?
Here’s how traditional spark plugs work: the energy generated by the coil builds up in the air gap of the spark plug until the energy potential ionizes the gases in the gap. This leads to the fact that the gases become conductive, which leads to an electric surge and an instant flash of hot plasma – like a tiny lightning bolt. The smallest percentage of the energy used to create this spark results in the thermal ignition of the fuel mixture, which then has to spread throughout the cylinder.
What is the difference between a transient plasma system?
TPS suggests using a different type of plasma to initiate combustion in a completely different way. Using the latest advances in high-voltage solid-state switching, a voltage similar to that created in an old-fashioned coil is generated within 10-50 nanoseconds and is distributed not over a discrete gap, but rather along streamers and sheets between the electrode and the peripheral case of the plug.
A megawatt of energy generates this low-temperature plasma, but with an energy of one digit. Half of this energy is consumed, breaking down the bonds that hold the oxygen molecules together and accelerating individual oxygen atoms, so that they attack and burn the fuel much faster and at much lower temperatures.
Tests at Ohio State University’s prototype ethylene engine showed that the TPS ignition system “has demonstrated that the chain reactions of radicals generated by plasma reduce ignition times by two orders of magnitude and the ignition temperature by up to 80 degrees Fahrenheit. These results are additional evidence of the non-thermal nature of low-temperature plasma ignition. “
Let’s decipher this result. High-speed ignition means less expectation of the flame front spreading over the diluted mixture and a greater likelihood of burning all fuel. Lower temperatures mean much less NOx and much less heat, so most of the fuel energy drives the car. The system was tested at Argonne National Labs on a Cummins I-6 natural gas engine, where it demonstrated improved thermal brake efficiency, reduced CO and NOx emissions, and the ability to perform a lot of exhaust gas recirculation.
Although TPS ignition can ignite air-fuel mixtures as poor as 25: 1, this large excess of air still complicates emission control; the goal is to start stoichiometric mixtures diluted with a large amount of excess inert exhaust gas. (It is worth noting, however, that TPS is working on another application of this technology to remove particles and burn NOx, as happens with O2.)
However, fans of performance should not be afraid. TPS ignition can also increase power. Faster combustion provides less spark advance, so less combustion occurs when the piston is still moving up in the cylinder, leaving more combustion pressure to rotate the wheels.
Ignition Pros TPS
The most interesting thing about the TPS ignition: the system immediately turns on, replacing modern coils and spark plugs, and its advantages are complemented by modern technologies such as turbocharging and hybridization. According to Dan Singleton, co-founder and CEO of TPS, the benefits of fuel economy should be between 10 and 15%. His company recently completed a $ 8.5 million Series A funding phase and is in talks with “several OEs in Europe, Asia, and the United States.”
Undoubtedly, there is still a lot of work to develop and evaluate reliability: these plasma plugs cannot withstand the resistor core, therefore, other shielding will be required to prevent radio interference. But Singleton is optimistic about the prospects for a plasma to extend the life of an internal combustion engine.
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