DETROIT -- Researchers at Federal-Mogul Corp. are developing a new type of spark plug that sends a web of plasma bolts into cylinders to ignite fuel.
Plasma, a collection of charged particles, is generated by electricity exciting air near the tip of the plug.
The company says at least 10 automakers are evaluating the high-voltage device, called Advanced Corona Ignition System. Engineers believe the ignition system will enable changes to engines that can improve fuel economy, lower emissions and boost engine performance.
Federal-Mogul, one of several companies working on new-generation spark plugs, says the ignition system could be installed in some engines by 2017.
But an ignition system engineer for a Detroit automaker who has studied the Federal-Mogul system said many technical and cost issues must be overcome before it can be adopted. He declined to be identified.
Spark plugs in today's cars look and work the same way they did 100 years ago. They have a center and ground electrode in a steel case with a ceramic insulator. The spark jumps between the two electrodes to ignite the air and fuel mixture in each cylinder. The length and strength of the spark do not vary.
The spark from a traditional plug is usually around 0.042 of an inch, or about the width of a business card. During a recent demonstration of the system at Federal-Mogul's tech center here, an Advanced Corona Ignition System plug in a lab emitted plasma bolts from the tip.
Kris Mixell, director of ACIS for Federal-Mogul, described the problem with modern engines this way: "As you add more exhaust gas or reduce the amount of fuel, the mixture becomes very, very difficult to ignite. But you only have the same amount of time for that to happen. The multiple arcs from the ACIS plug overcome that."