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Laser ignition - Spark plug development and application in reciprocating engines
Progress in Quantum Electronics  (IF12.25),  Pub Date : 2018-03-01, DOI: 10.1016/j.pquantelec.2018.04.001
Nicolaie Pavel, Mark Bärwinkel, Peter Heinz, Dieter Brüggemann, Geoff Dearden, Gabriela Croitoru, Oana Valeria Grigore

Abstract Combustion is one of the most dominant energy conversion processes used in all areas of human life, but global concerns over exhaust gas pollution and greenhouse gas emission have stimulated further development of the process. Lean combustion and exhaust gas recirculation are approaches to improve the efficiency and to reduce pollutant emissions; however, such measures impede reliable ignition when applied to conventional ignition systems. Therefore, alternative ignition systems are a focus of scientific research. Amongst others, laser induced ignition seems an attractive method to improve the combustion process. In comparison with conventional ignition by electric spark plugs, laser ignition offers a number of potential benefits. Those most often discussed are: no quenching of the combustion flame kernel; the ability to deliver (laser) energy to any location of interest in the combustion chamber; the possibility of delivering the beam simultaneously to different positions, and the temporal control of ignition. If these advantages can be exploited in practice, the engine efficiency may be improved and reliable operation at lean air-fuel mixtures can be achieved, making feasible savings in fuel consumption and reduction in emission of exhaust gasses. Therefore, laser ignition can enable important new approaches to address global concerns about the environmental impact of continued use of reciprocating engines in vehicles and power plants, with the aim of diminishing pollutant levels in the atmosphere. The technology can also support increased use of electrification in powered transport, through its application to ignition of hybrid (electric-gas) engines, and the efficient combustion of advanced fuels. In this work, we review the progress made over the last years in laser ignition research, in particular that aimed towards realizing laser sources (or laser spark plugs) with dimensions and properties suitable for operating directly on an engine. The main envisaged solutions for positioning of the laser spark plug, i.e. placing it apart from or directly on the engine, are introduced. The path taken from the first solution proposed, to build a compact laser suitable for ignition, to the practical realization of a laser spark plug is described. Results obtained by ignition of automobile test engines, with laser devices that resemble classical spark plugs, are specifically discussed. It is emphasized that technological advances have brought this method of laser ignition close to the application and installation in automobiles powered by gasoline engines. Achievements made in the laser ignition of natural gas engines are outlined, as well as the utilization of laser ignition in other applications. Scientific and technical advances have allowed realization of laser devices with multiple (up to four) beam outputs, but many other important aspects (such as integration, thermal endurance or vibration strength) are still to be solved. Recent results of multi-beam ignition of a single-cylinder engine in a test bench set-up are encouraging and have led to increased research interest in this direction. A fundamental understanding of the processes involved in laser ignition is crucial in order to exploit the technology's full potential. Therefore, several measurement techniques, primarily optical types, used to characterize the laser ignition process are reviewed in this work.