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ASME Internal Combustion Engine Division 2005 Fall Technical Conference: ARES-ARICE Symposium on Gas Fired Reciprocating Engines

September 11 14 ,2005, Ottawa, Canada


Laser Ignition - a New Concept to Use and Increase the Potentials of Gas Engines
Dr. Gnther Herdin/GEJenbacher GmbH & Co OHG Prof. Ernst Wintner/Technical University of Vienna DI Johann Klausner/GEJenbacher GmbH & Co OHG Josef Graf/Technical University of Vienna

DI Martin Weinrotter/Technical University of Vienna

Kurt Iskra/Technical University of Graz

ABSTRACT Due to market demands aimed at increasing the efficiency and the power density of gas engines, existing ignition systems are rapidly approaching their limits. To avoid this, gas engine manufacturers are seeking new technologies. From the viewpoint of gas engine R&D engineers, ignition of the fuel/air mixture by means of a laser has great potential. Especially the thermodynamic requirements of a high compression ratio and a high power density are fulfilled well by laser ignition. Results of measurements on the test bench confirm the high expectations with a BMEP of 1.8 MPa it was possible to verify NOx values of a non-optimized system of 30 ppm (70 mg/Nm @ 5 % O2) with very high combustion stability. In the meantime, GEJ can look back at 6 years of excellent experience and can see itself as the technological leader in the field of laser ignition. Despite this, considerable developmental steps are still necessary to adapt the laser ignition concept fully to desired objectives (especially costs). INTRODUCTION Good degrees of efficiency of a gas engine require the highest possible BMEPs this basic approach also results in a specific reduction of engine costs and, further, improved life cycle costs. On the other hand, the technological complexity and costs needed to achieve such requirements are considerable. When viewed from this perspective, the results of the developmental activities of the last 10 years are well worth looking at. From the point of intensification of developmental work onwards it has been possible to practically double the BMEPs. In the case of GEJs big engine series the individual steps are shown in relation to the time axis in Figure 1. The limit of 2.5 MPa results on the one hand due to supercharging, on the other due to the ignition system utilized. As far as degrees of efficiency are concerned, this developmental work means about 6 % points [1]. Increasing the power density results in the ignition system requiring a higher voltage in order to generate a spark.

Figure 1: Development of BMEP in Series 6 As mentioned earlier, the voltage requirement rises with increasing BMEP. Figure 2 shows this interrelationship using the example of Series 3 at TA Luft Standard (500 mg NOx/Nm @ 5% O2) and at TA Luft. Essentially, a higher power density in the combustion chamber also means a higher voltage requirement in order to allow the spark to break through. In the case of the somewhat leaner operation with TA Luft all other conditions remaining the same the result is a parallel shift of about 3 kV.

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Auto-ignition concepts, such as Compression Charge Ignition (HCCI) Shock wave concept Laser ignition [2], among others.


Assisting concepts such as the differentiation between diverse pre-chamber concepts and diverse spark plug concepts (e.g. pre-chamber spark plugs) will not be treated here.

Stage of the laser ignition project at GEJ Figure 2: Increase of spark voltage with increasing BMEP The ignition of a fuel/air mixture by means of laser plasma is essentially nothing new and was already presented at an SAE conference in the year 1978 by Mr. Dale [3]. For high-risk projects it is always recommendable to proceed step by step. The project is presently in its third phase, namely examination of feasibility also for automotive applications (car sparkignition engines), inclusive of know-how generation of the influence of various fuels as well as of a special concept of HCCI-ignition (Laser-assisted HCCI) initiated by a laser pulse. The first project step concentrated mainly on the analysis of the behavior of ignition under conditions as they occur in a combustion engine. About 90 % of the tests took place with the aid of a combustion vessel so as to be able to quantify all influences. While experiments on SWRI [4] under atmospheric conditions showed the functionality of initiating ignition by means of laser pulse plasma, it was not possible to draw conclusions about engine-specific correlations. GEJs approach to this is also significant, however, especially to be able to ensure presentability regarding costs. Consideration of only the effect of initiation of ignition is in itself not sensible, because especially the power output requirement is directly reflected in the system costs and everything must be done to minimize the power of the laser diodes. At the end of the first research period the adapted laser system was relocated to the test bench in Jenbach. The first test run was demonstrated on a gas engine with lean combustion on 8 August 2000. In this regard, Figure 4 shows the set-up of the laser, which was actuated by a specially adapted ignition control unit. In Figure 5 we can see the schematic set-up on the test bench, where one of the cylinders was separated to influence the mixture formation and the exhaust gas pipe train for measuring the exhaust emissions. This set-up allows detailed investigations to be carried out regarding the lambda influence, diverse gas mixtures, among other things. The supercharging of the separated cylinder was carried out with an external system; the limit with these measurements was a BMEP of 1.9 MPa and a Lambda of 2.1 (specified compressor). Figure 6 shows the set-up of the laser system on the developmental test bench of the first series of tests.

The problem resulting from these interrelationships is characterized by a reduction of the service life of the spark plugs (Figure 3). With an increase in BMEP from 17 to 22 bar this means a reduction of the service life by about 50 %. This is the case in spite of the concerted utilization of all possibilities of GEJS own developmental potential of a self-developed spark plug with very resistant electrode material. Further limitations are the ignition coil and the entire ignition harness, which are at their limits with increasing igniting voltages. To be able to exploit the potentials of gas-engine combustion, it is therefore necessary to analyze old, well-known systems, as for example diesel pilot injection, as well as newer systems.

Figure 3: The service life of the spark plugs dependent on the BMEP Range of concepts for initiation of ignition Alongside the presently common CDI system there is also the equally effective transistor ignition. New and possible concepts are: Plasma ignition High-frequency ignition Diesel micro-pilot ignition

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dimensioning. (high BMEPs and high compression ratio). The quality of the ignition beam profile is also very important, because with the right profile it is possible to minimize the energy necessary to generate the ignition spark. The pulse duration and the shape of the focus are also very crucial for minimization of the energy needed to generate plasma.

Figure 4: Integration of the laser

The above results are summarized in Figure 7. From our point of view, achieving the minimum of 0.15 mJ under stoichiometric conditions in the combustion vessel is sensational. This minimal ignition energy also corresponds with the theoretical amount of minimal energy needed to ignite the mixture. However, this minimum has only a theoretical value, because we are assuming the utilization of the potentialities of even leaner limits to reduce NOX.

Figure 5: Scheme of cylinder separation for the laser ignition tests

Figure 7:

Dependence of the required ignition energy on the relative pressure (density) in the combustion chamber

The following points can also be considered important: The development and propagation of the flame front take place analogously to spark ignition. The influence of Lambda is also very similar - with a high Lambda the flame propagation is correspondingly slower than with richer mixtures. Figure 8 presents the developments of the pressure curves of various fuel/air mixtures. In the first phase it is a case of practically laminar ignition conditions, which naturally proceed relatively slowly. For the exploitation of the extension of the lean-burn limit this means that it is absolutely necessary to take measures to increase the degree of turbulence so as not to get delayed combustion with bad degrees of efficiency.

Figure 6: Set-up of the laser system for the first engine tests Important results As pressure increases (higher BMEP), the energy required to reach the plasma becomes less. I.e., the higher the density is in the combustion chamber, the better the conditions are for the laser ignition system. For the thermodynamics of the engine this means clear advantages in favor of efficiency-optimized

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Figure 8: Influence of Lambda on laminar flame speed and pressure build-up The ignition delay with laser ignition (the same conditions) is clearly shorter. This effect was determined with all investigated fuels. Figure 9 presents the behavior in the case of natural gas. Detailed investigations regarding this phenomenon were carried out with the aid of LIF and schlieren photography. One explanation of this effect is that in the case of laser ignition an OH cloud umpteen times larger is formed through the influence of the shock wave and that this aids the subsequent flame propagation. This condition allows the lean-burn limit to be shifted further to leaner mixtures, thus making it possible to reduce NOX emissions by means of primary measures as well. In the case of methane it is possible to attain Lambda values of 2.6 even with mixture temperatures of 200C (Figure 10). That is to say, NOX-free combustion is possible with methane in the combustion vessel. However, utilization in an engine is not possible on account of the very slow combustion.

Figure 10: Extension of the lean-burn limit in the combustion vessel by means of laser ignition Results of tests on the gas engine and the research engine of the TU Vienna Gas engine test bench results also showed the extension of the Lambda window in the direction of even leaner limits with lower NOX emission values. These tests were carried out with commercially available lasers; it was possible to adjust the ignition energy in a very wide range up to 100 mJ. A comparison with conventional ignition systems shows the superiority of the laser ignition system (Figure 11). It was possible to attain a value of 70 mg NOx/Nm (@ 5% O2 TALuft Standard) already after some 100 hours of engine operation -- without particular developmental activities. The variation coefficient (VOC), better than 1.6, is remarkable for this extreme lean-burn operation.

Figure 11: Comparison of NOX emissions of different ignition concepts The advantages are clearly visible, especially in comparison with the micro-pilot concepts (micro-pilot direct ignition and pre-chamber micro-pilot). To make faster headway and also to apply the knowledge gained from the combustion vessel, a laser was procured specifically for these tests. This laser has a power output of about 1.5 mJ and can, if required, be miniaturized to a size allowing it to fit inside an M-12 spark plug adapter. This laser is presented in Figure 12 together with the cooling housing and the optical components.

Figure 9: Ignition delay and burning behavior laser ignition vs. spark plug

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spez. ind. Verbrauch [g/kWh]


Apmax, ZW, Energieumsatzpunkte [KWnZOT], Brenndauer [KW]

14 12 10 8 6 4 2 0

350 330 310 290 270 250 230 210

80 70 60 50 40 30 20 10 0 -10 -20 -30 -40 -50 -60 0.7 0.8 0.9 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 1.8 Lambda [-]
Brennd Apmax MBF50% MBF5% MBF90% ZW

spez. ind. Emissionen [g/kWh]

COV von pmi [%]

25 700 23 ISHC 20 650 ISNOX 18 TAbg 15 600 13 10 550 8 5 500 3 0 450 0.7 0.8 0.9 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 1.8 Lambda [-]

Tabg [C]

Zndkerze Laser

n=2000 [min-1]; pmi=4 [bar]; homogen; w/o AGR

Figure 14: Figure 12: Prototype laser for the tests Extensive tests were carried out with this laser on a small research engine (Hatz, 700 ccm) at the TU Vienna. The objective of these tests was the broadening of knowledge in the case of operation with commercially available gasoline as a fuel, as well as research on minimal ignition energies. Figure 13 shows the test set-up at the Institute for Internal Combustion Engines and Automotive Engineering at the TU Vienna. To round out the tests, the research activities were augmented with the more powerful lasers. An excerpt of the results is shown in Figure 14 (extension of the lean-burn limit) and the influence on the ignition delay (Figure 15). In the case of the extension of the Lambda window a value of a little over 0.2 units was ascertained. This means a reduction of NOX emissions under otherwise equal conditions (spec. VOC) by more than 50 %. It was also possible to confirm the reduction of the firing delay with the small gasoline-operated engine. The results can be seen in Figure 15.

Analyzes of the Laser Ignition compared with an conventional spark ignition system smaller spark ignition engine (TU Vienna)

Figure 15: Ignition delay in a small spark ignition engine (TU Vienna)

As described above, the basic advantages of laser ignition were verified and presented on the occasion of an SAE conference [3] by Dr. Dale already in the year 1978. At that time, however, there was no chance of realization due to costs and the size of the system. Yet even then the results that were shown were remarkable. The comparison of the trade-off of NOX/spec. fuel consumption of the tests carried out by Dr. Dale is shown in Figure 16. Furthermore, the first experience was gained already at that time regarding the influence of re-circulated exhaust gas. Our results concerning this theme would go beyond the scope of this paper and are therefore not treated here.

Figure 13: Prototype laser test set-up at the TU Vienna

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Figure 18: ROHR of multi-point ignition Figure 16: Historical results of Dr. Dale in 1978 The use of optical components offers additional possibilities to generate several plasma sparks at different points in the combustion chamber. One investigated approach is the use of diffractive lenses -- see foci splitting in Figure 19. The plasma points then visible in the combustion chamber can be seen in Figure 20.

Additional possibilities for the application of laser ignition To fully utilize the potentialities of laser ignition, the developer must understand and master the interrelationships in the engine perfectly. There is no sense in utilizing only the NOX advantages with a costly system and not paying attention to the specific fuel consumption. Consequently, additional measures must be taken to maintain the fuel consumption level under conditions of extremely lean operation and even to improve it. In this regard, researchers place great emphasis on its experience with high turbulence to accelerate combustion (HEC concept [5]). However, there are also other innovative approaches possible with laser ignition. One tested approach is so-called multi-point ignition, which has been investigated not only in terms of the theoretical approach, but also through studies dealing with combustion vessels. As an example, Figure 17 presents the result of the calculated flame front of a 4-point laser ignition after 29 CA in operation at Lambda 2.05. In this manner, the spark duration (90 %) can be reduced approximately to less than half (NOx level 30 ppm) -- See Figure 18.

Figure 19: Optical triplication of foci

Figure 17: Multi-point ignition

Figure 20: Presentation of triple-point laser ignition

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Another approach is to improve ignition conditions and flame propagation by increasing combustion chamber temperatures. As well, this allows the required ignition energies to be reduced considerably. An example regarding this approach is shown in Figure 21. With a very lean mixture it is possible to reduce the required ignition energy by about 30 % by increasing the temperature by 50C (from 150 to 200C). At full load the temperatures at the firing point are a good deal higher. To be able to better understand the interrelationships, the tests with the combustion vessel were extended to a temperature level of 400C. The results in the case of methane are presented in Figure 21. Using this approach, the required ignition energy can be kept at under 2 mJ up to Lambda 2.2. Knowledge of the global interrelationships is therefore very important for the design of the laser.

Combustion chamber window technology The combustion chamber window can be seen as the core component of laser ignition system. As regards combustion chamber window technology, the research team has many years of experience based on the OCA system (optical combustion analysis) [6] in the series. In this concept, each cycle is evaluated as to whether and how the individual cylinders function. Compared with laser ignition, the big difference in the OCA concept is that the combustion chamber window does not have to have good optical properties. Furthermore, with laser ignition the consequence of other effects has to be examined. One of these effects is the so-called burning free of substances that have accumulated on the surface of the combustion chamber side. Figure 23 shows such a window after demounting. The laser was able to induce ignition without any problem and to keep the combustion chamber side of the window free. All in all, regarding laser ignition the development team has more than 5,000 hours of experience with combustion chamber windows tested in actual engine operation (natural gas and gasoline). Additionally, there is the experience gained with the combustion vessel and the results of the singular window tests (especially max. possible energy density on the surface) with 1,000 hours. According to these data there are, in our opinion, two areas permitting long-term operation of laser ignition. This result is presented in Figure 24. This is: 1. 2. 3. 4. the area of energy density in the combustion chamber where no deposits occur the area where the laser has a strong deposition effect the area where the energy density is sufficient to eliminate all C contents and other deposits (ashes) and then the area where the energy density of the laser pulse at the surface is too great and the laser destroys the combustion chamber window in the middle term. This effect was determined with a specific configuration at over 500 operating hours.

Figure 21: Extension of the ignition window by means of higher temperatures

Figure 22: Dependence of minimal ignition energy on temperature and Lambda It has already been known for some time that the HCCI concept has the best prerequisites to improve the trade-off of NOX and spec. fuel consumption considerably. This concept can already be realized in the lower partial-load range. The major problem, however, is controlling the inducting firing point. Our approach to a potential solution focuses on laser-assisted HCCI combustion. Here the mixture is near a point close to selfignition; combustion is then initiated at the desired point of time by a laser pulse.

Figure 23: Burning free effect of the combustion chamber window

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Figure 24. The challenge of the combustion chamber window The technology of the combustion chamber window is surely a component crucial for the success of laser ignition and this additionally also plays an important role in cost optimization. The diode laser, i.e. the pump diodes, have prognosticated service lives of more than 50,000 hours, and therefore the combustion chamber window, i.e. the system, must also reach a service life window of at least 10,000 hours to attain the objective of development. However, the physical limits of the various possible window materials presently still lie very close to the limit to be attained. To provide an idea of which energy densities are necessary for plasma generation, the cross-section of a laser pulse is shown in Figure 25. We are referring here to energy densities in the range of up to 7*1010 W/mm -- through the short duration of the pulse this means the power of the firing pulse lies in the MW range. It therefore becomes clear that with such energy densities also physical limits are close to the materials used.

Figure 26: The GE Jenbacher concept ACKNOWLEDGMENTS The authors wish to express their appreciation and thanks to the various supportive agencies and organizations (FFG, BMVIT A3 program, among others) that have contributed strongly to the success of the project in addition to the very high investment made by the initiator of the project. Our gratitude also goes to the many unnamed colleagues who through their painstaking work also contributed to the success of the project.

REFERENCES [1] Plohberger D., Fahringer A., Chvatal D., Kneissel E., Jenbacher AG "Hohe Drehzahl and hoher Wirkungsgrad - Grundlagen eines modernen Gasmotorenkonzeptes" Gasmotorenkonferenz Dessau 2003 [2] Herdin G., Kopecek H., Wintner E., Pischinger R. Basics for a Future Laser Ignition System for Gas Engines, ASME Fall Conference in Peoria, 24 27 Sept. 2000 [3] J.D. Dale, P.R. Smy, R.M. Clements, Laser Ignited Internal Combustion Engine An Experimental Study, S.A.E. Conference in Detroit, 29 March 1978 [4] J.X. Ma, T.W. Ryan, J.P Buckingham Nd:YAG Ignition of Natural Gas, ICE Vol.30-3; 1998 Spring Technical Conference ASME 1998: Paper No. 98-ICE-114 [5] G.Herdin, F. Gruber, W. Henkel, A. Fahringer The New High Efficiency 1.5 MW Engine of Jenbacher AG 23rd Cimac World Congress in Hamburg [6] G. R. Herdin, F. Gruber, B. Lutz, M. Kraus, F. Pockstaller monic and oca, innovative control and monitoring systems for gas engines Dessau Gasmotoren-Konferenz 1999

Figure 25: Required energy densities in the laser cross-section

Summary and the future of laser ignition in gas engines With the great amount of know-how they have amassed, the researchers are very confident of being able to attain its aims. Our favored concept is shown in Figure 26. There will presumably be a central pump source that then sends the pulses to the working laser via fibers in order to form them into a high-capacity pulse for the triggering of ignition. All in all, we see the new system as the chance to prepare the technology of combustion engines for the second century of combustion engines and to exploit the open potentials [7,8] further.

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[7] M. Weinrotter, E. Wintner, K. Iskra, T. Neger, J. Olofsson, H. Seyfried, M. Aldn, M. Lackner, F. Winter, A. Vressner, A. Hultqvist, B. Johansson. Optical Diagnostics of Laser-Induced and Spark PlugAssisted HCCI Combustion. Society of Automotive Engineers SAE, Detroit, USA, 11-14 April 2005, in Conference Proceedings, ISSN 0148-7191, Paper No. SAE 2005-01-0129.

8] H. Kopecek, E. Wintner, M. Lackner, F. Winter, A. Hultqvist: Laser-stimulated Ignition in a Homogeneous Charge Compression Ignition Engine, SAE2004-01-0937

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