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Pre-Ignition Characteristics of Ethanol and E85 in a Spark Ignition Engine

1. 2. 3. 4. L. J. Hamilton, M. G. Rostedt, P. A. Caton and J. S. Cowart

Ethanol based fuels have seen increased use in recent years due to their renewable nature as well as increased governmental regulatory mandates. While offering performance advantages over gasoline, especially at high compression ratios, these fuels are more sensitive to pre-ignition (PI). Pre-ignition experiments using ethanol (E100) and E85 were performed in a CFR spark ignition engine using a diesel glow plug hot spot to induce PI. PI is found to occur over a specific air-fuel ratio range based on hot spot temperature. Additionally, increasing ethanol content or compression ratio (CR) decreases glow plug temperature thresholds for PI. A kinetics-based model was used to simulate pre-ignition of E100 and to elucidate sensitivities of pre-ignition to various operating parameters, including initial charge temperature, air dilution, and residual dilution. The model shows that the most violent cases of PI can be mitigated by switching to either lean or rich operation.


AFR: air-fuel ratio ATC: after top center : equivalence ratio, imepg : gross indicated mean effective pressure KI: knock intensity : lambda,

m: mass MAP: manifold absolute pressure MON: motoring method octane number PI: pre-ignition qhot-spot: thermal energy gain from hot-spot qloss: thermal energy loss

non-dimensional thermal flux RF: residual gas mass fraction RON: research method octane number Ti: initial charge temperature tPI: time to pre-ignition TC: top center u: specific internal energy UEGO:

universal exhaust gas oxygen : engine rotational speed WOT: wide open throttle BTC: before top center cV: specific heat at constant volume CAD: crank angle degrees CFR: Cooperative Fuels Research CR: compression ratio

Glow plug (model engine)

A glow plug (alternatively spelled glowplug or glow-plug) is a device, similar to a spark plug, used to help ignite the fuel in the very small internal combustion engines typically used in model aircraft, model cars and similar applications. The ignition is accomplished by a combination of heating from compression and heating from the glow plug. The glow plug is a durable, mostly platinum, helical wire filament recessed into the plug's tip. When an electric current runs through the plug, or when exposed to the heat of the combustion chamber, the filament glows, enabling it to help ignite the special fuel used by these engines. Power can be applied using a special connector attaching to the outside of the engine, and may use a rechargeable battery or DC power source. Glow fuel generally consists of methanol with varying degrees of nitromethane content as an oxidizer for greater power, generally between 5% and 30% of the total blend. These volatiles are suspended in a base oil of castor oil, synthetic oil or a blend of both for lubrication and heat control, again, in varying degrees of overall content. The lubrication system is a "total loss" type, meaning that the oil is expelled from the exhaust after circulating through the engine. The fuel ignites when it comes in contact with the heating element of the glow plug. Between strokes of the engine, the wire remains hot, continuing to glow partly due to thermal

inertia, but largely due to the catalytic combustion reaction of methanol remaining on the platinum filament. This keeps the filament hot, allowing it to ignite the next charge, thus sustaining the power cycle. Some aircraft engines are designed to run on fuel with no nitromethane content whatsoever. Glow fuel of this type is referred to as "FAI fuel" after the aeronautical governing body of the same name. To start a glow engine, a direct current (around 3 amps and 1.25 to 2 volts, often provided by a single, high current capacity rechargeable NiCd, NiMH or lead-acid battery cell, or a purpose-built "power panel" running on a 12VDC source) is applied to the glow plug, initially heating the filament. (The name 'glow plug' comes from the fact that the plug's filament glows red hot.) The engine is then spun from the outside using a manual crank, builtin rope-based recoil starter, spring-loaded motor or purpose-built electric motor, or by hand, to introduce fuel to the chamber. Once the fuel has ignited and the engine is running, the electrical connection is no longer needed and can be removed. Each combustion keeps the glow plug filament glowing red hot, allowing it to ignite the next charge, thus sustaining the power cycle. Lead-acid battery cells that are used to ignite a model engine glow plug, due to their two volt output when freshly charged, usually cause a regular 1.5 volt glow plug to burn out instantaneously, and either a resistor of the proper value and wattage, or a high-power germanium transistor's base/emitter junction (in a series connection with one of the plug's terminals) can reduce the lead-acid cell's voltage to a suitable 1.5 volt level for engine starting. Technically a glow plug engine is fairly similar to a diesel engine and hot bulb engine in that it uses internal heat to ignite the fuel, but since the ignition timing is not controlled by fuel injection (as in an ordinary diesel engine), or electrically (as in a spark ignition engine), it must be adjusted by changing fuel/air mixture and plug/coil design (usually through adjusting various inlets and controls on the engine itself.) A richer mixture will tend to cool the filament and so retard ignition, slowing the engine. This "configuration" can also be adjusted by using varying plug designs for a more exact thermal control. Of all internal combustion engine types, the glow plug engine resembles most the hot bulb engine, since on both types the ignition occurs due to a "hot spot" within the engine combustion chamber. Glow plug engines can be designed for two-cycle operation (ignition every rotation) or fourcycle operation (ignition every two rotations). The two-cycle (or two-stroke) version produces more power, but the four-cycle engines have more low-end torque, are less noisy and have a lower-pitched, more realistic sound.[1]

Considerations when using glow plugs

Depending on engine type, usage of a turbo plug may be required. For turbo engines use turbo plugs. Never install a turbo plug in a standard engine or vice versa. Big engines have more mass and retain heat better. Smaller, lighter engines don't, and need the help a hotter plug can offer. The "right" plug for an engine can change with the temperature. The hotter the day, the colder the plug.

Hot plugs promote better idling and acceleration. If an engine runs rough or accelerates sluggishly, a hotter plug will help. Cold plugs produce more power and may improve performance if an engine runs hot. The downside is rougher idling and more difficulty in tuning. For cars: If the track/course has a lot of twists and turns, a hot plug is fine. If the track/course has long straights where you'll reach maximum rpm, a colder plug is best. Over-leaning an engine can harm it, by raising operating temperatures; "burning up" a plug inside its product lifetime. Higher nitro means hotter fuel: needs colder plugs, and vice versa. If the engine sags when the battery is disconnected, the plug is too cold or more nitro is needed (or the plug is at the end of its life), and if the engine bites back or backfires when hand cranking, the plug is too hot or less nitro is needed. Glow plugs get very hot, enough to glow the filament red or white hot, and removing a glow plug while power is applied can cause burning if appropriate care is not taken. Special caution must be taken while near fuel sources. Some connectors for glow plugs can short-circuit and damage batteries, or cause them to explode. Batteries may get hot during the use of a glow plug. This especially applies to home-made or nonstandard connectors. Glow plugs have a limited lifespan. Always keep three or four of them on hand. Glow Plugs do not need to be very tight. Just seat them, then another 1/4 turn.

Technical specs
Turbo Glow Plug

Overall Length: 17mm (.67") Diameter: .35" (9mm) Thread size: M8x.75mm[2]

Normal Glow Plug

Length: .8" Diameter: .35" Threads: 1/4-32 UNEF[3]

All about GLOW PLUGS

Written by Brian Gardiner, and Central Coast Model Aero Club Inc. Submitted by Wayne Beasley

_________ How Does A Glow Plug Work? Contrary to what many have previously been lead to believe the following is an explanation of how a glow plugfunctions in a motor. The plug is initially heated by applying a voltage (typically 1.5 volts) to it. This is to cause it to glow so as to ignite the fuel at compression and start the internal combustion cycle.

Once the cycle has started, the power source can be disconnected, as with the heat generated at combustion the CATALYTIC Reaction generated between the methanol and platinum in the plug coils becomes sufficient to keep the process going. The catalytic reaction is a reaction whereby platinum will glow in the presence of methyl alcohol vapour. This will happen without any external power source being applied. How do you select the correct PLUG for your application, and why ? To do this you need to understand a little more of the theory behind the process. In glow fuel the catalytic reaction is generated between the methanol and platinum only. Castor oil, synthetic oil, nitro methane, etc do not generate a catalytic reaction with the platinum. Next you need to understand that a certain surface area of platinum is required to generate a sufficient catalytic reaction to keep the internal combustion process going. Also it is necessary to allow extra surface area for the reaction to be great enough when it diminishes with the available methanol dropping as in the case at motor idle. Simply put, cold plugs are manufactured using a thicker wire to give greater surface area to facilitate a greater reaction and thus the required catalytic reaction where less methanol is present in the fuel mixture. So! More nitro means less methanol which in turn means a greater surface area to platinum will be required to generate a sufficient catalytic reaction. Suddenly it all makes sense! To work out which temperature plug to use, you need to know how much methanol is in your fuel, not how much nitro or oil. As a rough rule of thumb;

80% methanol or above, use a hot plug.

70%-75% use a medium plug. 60%-75% use a cold plug. 65% or less use a very cold plug.

Idle Bars and Other Stuff Again, contrary to what many believe, the idle bar on a glow plug is not necessarily what its name would suggest. It is in fact to stop any fuel not vaporized from dousing the platinum coil of the glow plug by dispersing it away from the coil. Why are plated coils not as good as platinum alloy coils? Plated coils suffer from very quick degeneration as the plating breaks down under operating conditions. As bits of plating come off, the plug is effectively becoming a hotter and hotter unit until in a comparatively short time it is no longer able to perform its function. Conversely, a platinum alloy coil will still degenerate, but as it is platinum alloy throughout, the surface remains as platinum alloy and the plug continues giving much the same characteristics for quite a long time.

Plated coils are very poor value when compared to platinum alloy coiled glow plugs.


Submitted by Brian Cooper
Cooper's Custom Blended Fuels LLC - Remarks


Number / name


Hot Glow Plugs- for low nitro fuels

Mc Coy Mc Coy Mc Coy Fireball Fireball SonicTronics Rossi Sig Enya Thunderbolt K&B Fox Fox Fox MC 55- R/C Long MC 59 MC 14 Hot 1.2-3.0V S-20 R/C Long Glowdevil #300 R/C Hot, R-1&R-2 R/C Long` #3 R/C Long` 1L Miracle Standard R/C Long (2V) sport hot sport hot very hot sport hot sport hot sport med-hot sport hot sport hot Sport hot sport med-hot sport hot sport hot sport hot sport hot low notro or 4-stroke low nitro low nitro Similar to K&B 1L low nitro heli/ inverted 4-stroke red 1.5-2.0V

Standard (med) glow plugs-for 10%-15% fuels

MFG Fireball Sonic Tronics Rossi Enya Enya Mc Coy Mc Coy Hangar 9 Tower Fox Fox Number / name Standard 1.2-2V Glowdevil standard Medium and R-3 #4 #5 MC 50 MC 8 Sport Long Performance plug R/C Long (1.2-1.5V) Gold Use standard sport standard sport standard sport standard sport standard sport all purpose sport med-cool standard sport standard sport standard sport standard sport med-hot med-cool sport w/idle bar med to high nitro MC 50 packaged for Hangar 9 w/o idle bar med-cool med-cool Remarks yellow

Cold Glow Plugs-High nitro, 25% and over or racing/ fans

MFG Mc Coy Fireball Enya K&B K&B Rossi Rossi Sig OS Fox Fox Number / name MC 9 Cool 1.2-1.5V #6 Long & Short Hi Perf Nitro Plug R/C Cold Extra Cold Cool 1.5V R-5 R/C 1.2V #8 hi-perf high nitro / high perf Use hi-perf hi-perf hi-perf hi-perf hi-perf hi-perf hi-perf hi-perf Remarks Ducted Fan / racing / high nitro Blue extremely hot engines/high compression/high nitro cold standard plug high nitro / high perf R-4 & R-5 R-6 & R-7

Four Stroke plugs- hot

MFG Fox Mc Coy OS Sig Sonic Tronics Number / name Miracle MC 14 Type F GP-001 Glowdevil St 301/302 Use 4-stroke very hot 4-stroke 4-stroke 4-stroke Remarks 2-cyl low nitro or 4-cyl heli and inverted 4 strokes

Diagnosis or Symptoms:
High Nitro = Hot Fuel: needs colder plugs Low Nitro = Cold Fuel: needs hotter plugs High Nitro + High rpm's: needs colder plug ie:ducted fans

If engine sags when the battery is disconnected, the plug is too cold or more nitro is needed If the engine bites back or backfires when hand cranking, the plug is too hot or less nitro is needed

Most HOT plugs can take 2 volts Most COLD plugs can take 1.2 - 1.5 volts

Most 4-strokes need very hot plugs or high nitro

Note: Mc Coy 4-cycle plugs (not the MC 14) are "Saito Original Equipment" Hangar 9 plugs are Original Mc Coy plugs packaged for Horizion

The "right" glow plug for your engine is the one that gives you the best performance. And you can choose the right plug for any situation, just by following the guidelines below.
1. Engine Type

Guideline 1: Know what type of engine you have. Is it a standard - or a turbo? Standard engines (engines with a 1-piece head) are most common. Standard plugs are easily available, inexpensive and fit almost all standard engines. Standard plugs are installed with a washer, which creates a compression seal with the head. Many new O.S. engines are turbo engines, which feature a special 2-piece turbo head. The biggest benefit of turbo plugs is superior performance. Unlike standard plugs, turbo plugs (identified by a "P" in the description) feature a tapered "seat" that matches perfectly with the head. That creates a superior compression seal and with it, maximum efficiency and power. Turbo plugs are the choice for racers who want and need - top performance. A word of caution: you should never install a turbo plug in a standard engine or vice versa. Doing so risks doing serious (and expensive!) damage.

2. Displacement

Size matters to glow plugs. What size is your engine? A .12? .15? .21? Big engines have more mass and retain heat better. Smaller, lighter engines don't, and need the help a hotter plug can offer. Guideline 2: The smaller the engine, the hotter the plug.

3. Fuel Nitromethane Content

What's the nitro percentage in your fuel? High-nitro fuels produce more power than low-nitro fuels, but also produce more heat. Guideline 3: The higher the nitro content, the colder the plug.

4. Temperature

Smart modelers tend to keep a variety of glow plugs on hand. The reason? Because the "right" plug for your engine can change with the temperature. To achieve top performance, your choice of plug needs to change, too. Guideline 5: The hotter the day, the colder the plug.

5, 6 & 7. Other Considerations

Here are a few other things you should know. Hot plugs promote better idling and acceleration. If your engine runs rough or accelerates sluggishly, a hotter plug will help. Cold plugs produce more power and may improve performance if your engine runs hot. The downside is rougher idling and more difficulty in tuning. Where you run also plays a part. If the track/course has a lot of twists and turns, a hot plug is fine. If the track/course has long straights where you'll reach maximum rpm, a colder plug is best. Fuel-air mix not only affects how your engine performs; it can also have an impact on how long your plug lasts. If you run rich, it means that you're using more fuel than necessary for top performance. Modelers are often advised to run rich during engine break-in, because it helps cool the engine. However, running too rich can also cause an engine to "bog down" or quit entirely. In addition, it also means that the glow element is being exposed to more contaminants than necessary, which shortens plug life. Running lean means that you're using less fuel. "Leaning down" an engine has a positive effect on performance. However, care is needed here, because over-leaning an engine can harm it, by raising operating temperatures, "burn up" a plug before its time.

Final Thoughts Choosing the right glow plug not only improves performance, but can also extend the life of your engine and the glow plug itself. With the guidelines above and the tips below, you're well on your way to achieving both. 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. Buy quality plugs. You're protecting your investment. Store plugs where it's dry. Moisture can ruin them. Use the right glow plug. Follow the guidelines above. Follow proper break-in procedures. Tune your engine carefully. Running too lean will make your engine "blow" plugs more often. Proper tuning helps extend plug life. 6. Never touch the filament of a glow plug. Doing so can break the filament and ruin a plug. 7. Don't over-tighten your plug. Tighten it until it's just snug. 8. Be sure to shim your engine correctly. A plug that's too close to the piston can cause detonation, which will quickly damage a glow plug. 9. Use only a glow starter or 1.5V battery to heat your plug. Otherwise, your plug may burn out ahead of its time. 10. Don't be afraid to ask for help. Experienced modelers have already "been there, done that." Their experience can save you time and money - and most are glad to help.

11. Glow Plug Selection & Engine Tuning. 12. Safety Note The propellor of a model aircraft engine is essentially a circular saw revolving at 20,000 rpm and can cause horrendous injuries. Ideally you should wear goggles, mesh gloves and full body armour but extreme care and common sense are usually sufficient. Never try to adjust an idle screw with the engine running, it usually needs a small screwdriver and if this flicks into the rotating propellor the results do not bear thinking about. Always stand BEHIND the rotating propellor disc and read all your club rules regarding engine operation and safety. Fully read the manufactures instructions on engine safety, running in and operation. Most clubs do not like lone flyers for reasons of safety. See also the BMFA guidelines on this subject. You treat engine safety lightly at your peril. Always use a proper model restraint and ensure the model is always pulled forward into the restraint. For safety reasons many model engine designers are now fitting the carburetor at the engines rear which makes adjustments a little safer. Bear this in mind when purchasing a new engine. As a final warning Methanol can KILL or cause BLINDNESS if swallowed. If you have decided to stick with the hobby, read on:13. 1) Glow Plug Selection 14. If you are like me, you tend to use any old glow plug and then wonder why your engine will not start or does not perform as well as it should. A quick look at any model aircraft engine catalogue will show you there is quite a range of glow plugs to choose from, so the engine manufactures must feel the need to supply different grades and types. As a first step go to the engine manufactures web site and see what is recommended for your engine. For best results this is a good starting point. Make a note of your fuel type and the methanol content, as this has a major influence on plug selection. With a new engine care should be taken to follow the running in guide and let the engine settle down before any serious attempt is made to tune for peak revs. You will need to run at least 4 full tanks of fuel through a new engine with frequent stops to prevent overheating, low revs and the mixture set slightly on the rich side giving plenty of oil for lubrication. Before the engine starts to loosen up or gets run in the golden rule is not to overheat or let the engine "labour". Some engines are very tight at top dead center (TDC) when new but this is all part of the design, as the bore/piston is very slightly tapered. Careful running in will ensure a perfect fit. A bit of castor oil (2%) will aid running in, as it is a far better lubricant than any synthetic oil and will not fail at high temperatures. Links are given below to the major engine manufactures web sites where you will find plug grades for your motor. Failing this, the following guide will help, or your local model shop will usually supply the information required. Methanol % Plug Type Enya OS Fire Power Grade Grade F F No.3 F7 A3 No.4 F5 #8 No.5 F4 A5 No.6 F3 P8 F2 F

OS Wankel 4 Strokes & Multi Cylinder Above 80% Hot 70 - 80% Medium 65 - 70% Cool Below 65% Cold High Reving Ducted Fans Extra High Nitro Cold

15. Note:- Glow plugs are very often unmarked, once removed from the package the identity is lost (OS Plugs are an exception) Leave in the bubble pack until required as this also prevents damage to the filament.. Keep used plugs wrapped in tissue in marked tins. A plug in good condition should give a bright orange glow. If it is dull on 1.5 volts there is little chance of a good glow with the engine running and the battery removed. Do not use plated plugs, the platinum flakes off in time and performance falls, it is false economy. When you buy cheap, you buy twice. Replace plugs every 12 months if you fly regularly. If the revs fall when you remove the glow battery the plug is too cold or more nitro is needed. If it backfires when hand cranking the plug is too hot or less nitro is needed. Hot plugs need 2 volts, cold plugs need 1.2 1.5 volts. Ducted Fan Engines with high nitro and high revs need cold plugs. Four Strokes ** generally run with less oil (10%) and no nitro, although modern Four Strokes seem to have moved to the use of Nitro, and the plug needs to be selected with this in mind. A high methanol percentage usually means a low nitro percentage as the oil content remains more or less constant. For example an 80% methanol fuel will have no nitro as the rest will be oil. (20%) The basic 80/20 mix. Most club flyers use between 5% and 10% nitro so a No. 4, F5 or #8 Plug is probably most suitable. See Fuel Mixing Section for more detail. 16. ** This may have been true with early Four Strokes, modern engines with much higher outputs have gradully moved to the use of Nitro. For normal club flying I use a 5% Nitro mix with 20% Synthetic Oil in all my engines. Saves a lot of trouble. Always bear in mind that a Four Stroke only fires on every other revolution (4 strokes) and the plug needs to remain hot between cold strokes. When landing on tickover a sudden input of cold fuel/air can cool the plug and the engine cuts. A Glow Booster may be useful in such circumstances. This is not such a prblem with Two Strokes where the engine fires on every revolution. 17. Idle Bars. These are designed to prevent un-vapourized fuel hitting the glow plug coil and cooling it. Useful for motors that tend to run wet or old motors. Generally best avoided as rather than preventing oiling up can make the situation worse. 18. 2) Tuning the Glow Motor 19. The carburetors on most model glow engines are, by automobile standards very crude, but the do exactly the same job in converting the liquid fuel/oil mix into a very fine mist or vapour. For the engine to run well they need to do this over a wide RPM range with instant pickup. An engine that cuts out as you open the throttle quickly is not much use. You will soon get fed up shouting "Dead Stick". However very few engines react well to the throttle being slammed fully open in a split second, allow at least a second from closed to fully open. As these are simple carburetors they only have two adjustments, a needle valve for top end mixture and a simple screw for the low idle range. With the correct plug and some half decent fuel close the needle valve fully then open two full turns. Connect the glow plug battery and with the throttle about 2/3rds open try to start the engine. Slowly open the needle valve and the engine should start to run after a fashion. Once the engine is running allow 30 - 40 seconds running to warm up. 20. Peak Revs or Top End adjustment. 21. 1) Slowly close the needle valve a couple of clicks at a time until the engine revs peak and then start to fall off. This is usually done with the engine running so take extreme care. 22. 2) Back off for peak revs.

23. 3) Squeeze the fuel line gently between each adjustment and note if the revs rise. Let go of the fuel line as soon as the revs alter. If the revs rise, continue to turn needle slowly clockwise. 24. 4) When the engine is properly adjusted the RPM will increase a little if you gently squeeze the fuel line. If the engine cuts out when the fuel line is squeezed, the engine is too lean. 25. 5) Finally, hold aircraft with the nose pointing up 45 degrees. If the engine cuts out then it is too lean. If it starts to misfire or splutter it is too rich. 26. 6) The mixture on some models tends to alter in flight, I always set my mixture a couple of clicks rich, but only experience can help here. 27. Idle or Bottom End adjustment. 28. See Safety note on adjusting this screw. 29. 1) Close the slow running screw and then open by approximately 2 3 full turns. 30. 2) Start engine and run at full throttle for about 20 seconds. Bring engine to idle (2,000 rpm) for about 20 seconds. 31. 3) Squeeze the fuel line and note any change in revs. It the revs increase and then the motor stops, the bottom end is too rich. Turn the needle 1/4 turn clockwise. If the revs decrease and the motor stops, the bottom end is too lean. (turn the needle 1/4 turn anti-clockwise) 32. 4) Repeat this process until the engine does not gain or lose revs before stopping when the fuel line is squeezed. When you are getting close to perfection it will be necessary to make very small adjustments, perhaps only 1/8th of turn at a time. 33. 5) Run engine at full throttle and ensure that all is well, making any small adjustments that may be necessary. Ensure that the top end is properly adjusted before attempting to make any bottom end adjustments. 34. An engine correctly set up should idle reliably and then pick up cleanly as the throttle is opened reasonably quickly. Very rapid opening "gags" the motor. If it is a bit rich it will hesitate for a second before the revs rise. If it is a bit lean it is liable to cut out. When opening up from a long idle a lot of smoke indicates a rich bottom end setting. 35. Always ensure that the fuel pickup in the tank is 1/2" above or below the carburetors centerline and the tank is insulated to isolate it from vibration. This can cause the fuel to foam. Bubbles in the fuel line always indicate a leak or possible foaming. For reliable running this MUST be cured. Some fuels have an anti-foaming addative. 36. Glow Plugs & Platinium 37. All glow plugs work on the same principal. The Platinum Element will continue to glow from the retained heat of the last firing stroke coupled with a catalytic reaction between the Platinum & the Methanol. The Glow Coil is an iron core with a thin coating of very expensive Platinum, cheaper plugs have a thinner coating. This is why an engine will run with the Glow Booster connected but stops as soon as the battery is removed, the Platinum has all gone, it also explains why a motor will run perfectly but will not re-start. The element has probably broken (a short circuit) and will continue to glow as usual. Once the motor stops and the battery is re- connected, as the filament is broken it refuses to glow. Checking a plug for a good glow is NOT a good idea as it burns off the Platinum coat. Look at the plug with an eye glass, the coating should be bright & shiny. Always wet a plug before attaching the Glow Battery. 38. Glow Plug Driver (Power Panel) 39. There are a number of Glow Plug Driver Circuits on the web. Just Google "glowplug driver" Due to advances in electronics most are out of date and over complicated but

the one using an LM350 Voltage Regulator covers most requirements. You can buy ready built MOSFET panels for 20.00, making your own may be a waste of time and money !!

Aircraft Diesel Engines

The last couple of years development in aircraft engines has been more or less concentrating on diesel engines. We have seen one off installations to fully developed engine production lines.
A number of companies are active on this market primarily due to major concern of long term availability and the relative high price of AVgas (Europe). Jet fuel is available worldwide, even in places where AVgas is not and has to be flown in. Diesel engines are able to use JET fuel (avtur). This fuel is available everywhere and can also be made of renewable sources (biomass) which will contribute to a cleaner environment. The engines weigh a little more compared to a gasoline engine, but advantages are found in a much longer service life and higher MTBO. Last but not least: they also have an excellent specific fuel consumption compared to their AVgas cousins and as fuel is denser too, range of a diesel powered aircraft is improved. Or with equal range payload will increase.

Diesels in General
A diesel engine is a compression ignition engine and it draws in air and compresses it. Fuel is then injected into the combustion chamber (either direct or indirect) with injection pressures up to 2000 bar. Due to compression of air by the piston in the cylinder (compression ratios are in the range of 14:1 to 24:1), temperatures are very high (700 - 900 C) and the fuel ignites almost instantly when injected. There is no need for a carburettor, a throttle valve (no carb ice!) or a separate ignition system. Starting a diesel in a cold environment can be difficult, a form of preheat should be used. To implement this, diesel engines use a glow plug per cylinder to preheat the cold air before and after starting and thus help the combustion the first couple of minutes after a cold start.
Two principles

Diesel engines are either two or four stroke models. And in aviation you will find both types. Automotive diesels are almost exclusively four strokes but in marine applications the large propulsion engines are two strokes. Where in aviation you will find both types.

High torque at low RPM

Diesel fuel burns slower than gasoline therefore restricting the maximum RPM of the engine to around 4500 RPM. On the contrary, diesels deliver a very high torque at low RPM. This is ideal for propeller driven aircraft. One drawback is that due to higher compression and acting forces in the engine, these engines tend to be a bit heavier than a comparable gasoline engine. Two stroke diesels overcome this problem, because they have a power stroke for every revolution per cylinder, compared to a four stroke diesel (every other revolution per cylinder). Aircraft diesel engines are usually the in line or flat four type but BMW and Packard (among others) once developed a radial diesel engine, see image.
Reliable design

Diesels are (compared to their gasoline types) basically simpler: they have no ignition system, are more reliable, durable, have more torque, use less fuel and have a higher thermal

efficiency and denser fuel which gives us more range (about 9%) for the same volume of fuel. Diesels have been used in aircraft before WW-II (the JUMO series come to mind), but since then, development was very slow due to the development of the JET engine. Until now.
Fuel system

As already said, due to the fuel injection method used there is no carburettor or associated throttle valve. Power is controlled by the amount of fuel injected by the high pressure fuel pump. This is a very reliable but also a very delicate piece of hardware, fuel must be filtered (below 70 micron) and fed through a water/fuel separator sometimes combined with a electric heater so that any water is dissolved in the fuel and can cause no blocking of filters due to ice formation. With the high pressure fuel system and injector there is more fuel fed to the engine than it uses, this extra fuel is heated by the engine and return to the tank in use. Advantage is that warm fuel reduces the possibility of ice formation.
Turbo and Intercooler

As diesels will be heavier in construction compared to a gasoline engine, it pays to increase efficiency and power to weight ratio by adding a turbo or supercharger combined with an intercooler. Air compressed by the turbocharger heats up and is cooled to lower its density by an intercooler and the extra compressed air is then able to burn more fuel for the same cylinder volume. Increased power is the result.
Diesel knock

Older type of diesel engines (tractor type) have a characteristic sound: diesel knock. Especially when the engine was cold and at low rpm. This knock is basically the same as detonation in a gasoline engine, unstable combustion and high peak pressures. This knocking was one of the reasons that these older diesels were build quite heavy.

Modern light weight diesel engines have dealt with this typical diesel knock. They use indirect injection, where fuel is injected into a prechamber; two stage injectors, which prolong combustion; electronic engine control (FADEC), for exact timing considering engine conditions; compression ratio's that are not over 20:1 and better fuel air mixing all have led to almost no knock at all. The engine may be somewhat heavier but this will translate into reliability, durability and piece of mind when flying over inhospitable terrain or large bodies of water. The future will be bright for the aircraft diesel engine!

Spark Plug Background

The purpose of a spark plug is to provide a place for an electric spark that is hot enough to ignite the air/fuel mixture inside the combustion chamber of an internal combustion engine. This is done by a high voltage current arcing across a gap on the spark plug. A spark plug is made of a center electrode, an insulator, a metal casing or shell, and a side electrode (also called a ground electrode). The center electrode is a thick metal wire that lies lengthwise within the plug and conducts electricity from the ignition cable hooked to one end of the plug to the electrode gap at the other end. The insulator is a ceramic casing that surrounds much of the center electrode; both the upper and lower portions of the center electrode remain exposed. The metal casing or shell is a hexagon-shaped shell with threads, which allow the spark plug to be installed into a tapped socket in the engine cylinder head. The side electrode is a short, thick wire made of nickel alloy that is connected to the metal shell and extends toward the center electrode. The tips of the side and center electrodes are about 0.020 - 0.080 inch apart from each other (depending on the type of engine), creating the gap for the spark to jump across. The several hundred types of spark plugs available cover a variety of internal-combustion engine-driven transportation, work, and pleasure vehicles. Spark plugs are used in automobiles, trucks, buses, tractors, boats (inboard and outboard), aircraft, motorcycles, scooters, industrial and oil field engines, oil burners, power mowers and chain saws. Turbine igniters, a type of spark plug, help power the jet engines in most large commercial aircraft today while glow-plugs are used in diesel engine applications. The heat range or rating of a spark plug refers to its thermal characteristics. It is the measure of how long it takes heat to be removed from the tip of the plug, the firing end, and transferred to the engine cylinder head. At the time of the spark, if the plug tip temperature is too cold, carbon, oil, and combustion products can cause the plug to "foul out" or fail. If the plug tip temperature is too hot, preignition occurs, the center electrode burns, and the piston may be damaged. Heat range is changed by altering the length of the insulator nose, depending on the type of engine, the load on the engine, the type of fuel, and other factors. For a "hot" plug, an insulator with a long conical nose is used; for a "cold" plug, a shortnosed insulator is used. Spark plugs are under constant chemical, thermal, physical, and electrical attack by corrosive gases at 4,500 degrees Fahrenheit, crushing pressures of 2,000 pounds per square inch (PSI), and electrical discharges of up to 18,000 volts. This unrelenting assault under the hood of a typical automobile occurs dozens of times per second and over a million times in a day's worth of driving.

The spark plug evolved with the internal combustion engine, but the earliest demonstration of the use of an electric spark to ignite a fuel-air mixture was in 1777. In that year, Alessandro

Volta loaded a toy pistol with a mixture of marsh gas and air, corked the muzzle, and ignited the charge with a spark from a Ley den jar. In 1860, French engineer Jean Lenoir created what most closely resembles the spark plug of today. He combined an insulator, electrodes, and spark gap in a single unit. As part of his patent application for the internal combustion engine that year, he devoted one sentence to describing the spark plug. He refined this spark plug in 1885. In the early 1900s, Robert and Frank Stranahan, brothers and partners in an automobile parts importing business, set out to produce a more efficient and durable spark plug. They added gaskets between the metal shell and porcelain insulator, made manufacturing easier, and reduced the possibility of gas leakage past the gaskets. In 1909, Robert Stranahan sold the plug to one automobile manufacturer and went into the spark plug manufacturing business, cornering the market at that time. The industry exploded as the age of the automobile opened. Eventually, variations in ignition systems, fuel, and performance requirements placed new demands on spark plugs. Although the basic design and function of the plug has changed little since its inception, a staggering variety and number of electrode and insulator materials have been tried.

Raw Materials
The electrodes in a spark plug typically consist of high-nickel alloys, while the insulator is generally made of aluminum oxide ceramic and the shell is made of steel wire. Selection of materials for both the electrodes and the insulator have consumed much research and development time and cost. One major spark plug manufacturer claims to have tested 2,000 electrode materials and over 25,000 insulator combinations. As electrodes erode, the gap between them widens, and it takes more voltage than the ignition system can provide to fire them. High-nickel alloys have been improved and thicker electrodes have been used to reduce engine performance loss. In addition, precious and exotic metals are increasingly being used by manufacturers. Many modern plugs feature silver, gold, and platinum in the electrodes, not to mention center electrodes with copper cores. Silver has superior thermal conductivity over other electrode metals, while platinum has excellent corrosion resistance. Insulator material also can have a dramatic effect on spark plug performance. Research continues to find a material that better reduces flashover, or electrical leakage, from the plug's terminal to the shell. The breakthrough use of Sillimanite, a material that is found in a natural state and also produced artificially, has been succeeded by the use of more heat-resistant aluminum oxide ceramics, the composition of which are manufacturers' secrets. One major manufacturer's process for making the insulator involves wet grinding batches of ceramic pellets in ball mills, under carefully controlled conditions. Definite size and shape of the pellets produce the free-flowing substance needed to make a quality insulator. The pellets are obtained through a rigid spray-drying operation that removes the water from the ceramic mixture, until it is ready for pouring into molds.

The Manufacturing Process

Each major element of the spark plugthe center electrode, the side electrode, the insulator, and the shellis manufactured in a continuous in-line assembly process. Then, the side electrode is attached to the shell and the center electrode is fitted inside the insulator. Finally, the major parts are assembled into a single unit.

1 The one-piece spark plug shells can be made in several ways. When solid steel wire is used, the steel can be cold-formed, whereby coils of steel are formed and molded at relatively low temperatures. Or, the steel can be extruded, a process in which the metal is heated and then pushed through a shaped orifice (called a die) to produce the proper hollow shape. Shells can also be made from bars of steel that are fed into automatic screw machines. These machines completely form the shell, drill the hole through it, and ream ita process that improves the finish of the drilled hole and makes the size of the hole more exact. 2 The formed or extruded shellscalled blanks until they're molded into their final shapes require secondary operations to be performed on them, such as machining and knurling. Knurling a shell blank involves passing it through hard, patterned rollers, which form a series of ridges on the outside of the blank. Similarly, machining-in which machine tools cut into the exterior of the shell blankgenerates shapes and contours on the outside of the shell. The shells are now in their final shape and are complete except for threads and side electrodes.

Side electrode

3 The side electrode is made of a nickel alloy wire, which is fed from rolls into an electric welder, straightened, and welded to the shell. It is then cut to the proper length. Finally, the side electrode is given a partial bend; it is given its final bend after the rest of the plug assembly is in place. 4 The threads are then rolled on the shells. Now complete, the shells are usually given a permanent and protective silvery finish by an electrolytic process. In this process, the shell is placed in a solution of acids, salts, or alkalis, and an electrical current is passed through the solution. The result is a thin metal coating applied evenly over the shell.


5 Insulators are supplied from stock storage. Ceramic material for the insulator in liquid form is first poured into rubber molds. Special presses automatically apply hydraulic pressure to produce unfired insulator blanks. The dimensions of the borethe hollow part of the insulatorinto which the center electrodes will be pressed are rigidly controlled. 6 Special contour grinding machines give the pressed insulator blanks their final exterior shape before the insulators are fired in a tunnel kiln to temperatures in excess of 2,700 degrees Fahrenheit. The computer-controlled process produces insulators that are uniformly strong, dense, and resistive to moisture. The insulators may be fired again after identifying marks and a glaze are applied.

Center electrode

7 The nickel alloy center electrode is first electrically welded to the basic steel terminal stud, a narrow metal wire that runs from the middle of the plug to the lower end (the opposite end from the electrode gap). The terminal stud is attached to a nut, which in turn is attached to the ignition cable that supplies the electric current to the plug. 8 The center electrode/terminal stud assembly is sealed into the insulator and tamped under extreme pressure. Insulator assemblies are then sealed in the metal shell under 6,000 pounds pressure. After reaming to correct depth and angle, the rim or edge of the shell called the flangeis bent or crimped to complete a gas-tight seal. Spark plug gaskets from stock are crimped over the plug body so that they won't fall off. 9 To form the proper gap between the two electrodes, the center electrode of the now completely assembled spark plug is machine-trimmed to specifications, and the ground electrode is given a final bend.


10 After a final inspection, the spark plugs are placed in open cartons that have been automatically formed. The plugs are generally wrapped in plastic film, placed first in a carton, and then prepared for shipping in quantity to users.

Quality Control
Inspections and measurements are performed throughout the manufacturing and assembly operations. Both incoming parts and tooling are inspected for accuracy. New gauges are set up for use in production while other gauges are changed and calibrated. Detailed inspections of shells from each machine are constantly made for visible flaws. The ceramic insulator contour can be checked by projecting its silhouette onto a screen at a magnification of 20 times actual size and matching the silhouette to tolerance lines. In addition, regular statistical inspections can be made on insulators coming off the production line. During spark plug assembly, a random sampling are pressure tested to check that the center electrode is properly sealed inside the insulator. Visual inspections assure that assembly is in accordance with design specifications.

Where To Learn More


Heywood, John. Internal Combustion Engine Fundamentals. McGraw-Hill, 1988. Schwaller, Anthony. Motor Automotive Mechanics. Delmar Publishers, 1988.

Davis, Marlan. "Fire in the Hole: Spark-plug Design Heats up with New High-tech Materials and Design Concepts." Hot Rod. February, 1990.

"Spark Plug 'Sees' Inside Engines." Design News. October 17, 1989. "Hot Spark Basics." Popular Mechanics. May, 1989.

How Ignition Systems Work

Before you can figure out how to make something work better you first need to understand how it works. An ignition system builds up a charge then releases it at the right moment to ignite the air fuel mixture in the cylinder. There are two ways to improve an ignition system, increase the amount of energy that is thrown at the spark plug to increase the chances of lighting the mixture, and better time the spark delivery to get the most from the burn. The timing issue is covered on the Ignition Curve page. On this page I'll do my best to explain how ignition systems work. But first... What the ignition system does The internal combustion engine is the most popular motivator of vehicles big and small. Internal combustion engines convert the energy of burning fuel into mechanical motion. An engine ingests fuel, along with air so the fuel will burn, compresses it then burns it. The burning mixture expands rapidly and pushes a piston, rotor, or turbine. Gasoline is the fuel of choice for most road going vehicles because it packs a lot of power per gallon (you can go farther with fewer and quicker fill-ups). The biggest problem with using gasoline is that it must be vaporized and mixed with the proper ratio of air or it will not burn. The flammability range is 1.4% to 7.6% (by mass not volume), so for every pound of air the motor pulls in you must mix in 0.224 to 1.216 grams of vaporized gasoline. Any more or less and it will not burn. The duty of the carburetor or fuel injection is to monitor the air input and meter the appropriate amount of gasoline. The engine then compresses the volatile air fuel mixture. The more its compresses the more power will be extracted from it when burned. Compressing the mixture heats it, if you compress it too much it will ignite on its own. That is how diesel engines work, however gasoline tends to explode rather than simply ignite which will tear an engine apart. The goal is to compress it as much as you can without it self igniting. Then apply more heat (from an external source) to a point in the cylinder to initiate combustion. Early engines used a glow plug. Sometimes that was as simple as a copper rod threaded into the head and heated with a torch. Eventually, they figured out the same could be done by creating a spark inside the cylinder. The first spark ignition systems made a constant spark so they functioned the same as a

glow plug. The revelation that changed gasoline engines forever was the timed spark ignition. Instead of creating a constant spark that would light the mixture at any random time, a single spark is delivered with precise timing to most efficiently burn the fuel. There are several challenges with timed spark ignitions. The spark only lasts about a millisecond. If the conditions are not just right for that one millisecond then the fuel will not be ignited. The carburetor or fuel injection doesn't always add the right amount of fuel. Even if the exact amount of gas was mixed with the air it doesn't mean that every cubic centimeter of the cylinder has the perfect air fuel ratio. There will always be pockets of rich and lean. On top of that, not all the gasoline will be completely vaporized. Better fuel systems, intake manifolds, and heads are constantly being developed so that the mixture inside the combustion chamber stays as accurate and consistent as possible. But even with all the advancements and technology put into modern engines the ideal conditions for combustion are not always met. A good ignition system can not compensate for these bad conditions but it will increase your chances of lighting a less than perfect mixture. One trick is to increase the size of the spark gap. Making the spark travel through more air fuel mixture increases the odds that it will hit a pocket that is combustible. Another trick is to make the spark last longer. The air fuel mixture is swirling around in the chamber, the longer the spark is present the better the odds are that a good pocket of fuel will run into it and burn. To get a larger and/or longer spark you need to throw more energy at the spark plug. To do that you need to know... How ignition systems work If you want to make a spark you need a spark gap. The electricity has to jump from somewhere to somewhere. Since the spark gap is subject to erosion and fouling it is made to be easily removed and replaced. There is a threaded hole in the head that leads to the combustion chamber. The spark gap threads into this hole and plugs it so the chamber is sealed. That's as good a reason as any to call it a spark plug, I guess. A spark plug has three main parts, the center electrode, the porcelain insulator, and the body. The center electrode is what carries the electricity into the combustion chamber. The porcelain insulator keeps the electricity in the center electrode from grounding out to the head before it has a chance to jump the gap. The body of the spark plug is what threads into the head and it also has a ground electrode connected to it which catches the spark from the center electrode and grounds it to the head. On many engines the spark plug is fed electricity through a spark plug wire. Spark plug wires need to contain very high voltage so the insulation is extremely thick. The conductor is often a resistive or inductive material to reduce electro magnetic interference which can interfere with electronic components. On older multi-cylinder engines the spark plug wires were

connected to a distributor. A distributor is a rotary "switch" that is used to feed the spark to the appropriate cylinder. The distributor is fed a spark through a coil lead, which is the same thing as a spark plug wire. The other end of the coil lead is hooked to the coil. The coil is what produces the high voltage necessary to generate a spark. In an effort to simplify systems and increase service life, the coil lead was eliminated and the coil was mounted inside the distributor. The next step was to eliminate the distributor and instead hook several coils straight to the spark plug wires, often referred to as a Distributorless Ignition System or DIS. The next inevitable step was to eliminate the spark plug wires and mount the coils right to the end of the spark plugs, called Coil On Plug or COP. The ignition coil is what produces the several thousand volts needed to make a spark across the spark plug gap. Surprisingly the basic design of ignition coils hasn't changed at all in the last century. What we call a coil is actually two separate coils wrapped around a common metal core. In any other electrical system this would be called a transformer. The coil you put electricity into is called the primary and the coil that sends the electricity out is the secondary. Transformers are used to step up or step down voltage. The voltage is changed according to the ratio of the turns. Say you have a transformer with 50 turns of wire on the primary and 100 turns on the secondary, a 1:2 ratio. If you put 10 volts into the primary you will get 20 volts out of the secondary. The trick to transformers is that to see anything from the secondary the current of the primary must be changing. If you put a constant DC current through the primary you will have no current flow through the secondary. Transformers are usually used in AC systems since the current is constantly changing. If you put 120 volts AC through a transformer with a turns ratio of 10:1 then you will get 12 volts AC out of the secondary. An ignition coil isn't fed with a constant AC signal. All we need is one spark so all we are going to put into the primary is one voltage spike. An ignition coil typically has a 1:100 turns ratio, so if 10,000 volts is required to generate a spark then we need to feed the primary a 100 volt spike. Notice I said if 10,000 volts is required. The required voltage changes constantly. Firing a spark plug outside the engine requires far less voltage than it does when firing an engine at wide open throttle. Pressure plays a major role, the higher the pressure in the chamber the more voltage is required. The size of the spark gap is the other big factor, the further the spark has to jump the more voltage is required. Firing a spark through an air fuel mixture requires more voltage than it would in pure air, especially with exotic fuels. There are many other small factors that determine how much voltage will be required to make a spark. You may see "high performance" coils advertises as 50,000 volt coils but all that is meaningless since under most conditions you will only need 5,000 - 10,000 volts. Now if you are running wide gap plugs in an alcohol burning,

supercharged engine then you will likely need to step up to a system with a higher voltage potential. So all that's left is to explain where we get the large voltage spike for the primary. The ignition coil may not have changed in the last 100 years but the primary circuit sure has. There are two different types of ignition systems, inductive and CDI. Each system has its strengths and weaknesses. The ignition coil, spark plugs and such are the same between them. The difference is how they generate the primary voltage spike that drives the coil. Inductive Ignition Inductive ignition systems have been around almost as long as the internal combustion engine. It is a simple and rugged design which is why it is still being used on new cars today. With an inductive ignition all that's needed to make enough juice for a spark is the ignition coil, a switch and a low voltage power source. Wait a minute, how do you get a big voltage spike from a 12 volt battery with only a switch? The truth is, an inductive ignition doesn't actually throw a voltage spike at the primary. Instead, it makes the primary generate its own voltage spike. Oh, ok... wait... what? A coil of wire, also called an inductor, exhibits strange properties when you run electricity through it. You probably remember from elementary school what happens when you wrap a bunch of wire around a metal object then hook it to a battery. That's right, you get a magnet. The more current you run through a coil the greater the magnetic field. What you probably don't remember (unless you happened to be touching both ends of the wire when you disconnected the battery) is that the magnetic field is actually stored energy, and when the current flow through the coil stops the stored energy causes a voltage spike. Inductors resist current changes. Think of them like the electrical equivalent of a flywheel. When current is low and you try increasing it, the inductor will add resistance to try and keep the current low. When current is high and you try reducing it, the inductor will increase voltage to try and keep the current high. Since the current flow in the primary of our ignition coil goes from several amps to zero amps almost instantly, the voltage will rise very fast until it can get the current flowing again. The goal is to prevent any more current flow in the primary so the coil will start the current flowing again in the secondary, giving us a spark. Inductive ignitions are self adjusting. If a 100 volt spike is needed to initiate a spark the primary will only rise to 100 volts. The spark will then burn until all the energy in the coil is used up. The lower the voltage the longer the spark will last. Let's say you open up the spark plug gap and now 150 volts is required to fire the coil. When the current is interrupted on the primary, the magnetic field will cause the voltage to rise rapidly. The

voltage will rise until it reaches 150 volts at which point the spark plug will fire. After the spark is started the voltage will actually drop since it takes less voltage to maintain a spark than it does to start one. The spark will continue to burn as long as there is energy left in the coil. Only now the spark duration is shorter since the spark fired at a higher voltage than before. Increasing the spark plug gaps without increasing the amount of energy stored in the coil can actually hurt performance. If most of the energy is used to initiate the spark then there will be little left to maintain it. It's even possible there won't be enough energy to make a spark in the first place. To get the benefits of wider spark gaps you need to put more energy into the coil. When you put more energy into the coil you will increase spark duration. When you have longer spark duration you can afford to lose some by opening up the spark gaps. Early inductive ignitions actually used a mechanical switch, commonly referred to as points, to physically break the primary circuit. When the points close it closes the primary circuit and current flows through the primary, when the points open the circuit is open and there is no current flow. In the seventies points were phased out in favor of electronic ignitions. Electronic ignitions use a transistor to switch the current on and off instead of a mechanical switch. There is no magic to electronic ignitions, they are just a switch the same as points. It's the switch opening (stopping current flow) that triggers the voltage spike that fires the coil. When the switch closes current flows through the primary, but it takes a while for the current to build up. That is the biggest issue with inductive ignitions. The inductance of the coil limits change in current. When the switch is open there is zero amps flowing through the primary. When the switch closes the current starts at zero and ramps up until it reaches its limit. It takes time for the current to build up. You can calculate how long it takes for a coil to charge with this formula, T = ( L * I ) / V where T is time in seconds, L is inductance in henries, I is amps, and V is volts. Say you have a 7 millihenry coil and want to charge it to 6 amps with 14 volts. T = ( .007 * 6 ) / 14 It will take 3 milliseconds (0.003 sec.) for the coil to reach six amps. That is not much time at all, so what's the problem? Believe it or not you don't always have that much time to charge the coil. For example, a V8 with a single coil running at 5000 rpm fires every 3 milliseconds. If you take away one millisecond for the spark that only leaves two milliseconds to charge the coil. In two milliseconds the coil will only reach four amps before it has to fire again. The energy stored in the coil is determined by the inductance and the current. The formula is, J = 0.5 * L * I * I where J is the energy in joules, L is henries and I is amps. Notice amps is squared which means small changes in amps will greatly effect the amount of energy stored. Our 7 millihenry coil at 6 amps holds 126 millijoules (0.126 joules), the same coil at 4 amps only has 56 millijoules of energy available to fire the spark. So more amps mean more energy but it also means more heat.

The current needs to be limited or the coil will go up in smoke. One strategy for controlling current is to add resistance to the primary circuit. Ohm's law says that current equals volts divided by resistance, I = V / R. If you run 12 volts through a coil with a primary resistance of 3 ohms then the peak current will be 4 amps. Running a coil with a high primary resistance is the simplest way to limit current but far from the best. When voltage drops, like when the starter motor is engaged, the peak current drops and as a result you're spark output drops. A band aid fix is to use a lower resistance coil and add a ballast resistor. On many old cars you will see a 1.5 ohm coil and a 1.5 ohm ballast resistor, total series resistance is still 3 ohms so the peak current is the same. The trick is that the ballast resistor is bypassed when the starter motor is engaged so the circuit consists of only the 1.5 ohm coil. Now if the voltage drops to 9 volts when the starter is engaged your peak current will be 6 amps. That means you will have a more powerful spark when starting than you do when the engine is running which is good since it's harder to initiate combustion in a cold engine. The coil can handle the increased current because it is only done for a short period of time. If you bypassed the ballast resistor permanently you would likely burn up the coil. Early electronic ignitions still used a ballast resistor but they soon figured out the same task could be accomplished with the switching transistor. This makes the circuit simpler since there is no longer a ballast resistor or bypass circuit. But the big advantage is that it can automatically adjust resistance to keep the peak current consistent. If you have a 1.5 ohm coil it will add 1.5 ohms to keep peak current at 4 amps. If voltage drops to 10 volts it will only add 1 ohm so peak current will remain 4 amps. If you swap to a coil with a 0.5 ohm primary it will add 2.5 ohms. An automatic current limited works well but puts a greater load on the ignition module. A big heat sink is required to dissipate the heat from the switching transistor since it is still using resistance to limit current. With computer controlled dwell came the "rampand-fire" dwell strategy. Since the current ramps up gradually and at a known rate, the computer starts charging the coil late enough that there won't be enough time for it to go over current. If it takes three milliseconds for the coil to reach 7 amps then the computer will start charging the coil exactly three milliseconds before it has to fire. With this strategy you can run higher peak current without over heating the coil or module. That segues us nicely into the next critical element of inductive ignitions, coil charge time also known as dwell. Most guys when they hear the word dwell immediately think of old breaker point systems where you would set the dwell by adjusting point gap. Dwell readings were in degrees. Thirty degrees dwell meant that the distributor rotated 30 degrees between the time the points closed and when they opened again. When the points are closed the coil is charging. A V8 fires every 45 degrees of distributor rotation so the coil is charging for 30 degrees and is given 15 degrees to

discharge. When the engine is running the coil is being charged 2/3 of the time regardless of engine speed. This is not a good dwell strategy. To see why, you have to look at dwell as time and not some arbitrary distance. At 1000 rpm it takes 15 milliseconds for the distributor to turn 45 degrees, so the coil will be charging for 10 milliseconds and given 5 milliseconds to discharge. It only takes 2 milliseconds for the coil to reach 4 amps where it stays for 8 milliseconds before the points open and the coil fires. The coil has reached its full power potential after 2 milliseconds, the additional 8 milliseconds does nothing but heat up the coil and waste power. The dwell strategy on early electronic ignitions wasn't much better than points (some were considerably worse) but as they improved the dwell times got closer and closer to the actual charge time of the coil. This means less power was being wasted. Coils were running cooler, so the peak current could be increased. More amps into the coil mean more energy out of the coil. As stated before, with more energy you will have longer spark duration and can run larger spark gaps. When you improve both of those you increase your chances of lighting the fuel mixture which ultimately means more power and better fuel economy. To sum it all up, inductive ignitions are simple and make a nice long duration spark. To do so they need as much current run through the primary as possible, which if not controlled can burn up the coil. It takes time to build up primary current and as rpm increases the time available to build up current decreases. When there is insufficient time to reach a high current, the energy available to fire the spark plugs drops significantly. This leads to misfiring at higher rpms. CDI (Capacitive Discharge Ignition) CDI systems came out about the time inductive ignitions were becoming electronic. Conventional electronic ignitions simply replaced the points with a transistor but CDI completely reinvented the way the spark is generated. Instead of slowly charging the coil then relying on it to generate its own voltage spike, capacitive discharge ignitions charge a capacitor with high voltage which is discharged through the coil to make a spark. The capacitor can charge and discharge much faster than a coil so a CDI can operate at a much higher speed than an inductive ignition. The basic components of a CDI are a high voltage power supply, a capacitor, a switch, and a coil. The construction of a CDI system is a bit more complicated but the principle is quite simple. The capacitor is connected to the high voltage supply and charged. When it's time to fire, the capacitor is connected to the coil. The high voltage applied to the primary causes current to rise very rapidly and that's where the secondary get the power to make the spark. So the coil is basically just used to step up the voltage that

the CDI module produces. That, in a nutshell, is the difference between a conventional electronic ignition module and a CDI module. A CDI module puts out power where a conventional ignition module simply switches the power to the coil on and off like a switch. Some guys refer to any electronic ignition as a CDI but it's only a CDI if spark is achieved by discharging a high voltage capacitor through the coil. It all starts with the high voltage power supply. There are two common approaches to generating the necessary high voltage. One is to have a voltage converter built into the module that converts the 12 volts from the vehicles electrical system into a high voltage. The converter consists of an oscillator to convert the 12 volt DC to 12 volt AC, a transformer to step up the AC voltage to several hundred volts, and a rectifier to make the AC back into DC. This arrangement is what makes CDI modules more complex and costly than a conventional electronic ignition. You will see voltage converters used mainly on cars and street bikes where there is a battery and charging system to power it. The alternative is to use the alternator to produce a high voltage AC signal. Then the CDI module only has to rectify it before it can be used to charge the capacitor. This design is generally used on dirt bikes and lawn equipment where there is no battery or charging system. It's also used on many quads and enduros, even those that have a battery and charging system. In a setup like that the alternator has two outputs, a high voltage output to power the ignition and a 12 volt output to run the lights and charge the battery. The high voltage supply is used to charge the capacitor. The characteristics of a capacitor charging are the opposite of a coil. When you put power to a coil the current starts at zero then ramps up at a linear rate as high as it's allowed, and you need to keep the current flowing through it to keep it charged. The amount of time the power is applied to the coil is critical. Too little time and the coil will not be charged. Too much time means that the current used to maintain the charge is being wasted heating up the coil. CDI eliminates these concerns. When you put power to a capacitor the current starts extremely high then drops exponentially as the capacitor charges. When the capacitor is charged the current flow is nearly zero amps. You can leave the capacitor hooked to the power and almost no energy is wasted. You can even disconnect the power and the capacitor will retain its charge. As you can see, with CDI there is no need for a current limiter or finely tuned dwell time. Generally, CDIs are more efficient since very little energy is wasted charging the capacitor. The energy stored in a capacitor is determined by the size of the capacitor and the stored voltage. J = .5 * C * V * V Inductive ignitions take a long time to charge because of the large coil required to hold a charge. A CDI can hold the same charge with a very small capacitor since it is being charged with several hundred volts. For example, an MSD 6 ignition charges a 1 microfarad (.000001 farad) capacitor to 500 volts. Do the math

and you see that it stores 125 millijoules (0.125 joules). That's the same as the inductive ignition example in the previous segment. However, the inductive ignition took 3 milliseconds to charge where the CDI charges in only a few microseconds. OK, so the cap is charged. The only step left is to dump the charge into the coil. For that we need a switch. The schematic above is an overly simplified representation of a CDI circuit. An actual CDI circuit doesn't use a physical switch. Instead, an SCR is most commonly used as the switch. An SCR is basically a transistor that when turned on, stays on until current stops flowing through it. That eliminates the need to control the switch time. All you have to do is trigger the SCR, it will stay on as long as the capacitor is discharging and shuts off automatically when the cap is empty. There are a few variations to CDI circuits but the one shown is a very common scheme. It's a bit hard to see how it works when you first look at it. I animated the drawing to make it a little clearer. The process starts when the switch is open. The high voltage supply charges the capacitor. Notice how the current flows through the diode, bypassing the coil. [A diode is like an electric check valve, current can only flow through it one way.] The diode is not mandatory, many circuits don't have this diode, I only added it to make it easier to see when the cap is charging and when it's discharging through the coil. When the capacitor is fully charged the current flow stops. The fully charged capacitor sits waiting to be dumped. When the switch closes it connects the positive side of the capacitor to ground. This in effect bypasses the power supply and hooks the capacitor straight to the coil. Notice the positive side of the capacitor is hooked to the negative side of the coil. This is why, on many CDIs, you see a negative voltage when probing the positive coil lead. Once the capacitor is drained the switch turns itself off and the capacitor charges again. An inductive ignition charges a coil then allows the primary voltage to rise high enough to initiate a spark. CDIs don't wait for the coil to do the work. The high voltage surge from the capacitor causes the voltage on the primary to rise much faster and higher than it would on its own. This creates a very intense spark. [CDI is great for two strokes since the hotter spark can better fire an oily spark plug] Unfortunately to get the big hot spark you have to give up duration. A CDI spark may last only 50 microseconds (0.00005 seconds) where the spark from an inductive ignition typically lasts about 1 millisecond (.001 seconds). The short spark can hurt both driveability and gas mileage. A common approach to covering up this deficiency is to fire the CDI multiple times at lower rpm. While a few short sparks are better than one short spark, it's still not as effective as one long duration spark. Which is better

Each system has it's strengths and weaknesses. The question isn't 'Which is better' but rather 'Which is better for my application'. Inductive ignitions are rugged and simple. An inductive ignition with good current control and well timed dwell works excellent for most applications. However, inductive ignitions can't keep up on a high revving, multi-cylinder engine running a single coil. Modern motorcycle engines spin fast enough that even with a distributorless setup there is not enough time to fully charge the coils. That's why capacitive discharge ignitions are seen mostly on race cars and motorcycles.

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