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A New Automatic Spark Generation System for

Gasoline Engines
Pedjman Pourmohamadiyan∗ , Arman Hassanpoor† , Adel Soheili∗ , Ehsan Afshari∗ , Kamel Hooman‡

∗ Department of Electrical Engineering

Ferdowsi University of Mashhad
Mashhad, Iran
† School of Electrical Engineering

KTH Royal Institute of Technology

Stockholm, Sweden
‡ School of Mechanical and Mining Engineering

The University of Queensland

Queensland, Australia

Abstract—This paper presents a new automatic spark system central conductor is connected to the output terminal of a high
for gasoline engines by reshaping the electric field in the com- voltage source (an ignition coil or a magneto) by an insulated
bustion chamber through repositioning high voltage electrodes wire. The outer conductor of the spark plug (shell) is screwed
and applying changes in the electrodes geometry. This system into the engine cylinder head and thus is electrically grounded.
provides better and wider discharge resulting in higher efficiency The central conductor passes through the porcelain insulator
and ignition rate. Furthermore, a much simpler timing system,
into the combustion chamber, forming an electrical bushing.
relying exclusively on built in control parameters, i.e. chamber
pressure, temperature and piston position is needed. Numerical The high voltage conductor in the combustion chamber is
simulation of this newly-proposed design is conducted using a within a small distance from a grounded conductor usually
time-dependent solver. In particular, electrical field is investigated connected to the bushing flange (metal shell).
along the course line of a single piston. It has been observed
The central electrode of the spark plug is connected to
that ignition is easier to control at the right piston position and
crank angle which will obviously lead to better fuel economy and
a high voltage source in specified time durations which are
environmental protection. completely coordinated with all parts of the engine. This
coordination is an essential requirement to ignite the fuel-
Keywords—Gas discharges, spark plug, ignition system. air mixture at the right instant. Any miss-coordination in
this process would lead to stall or even engine failure. Most
I. I NTRODUCTION gasoline engines use what is called manifold injection, which
Ignition systems are used to ignite the air/fuel mixture uses the injected gasoline and incoming air to form a homo-
in the combustion chamber at a specific time and pressure geneous mixture before ignition [2]. However, some recent
to reach maximum efficiency. Timing has proven to play engines benefit from applying the Gasoline Direct Injection
an important role in reaching maximum pressure that varies (GDI) technique, injecting the fuel directly to the combustion
depending on the engine speed and manifold conditions. Thus, chamber. Creating an inhomogeneous mixture and surrounding
ignition process as schematically described in Fig. 1 must the gasoline with air makes the ignition challenging [2]. The
occur earlier when the engine accelerates and later when main aim of the present investigation is to reach complete
it decelerates. An ignition system, as shown in Fig. 2, is ignition in the air/fuel mixture by creating longer, stronger
composed of: and widespread sparks. Moreover, the proposed design leads
to less complicated and easier timing control and thereby
• Crankshaft sensor improves the engine performance [3]. In what follows, the
basic concept and working principle of our proposed system
• Camshaft sensor
is presented. Then, the whole system is numerically simulated
• Igniter and the performance of the system is analyzed in details.
• Ignition coils, harness, Spark plugs
• ECM and inputs.
Increasing the spark plug gap up to a certain limit can
Spark plugs are indispensable part of ignition engines that improve the ignition efficiency and reduce petrol consumption,
directly affect the engine performance [1]. A spark plug is a while over-sizing this gap can make the ignition system
coaxial high voltage bushing which its shell is electrically iso- inefficient. Usually the spark plug gap scope ranges from 0.5-
lated from the central conductor by a porcelain insulator. The 0.8 millimeters and the spark plugs with gaps greater than 1.1


Fig. 3. Basic geometry of the design

the bushing and the outer shell does not exist in the proposed
design. Instead, the second pole of the high voltage source is
(b) connected to the piston through an insulated system which
Fig. 1. Schematic description of ignition process (a) normal process, (b)
electrically isolates the piston from the cylinder block and
advanced angle head.
As a result, the piston rings should be made of noncon-
ductive materials. Therefore, the proposed structure is like a
point-plane (bushing conductor-piston) electrode. The resulted
electric field increases as the moving electrode (piston) moves
toward the HV bushing. Meanwhile, the combustion chamber
pressure increases during compression stroke when the moving
electrode (piston) moves upward and the distance between the
electrodes decreases. Adding two small elliptic dents to the
piston surface will create small sharp edges, resulting in higher
electric fields. When the generated electric field or electron
Fig. 2. Ignition spark generation in gasoline engines
density reaches a sufficient level, exceeding the breakdown
strength of the mixture, the spark is formed between the point
electrode and the moving piston by several long streams of ion-
millimeters are found to be inefficient (too wide gap spark ized gas at different places. Therefore, the engine performance
plugs) [4]. Furthermore, the undersized spark plug gap lowers enhances due to complete combustion of fuel/air mixture and
the spark energy and produces carbon deposits [5]. As such, uniform torque on the crankshaft.
it makes perfect engineering sense to reshape the electric field
and electric discharge in the combustion chamber. This is
achieved by using the moving piston as an electrode. The
other high voltage needle-shaped electrode is placed on the The electric field energy will create a fast excitation in
cylinder head (Fig. 3 and Fig. 4). This can be accomplished by the air-fuel mixture causing an ionizing process which only
a high voltage bushing similar to conventional spark plugs. Our takes several nanoseconds compared to the 70 Âţs of the
design, however, differs from the existing technology as it has conventional spark plugs. Discharge formation depends on
a metal shell which is not connected to the high voltage source. many parameters such as the electrodes, geometry, cathode-
Therefore, the short air gap between the central electrode of anode distance, type and pressure of gas or gas mixture, gas-

this will result in dielectric breakdown of the insulating gas.
The resulted spark bridges the high voltage bushing to the
moving piston. Thus, the spark covers a larger area of the
combustion chamber and the outcome is a better performance
of engine. Using numerical simulation, we aim at finding a
unique geometry and voltage level at which the breakdown
could occur in the full compression stage of combustion
chamber. Therefore, the simulation has been divided into
two subsections to check the effect of these parameters. In
following subsections, the electric field in the combustion
chamber is determined through FEM solving of Maxwell’s
equations. Under quasi-static conditions the electric potential,
V, is defined by the relationship:
E = −∇V. (1)
Combining this equation with the relationship between the
electric displacement D and the electric field E, it is possible
to represent GaussâĂŹ law as the following equation:
D = 0 E + P (2)
−∇.(0 ∇V − P ) = ρ. (3)
Fig. 4. Cross section view of the combustion chamber In the above equation, the physical constant, 0 (SI unit:
F/m) is the permittivity of vacuum, P (SI unit: C/m2) is
the electric polarization vector, and ρ (SI unit: C/m3) is a
gap pre-ionization [6]. Fig. 3 depicts various parts of the space charge density. This equation describes the electrostatic
proposed system in the cylinder head: the high voltage bushing field in dielectric materials. For in-plane 2D modeling, the
which passes through the engine cylinder head, the insulating Electrostatics interface assumes a symmetry where the electric
rings which electrically isolate the piston from the cylinder potential varies only in the x and y directions and is constant
block body. The ignition coil (high voltage source) output is in the z direction. This implies that the electric field, E,
connected to the high voltage bushing and the moving piston. is tangential to the xy-plane. With this symmetry, the same
Fig. 4 shows a view of the high voltage electrode (point equation is solved as in the 3D case. The interface solves the
electrode) in the cylinder head and combustion chamber as following equation where d is the thickness along z:
well as the piston which is one of the electrodes of the spark
system. This needle like electrode is the central conductor of −∇.d(0 ∇V − P ) = ρ. (4)
the high voltage bushing.
The equations are solved assuming the following boundary
• Zero surface charge on the cylinder block.
It has been shown that burning rates and the combustion
durations in a closed chamber can be reduced by increasing • Piston is assumed as the ground potential reference.
the size of the initial flame kernel [7], [8]. To demonstrate • The electric potential node is the point electrode,
the working principle, a real size 100hp, 1760cc engine which provides an electric potential between 22 kV
cylinder with a compression ratio of 9.5 has been simulated to 24 kV.
using COMSOL Multiphysic simulation software. The moving
piston and the electrical field formed through the compressible
A. Determination of Voltage Level
gas are simulated applying Finite Element techniques using
extremely fine meshing. The maximum electric field in the To obtain a unique proper voltage level for the proposed
geometry is calculated as the piston reciprocates to check the system, simulations have been conducted for different voltage
possibility of arc initiation. The proposed system creates an magnitudes near the voltage levels used in traditional spark
electric field between the point electrode (central conductor of plug systems. The point electrode diameter is assumed to be
high voltage bushing) and the plane one (piston). The cylinder 1.2 mm. The maximum electric fields with respect to the crank
block potential is determined by an external circuit connecting angle are shown for 22 kV, 23 kV and 24 KV in Figures 6
the high voltage source to the block. The block can also be to 9. The results are shown for every 2 mm of piston motion
used as a coaxial capacitor electrode or a resonator. along its 80 mm course length.
During the compression stroke the piston moves towards As it can be seen, while the piston moves from full
the other electrode and simultaneously the mixture (fuel-air) compression (0 degree) to full expansion (180 degree) the max-
pressure increases. If the voltage amplitude is high enough, imum electric field decreases. Another major criterion of this

Fig. 5. Maximum electric field vs. crank angle for 22kV Fig. 6. Maximum electric field vs. crank angle for 23 kV (first quarter cycle)

design is that the electric discharge must only happen at full

compression but not at other piston positions. Fig. 5 illustrates
that selecting a low ignition voltage could result in discharge
failures in full compression point. On the other hand, selecting
a higher voltage (see Fig. 8) might result in discharge in an
inappropriate position. This unwanted discharge may appear
before the full compression point resulting in inefficiency or
even engine failure. Within the presumed voltage range for
our case study, 23kV supply voltage shows better performance
for the spark formation (Fig. 6 and Fig. 7). Not only it has
a high enough electric field at full compression to start a
long streamer discharge but also the maximum electric field
is reduced by a ratio of after only 5 degrees change in the Fig. 7. Maximum electric field vs. crank angle for 23kV (second quarter
crank angle. This will greatly reduce the possibility of having cycle)
an unwanted electric discharge afterwards. Fig. 9 shows the
two-dimensional view of the electric field magnitude between
electrodes in full compression at 23kV. As seen, the highest
electric field occurs on the point electrode where the ionization
and discharge are expected to initiate. In Fig. 10 the maximum
electric fields are shown for different supply voltages. The
fuel-air mixture pressure at each crank angle is independent of
supply voltage magnitude. As such, the empirical magnitude of
breakdown strength of the fuel-air mixture (i.e. 2.1×107 V /m)
results in discharge at different crank angles. Obviously, two
of these crank angles are not proper for discharge as they are
in advance or retard of full compression instant. The electric
field distribution in combustion chamber is demonstrated in
Fig. 9, 11, 12 and 13 for a 23kV supply. It can be seen that for
two important geometries of full compression and expansion
Fig. 8. Maximum electric field vs. crank angle for 24 kV
the maximum electric field occurs at sharp edges of the point
electrode and the piston surface.
electric field for a 1 mm diameter electrode versus crank angle
B. Determination of Electrode Shape for 16kV.
The geometry of the point electrode has been studied
C. Discharge Study
as a design parameter since it is an essential factor for the
maximum electric field magnitude. Since there always is a The fuel-air mixture entered the combustion chamber vol-
practical limit in increasing the voltage level, having a sharper ume is affected by high intensity electric field. Pre-ionized dif-
point electrode could result in the required electric field with fuse discharge initiation in non-uniform electric field through
lower voltage level. This sharpness is limited to manufacturing high pressure gas is a challenging problem to simulate. It was
techniques and incurred costs (life cycle for sharper electrodes empirically found that, in a cathode with a small radius of cur-
are expected to be shorter). Fig. 14 describes the maximum vature and a flat anode, a diffuse corona arises within several

Fig. 9. Two dimensional view of the electric field magnitude between Fig. 12. Two dimensional view of the electric field magnitude at the piston
electrodes in full compression at 23kV surface in full expansion

Fig. 13. Distribution of the electric field magnitude in the combustion

chamber at full expansion

Fig. 10. Comparing maximum electric fields in three different voltages

Fig. 11. Two dimensional view of the electric field magnitude

Fig. 14. Maximum electric field vs. crank angle for 16KV with a 1.2 mm
diameter point electrode
hundreds of picoseconds at the early stage of the Runaway-
Electron Pre-ionized (REP) discharge [6]. The effect of voltage
waveform and polarity was also shown to be important in this
kind of discharges [9], [10]. The discharge phenomenon in the working temperature, electrode materials, pressure profile, fuel
proposed structure is also affected by other parameters like droplet size and burnt contaminants on the electrodes.

V. C ONCLUSION [10] Q. Zhang, F. Tao, Z. Li, and W. Din, “Effect of Pulse Rise Time on the
Glow Discharge in Nonuniform Electric Field ,” IEEE Transactions on
An automatic spark system is presented for the gasoline Plasma Science, vol. 36, no. 4, 2008.
engines. The main structure of the proposed ignition system is
composed of the same parts which are used in the conventional
combustion engines except for the spark plug and piston rings
which are changed to provide an electric field between the a
point electrode positioned in the cylinder head and piston. In
this regard the cylinder head body is not directly connected
to the high voltage source (ignition coil) ground (negative)
pole. Instead, the ground (negative) pole of the high voltage
source is connected to the piston which is insulated from the
cylinder block with insulating rings. Through simulation of
electric field inside the combustion chamber it is expected
to have a longer length of spark between the moving piston
and the spark plug placed in the combustion chamber head.
Implementation of this system will speed up the burn process
by igniting the mixture in several areas at the same time. The
maximum electric field can be controlled by the geometry of
the electrodes and applied voltage. The proposed structure is
expected to enhance the ignition due to the high speed in
plasma discharges formation. The proposed system also will
provide much higher degree of freedom for ignition timing
control compared to conventional spark plugs. Burning of raw
fuel is decreased because of longer spark and more efficient
combustion rates. Besides, due to the longer electric field and
discharge between the electrodes, the proposed structure may
result in flame ionization, fuel atomization and less electrode
quenching effect.

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