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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Microwave-Assisted Ignition for Improved Internal Combustion Engine Efficiency

  • Author(s): DeFilippo, Anthony Cesar
  • Advisor(s): Chen, Jyh-Yuan
  • et al.

The ever-present need for reducing greenhouse gas emissions associated with transportation motivates this investigation of a novel ignition technology for internal combustion engine applications. Advanced engines can achieve higher efficiencies and reduced emissions by operating in regimes with diluted fuel-air mixtures and higher compression ratios, but the range of stable engine operation is constrained by combustion initiation and flame propagation when dilution levels are high. An advanced ignition technology that reliably extends the operating range of internal combustion engines will aid practical implementation of the next generation of high-efficiency engines. This dissertation contributes to next-generation ignition technology advancement by experimentally analyzing a prototype technology as well as developing a numerical model for the chemical processes governing microwave-assisted ignition.

The microwave-assisted spark plug under development by Imagineering, Inc. of Japan has previously been shown to expand the stable operating range of gasoline-fueled engines through plasma-assisted combustion, but the factors limiting its operation were not well characterized. The present experimental study has two main goals. The first goal is to investigate the capability of the microwave-assisted spark plug towards expanding the stable operating range of wet-ethanol-fueled engines. The stability range is investigated by examining the coefficient of variation of indicated mean effective pressure as a metric for instability, and indicated specific ethanol consumption as a metric for efficiency. The second goal is to examine the factors affecting the extent to which microwaves enhance ignition processes. The factors impacting microwave enhancement of ignition processes are individually examined, using flame development behavior as a key metric in determining microwave effectiveness.

Further development of practical combustion applications implementing microwave-assisted spark technology will benefit from predictive models which include the plasma processes governing the observed combustion enhancement. This dissertation documents the development of a chemical kinetic mechanism for the plasma-assisted combustion processes relevant to microwave-assisted spark ignition. The mechanism includes an existing mechanism for gas-phase methane oxidation, supplemented with electron impact reactions, cation and anion chemical reactions, and reactions involving vibrationally-excited and electronically-excited species. Calculations using the presently-developed numerical model explain experimentally-observed trends, highlighting the relative importance of pressure, temperature, and mixture composition in determining the effectiveness of microwave-assisted ignition enhancement.

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