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17 December 2018

Forget spark plugs - microwaves are the way of the future

By James LisleJames Lisle
  • Instead of combusting around like a wave, microwave ignition combusts all particles in a single hit. (Source: mwi-ag.com) Instead of combusting around like a wave, microwave ignition combusts all particles in a single hit. (Source: mwi-ag.com)
  • Wendelin Wiedeking started work as a mechanical engineer, so it's a safe bet he knows his stuff. Wendelin Wiedeking started work as a mechanical engineer, so it's a safe bet he knows his stuff.
  • If microwave ignition provides a racing edge, everyone will jump on it. If microwave ignition provides a racing edge, everyone will jump on it.

The awesome thing about motorsport is that it’s a great place to test out cutting-edge prototypes in the real world.

Thanks to racing, modern cars have been installed with all types of innovative tech. We have disc brakes, turbochargers, the rear-view mirror, and even aerodynamics. All of these things have come from motorsport and have made our cars better.

But Wendelin Wiedeking (the ex-CEO of Porsche who killed off the 928 and 968, introduced the Boxster and Cayenne, and assisted in Porsche’s attempted purchase of VW) reckons there’s another thing on the way: microwave pulse ignition.

Never heard of it? No worries. Simply put, manufacturers always try to burn the least amount of fuel possible, and that sucks.

The ideal stoichiometric or ‘air to fuel’ ratio fuel is 14.7:1, as we all know. Problem is, there’s only so many milliseconds worth of ignition time when the piston is up at top-dead-centre, and igniting a leaner air/fuel mixture in hardly any time often requires a more powerful spark. And a higher voltage.

  • Ah yes, the humble spark plug. Nothing special here... (Source: mwi-ag.com) Ah yes, the humble spark plug. Nothing special here... (Source: mwi-ag.com)
  • No idea how much a replacement 'plug' would cost, but an 80 per cent reduction in emissions is a significant advantage you can't ignore. (Source: mwi-ag.com) No idea how much a replacement 'plug' would cost, but an 80 per cent reduction in emissions is a significant advantage you can't ignore. (Source: mwi-ag.com)
  • MWI AG has fiddled with existing engines by installing their own ignition systems, with promising success. (source: mwi-ag.com) MWI AG has fiddled with existing engines by installing their own ignition systems, with promising success. (source: mwi-ag.com)

But that’s is a catch-22! While we’re saving fuel, we're increasing the overall combustion temperature - *that increases the volume of nasty hydrocarbons, oxides, and particulate matters.

Micro Wave Ignition AG reckons its fixed this dillemma with ‘microwave pulse ignition’: a method of sparkless ignition that uses powerful microwave frequencies to not only ignite almost all of the mixture at once, but at a much lower temperature.

Theoretically, this means you can save up to 30 per cent of fuel (because not as much is wasted) and it produces 80 per cent fewer emissions (because of the cooler ignition temp). But it gets better.

Not only can the tech be retrofitted to any car – MWI AG, who Wiedeking is financially invested in - has recently partnered with Fach Auto Tech - a long-time competitor in the Porsche SuperCup! And if there’s anything we know, it’s that racing tech soon trickles down to everyday cars.

Source: Bloomberg

What do you think of microwave pulse ignition? Could it be the next best thing for the internal combustion engine?

*Fun fact: this is one of the main issues with a HCCI engine and one of the main challenges during Mazda’s SkyActiv-X testing.