More Efficient Engines: Lasers Replacing Spark Plugs In Cars?

A team of Japanese researchers has come up with ceramic lasers that can be triggered every nanosecond, giving powerful blasts  that hold their intensity over very short ranges. They are just 9 mm in diameters. They might find use in the unlikeliest of places the engine of a car, sounding the death knell for spark plugs and twitchy car engines.

Spark Plug RIP

A moment’s thought might help one describe this idea as innovative’, rather than outlandish’, though, in fact, it is both. Let’s see why.

Lasers are extremely accurate and can deliver ignition pulses, precise in both time and space. They will deliver it at the right spot and also time them as needed. The very low response time will make engines more sensitive to what the driver instructs them to so. This will make a huge difference in the stopping time of a vehicle, when, often, a second or two matters a lot.


Since lasers can be made to point accurately at any place, they can be designed to produce the ignition right in the middle of the chamber, which can then spread out evenly. Spark plugs deliver asymmetric ignition and, thus, some energy is wasted, since the force in the radial direction is not quite balanced. Lasers will eliminate such imbalances and give more push for the same ignition, concentrating all the force to act in the direction that matters.

Extremely important is the ability of lasers to produce very high temperatures within small spaces. This will be able to ignite a fuel-air mixture containing much less fuel. Spark plugs, producing much lesser temperatures, need higher proportion of fuel to ignite. Fuel guzzlers may become a thing of the past.

Lasers will also come with a lower maintenance cost, so in the long run, they’ll save a lot of money for the owner of the car. They are also expected to make significant cuts in carbon emissions of engines.

Leaner, cleaner and fitter, lasers promise to replace spark plugs in engines of not too distant future.

Published by

Debjyoti Bardhan

Is a science geek, currently pursuing some sort of a degree (called a PhD) in Physics at TIFR, Mumbai. An enthusiastic but useless amateur photographer, his most favourite activity is simply lazing around. He is interested in all things interesting and scientific.