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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 for gasoline engines by reshaping the electric field in the com- bustion chamber through repositioning high voltage electrodes and applying changes in the electrodes geometry. This system provides better and wider discharge resulting in higher efficiency and ignition rate. Furthermore, a much simpler timing system, relying exclusively on built in control parameters, i.e. chamber pressure, temperature and piston position is needed. Numerical simulation of this newly-proposed design is conducted using a time-dependent solver. In particular, electrical field is investigated along the course line of a single piston. It has been observed that ignition is easier to control at the right piston position and crank angle which will obviously lead to better fuel economy and environmental protection.

KeywordsGas discharges, spark plug, ignition system.

I.

INTRODUCTION

Ignition systems are used to ignite the air/fuel mixture in the combustion chamber at a specific time and pressure to reach maximum efficiency. Timing has proven to play an important role in reaching maximum pressure that varies depending on the engine speed and manifold conditions. Thus, ignition process as schematically described in Fig. 1 must occur earlier when the engine accelerates and later when it decelerates. An ignition system, as shown in Fig. 2, is composed of:

Crankshaft sensor

Camshaft sensor

Igniter

Ignition coils, harness, Spark plugs

ECM and inputs.

Spark plugs are indispensable part of ignition engines that directly affect the engine performance [1]. A spark plug is a coaxial high voltage bushing which its shell is electrically iso- lated from the central conductor by a porcelain insulator. The

central conductor is connected to the output terminal of a high voltage source (an ignition coil or a magneto) by an insulated wire. The outer conductor of the spark plug (shell) is screwed into the engine cylinder head and thus is electrically grounded. The central conductor passes through the porcelain insulator into the combustion chamber, forming an electrical bushing. The high voltage conductor in the combustion chamber is within a small distance from a grounded conductor usually connected to the bushing flange (metal shell).

The central electrode of the spark plug is connected to

a high voltage source in specified time durations which are

completely coordinated with all parts of the engine. This coordination is an essential requirement to ignite the fuel- air mixture at the right instant. Any miss-coordination in this process would lead to stall or even engine failure. Most gasoline engines use what is called manifold injection, which uses the injected gasoline and incoming air to form a homo- geneous mixture before ignition [2]. However, some recent engines benefit from applying the Gasoline Direct Injection (GDI) technique, injecting the fuel directly to the combustion chamber. Creating an inhomogeneous mixture and surrounding the gasoline with air makes the ignition challenging [2]. The main aim of the present investigation is to reach complete

ignition in the air/fuel mixture by creating longer, stronger and widespread sparks. Moreover, the proposed design leads to less complicated and easier timing control and thereby improves the engine performance [3]. In what follows, the basic concept and working principle of our proposed system

is presented. Then, the whole system is numerically simulated

and the performance of the system is analyzed in details.

II. OPERATION PRINCIPLE

Increasing the spark plug gap up to a certain limit can improve the ignition efficiency and reduce petrol consumption, while over-sizing this gap can make the ignition system inefficient. Usually the spark plug gap scope ranges from 0.5- 0.8 millimeters and the spark plugs with gaps greater than 1.1

(a) (b) Fig. 1. advanced angle Schematic description of ignition process (a) normal process, (b)

(a)

(a) (b) Fig. 1. advanced angle Schematic description of ignition process (a) normal process, (b) Fig.

(b)

Fig. 1.

advanced angle

Schematic description of ignition process (a) normal process, (b)

description of ignition process (a) normal process, (b) Fig. 2. Ignition spark generation in gasoline engines

Fig. 2.

Ignition spark generation in gasoline engines

millimeters are found to be inefficient (too wide gap spark

plugs) [4]. Furthermore, the undersized spark plug gap lowers the spark energy and produces carbon deposits [5]. As such,

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 cylinder head (Fig. 3 and Fig. 4). This can be accomplished by

a high voltage bushing similar to conventional spark plugs. Our

design, however, differs from the existing technology as it has

a metal shell which is not connected to the high voltage source. Therefore, the short air gap between the central electrode of

the short air gap between the central electrode of Fig. 3. Basic geometry of the design

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 connected to the piston through an insulated system which electrically isolates the piston from the cylinder block and 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 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- ized gas at different places. Therefore, the engine performance enhances due to complete combustion of fuel/air mixture and uniform torque on the crankshaft.

III. PROPOSED SYSTEM DESCRIPTION

The electric field energy will create a fast excitation in the air-fuel mixture causing an ionizing process which only takes several nanoseconds compared to the 70 ¸ts of the conventional spark plugs. Discharge formation depends on many parameters such as the electrodes, geometry, cathode- anode distance, type and pressure of gas or gas mixture, gas-

Fig. 4. Cross section view of the combustion chamber gap pre-ionization [6]. Fig. 3 depicts

Fig. 4.

Cross section view of the combustion chamber

gap pre-ionization [6]. Fig. 3 depicts various parts of the proposed system in the cylinder head: the high voltage bushing which passes through the engine cylinder head, the insulating rings which electrically isolate the piston from the cylinder block body. The ignition coil (high voltage source) output is connected to the high voltage bushing and the moving piston. Fig. 4 shows a view of the high voltage electrode (point electrode) in the cylinder head and combustion chamber as well as the piston which is one of the electrodes of the spark system. This needle like electrode is the central conductor of the high voltage bushing.

IV. MULTIPHYSIC SIMULATION

It has been shown that burning rates and the combustion durations in a closed chamber can be reduced by increasing the size of the initial flame kernel [7], [8]. To demonstrate the working principle, a real size 100hp, 1760cc engine cylinder with a compression ratio of 9.5 has been simulated using COMSOL Multiphysic simulation software. The moving piston and the electrical field formed through the compressible gas are simulated applying Finite Element techniques using extremely fine meshing. The maximum electric field in the geometry is calculated as the piston reciprocates to check the possibility of arc initiation. The proposed system creates an electric field between the point electrode (central conductor of high voltage bushing) and the plane one (piston). The cylinder block potential is determined by an external circuit connecting the high voltage source to the block. The block can also be used as a coaxial capacitor electrode or a resonator.

During the compression stroke the piston moves towards the other electrode and simultaneously the mixture (fuel-air) pressure increases. If the voltage amplitude is high enough,

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:

(1)

E = −∇V.

Combining this equation with the relationship between the electric displacement D and the electric field E, it is possible to represent Gaussâ A ˘ Z ´ law as the following equation:

D

= 0 E + P

(2)

−∇.( 0 V P ) = ρ.

(3)

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 space charge density. This equation describes the electrostatic field in dielectric materials. For in-plane 2D modeling, the Electrostatics interface assumes a symmetry where the electric potential varies only in the x and y directions and is constant in the z direction. This implies that the electric field, E, is tangential to the xy-plane. With this symmetry, the same equation is solved as in the 3D case. The interface solves the following equation where d is the thickness along z:

−∇.d( 0 V P ) = ρ. (4)

The equations are solved assuming the following boundary conditions:

Zero surface charge on the cylinder block.

Piston is assumed as the ground potential reference.

The electric potential node is the point electrode, which provides an electric potential between 22 kV to 24 kV.

A. Determination of Voltage Level

To obtain a unique proper voltage level for the proposed system, simulations have been conducted for different voltage magnitudes near the voltage levels used in traditional spark plug systems. The point electrode diameter is assumed to be 1.2 mm. The maximum electric fields with respect to the crank angle are shown for 22 kV, 23 kV and 24 KV in Figures 6 to 9. The results are shown for every 2 mm of piston motion along its 80 mm course length.

As it can be seen, while the piston moves from full compression (0 degree) to full expansion (180 degree) the max- imum electric field decreases. Another major criterion of this

Fig. 5. Maximum electric field vs. crank angle for 22kV design is that the electric

Fig. 5.

Maximum electric field vs. crank angle for 22kV

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 crank angle. This will greatly reduce the possibility of having 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. 2.1×10 7 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 the maximum electric field occurs at sharp edges of the point electrode and the piston surface.

B. Determination of Electrode Shape

The geometry of the point electrode has been studied as a design parameter since it is an essential factor for the maximum electric field magnitude. Since there always is a practical limit in increasing the voltage level, having a sharper point electrode could result in the required electric field with lower voltage level. This sharpness is limited to manufacturing techniques and incurred costs (life cycle for sharper electrodes are expected to be shorter). Fig. 14 describes the maximum

are expected to be shorter). Fig. 14 describes the maximum Fig. 6. Maximum electric field vs.

Fig. 6.

Maximum electric field vs. crank angle for 23 kV (first quarter cycle)

field vs. crank angle for 23 kV (first quarter cycle) Fig. 7. Maximum electric field vs.

Fig. 7.

Maximum electric field vs. crank angle for 23kV (second quarter

cycle)

field vs. crank angle for 23kV (second quarter cycle) Fig. 8. Maximum electric field vs. crank

Fig. 8.

Maximum electric field vs. crank angle for 24 kV

electric field for a 1 mm diameter electrode versus crank angle for 16kV.

C. Discharge Study

The fuel-air mixture entered the combustion chamber vol- ume is affected by high intensity electric field. Pre-ionized dif- fuse discharge initiation in non-uniform electric field through high pressure gas is a challenging problem to simulate. It was empirically found that, in a cathode with a small radius of cur- vature and a flat anode, a diffuse corona arises within several

Fig. 9. Two dimensional view of the electric field magnitude between electrodes in full compression

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

magnitude between electrodes in full compression at 23kV Fig. 10. Comparing maximum electric fields in three

Fig. 10.

Comparing maximum electric fields in three different voltages

maximum electric fields in three different voltages Fig. 11. Two dimensional view of the electric field

Fig. 11.

Two dimensional view of the electric field magnitude

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 proposed structure is also affected by other parameters like

proposed structure is also affected by other parameters like Fig. 12. surface in full expansion Two

Fig. 12.

surface in full expansion

Two dimensional view of the electric field magnitude at the piston

view of the electric field magnitude at the piston Fig. 13. chamber at full expansion Distribution

Fig. 13.

chamber at full expansion

Distribution of the electric field magnitude in the combustion

of the electric field magnitude in the combustion Fig. 14. diameter point electrode Maximum electric field

Fig. 14.

diameter point electrode

Maximum electric field vs. crank angle for 16KV with a 1.2 mm

working temperature, electrode materials, pressure profile, fuel droplet size and burnt contaminants on the electrodes.

V.

C ONCLUSION

An automatic spark system is presented for the gasoline 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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