Your New Car's More Fuel-Efficient Engine May Fire Up With Lasers, Not Spark Plugs

If you're contemplating your next car add-on, consider replacing your boring, old spark plugs with lasers. Yeah, lasers. Lasers that cut down on noxious emissions and provide better fuel efficiency! If Japan's National Institutes of Natural Sciences has its way, a replacement of that sort may not be so far off (or strange).

The traditional spark plug we're all used to works by sending electrical, well, sparks, between two, uh, electrodes. This causes an explosion in the engine and forces the piston to move down, creating the all-important horsepower that gets you going. Here's the problem: More burnt fuel equals more noxious emissions... and no one likes those.

And while the spark plug is powerful enough to burn leaner fuel (thereby reducing emissions), it can't do so without burning the electrodes. Cue tiny car lasers: Because their architecture involves no electrodes whatsoever, they're able to burn leaner fuel without causing any damage.

The laser system also does its job much faster than traditional spark plugs. A process that currently takes milliseconds will be reduced to nanoseconds with this system. And while you won't be able to shoot missiles out of the sky with your Nissan laser beams (yet), your engine will undergo a quicker combustion, which means better fuel efficiency. Ford's been working on this too—and I think I can settle for laser cars instead of flying cars. [PhysOrg, Totally unrelated image via Wrong Side of the Art]