Laser Car Ignition Dream
Sparks Multiple Approaches
Laser car ignition systems promise better fuel efficiency and lower pollution
than conventional ones – as long as the technology continues to develop.
BY LAURA S. MARSHALL
As calls for improved energy effi- ciency and reduced auto emissions grow ever louder, lasers are being
investigated as possible replacements for
the conventional spark plug. But there’s
another reason, too.
“Every laser jock wants to run an en-
gine with laser ignition,” said Dr. Steven
D. Woodruff, a research chemist at the US
Department of Energy’s National Energy
Technology Laboratory (NETL) in Mor-
gantown, W.Va. “I became involved with
a team working on new ignition systems
for natural gas reciprocating engines, and
this was a natural fit.”
Woodruff’s focus at NETL is on laser
spectroscopic diagnostics in combustion,
and his current projects include develop-
ing a laser spark plug for natural gas-
fueled engines. He also serves as an
adjunct professor in the Mechanical and
Aerospace Engineering Department at
West Virginia University, also in Mor-
His colleague Dr. Dustin L. McIntyre
wrote his 2007 doctoral dissertation on
Laser car ignition technology could lead to improved energy efficiency and reduced auto emissions. Here, a
laser spark is emitted at the end of the National Energy Technology Laboratory laser spark plug.
“Every laser jock
wants to run an
engine with laser
a laser spark plug ignition system for
stationary lean-burn natural gas engines.
McIntyre continues to develop intel-
lectual property related to lasers, laser
diagnostics and laser ignition systems,
and has more than 10 years of experience
in ignition-system and high-energy-laser
Feeling the lean burn
Lean-burn operation is vital for low
NOx emissions in natural-gas-fueled
engines, Woodruff noted. “Lean burn”
means that the air-fuel ratio in an engine
is high, so the engine is using less fuel.
“Lean burn” means that the air-fuel ratio in an engine is high,
so the engine can run on less fuel.