Enlarge / This is the view of the top of a cylinder as the TPS ignition module sends out a plasma pulse.

Transient Plasma Systems

In 2019, we took a look at an interesting new advanced ignition system from Transient Plasma Systems. It replaces the conventional spark plugs in a vehicle’s engine with an ignition module that uses very short duration (nanosecond) pulses of plasma to ignite the fuel/air mixture within the cylinder. Back then, the technology was still being bench-tested, but now it’s almost ready for production after validation testing has confirmed its potential to increase fuel efficiency by up to 20 percent when fitted to an existing engine.

“We’re showing that the technology has ticked off all the things that an advanced ignition system would need to do to go to market,” said Dan Singleton, founder and CEO of TPS.

Aren’t we going all EV?

At this point, some of you are probably wondering why anyone is even bothering to develop new internal combustion engine technology—after all, isn’t our future electric? But with the best will in the world, it’s going to be many years before countries like the US stop selling new internal combustion-powered vehicles and longer still until they’re no longer allowed on our roads.

“There’s been a lot of pieces, analyzing the data and basically saying look, we need to be real about what the adoption rate of EVs is. So, we do think that the future is going to be EVs. But the question is, what do we do while we’re ramping up? And I think if you look at the data, it’s pretty compelling that the best thing you can do is to start getting CO2 emissions down now. So that’s really where we see this fitting in is if you put this technology to market immediately. That’s what our data shows is that there’s immediate, meaningful CO2 reductions,” Singleton told me.

TPS’s plasma ignition system is designed to drop into existing cars with very little modification. An ignition module replaces the regular spark plugs, and there’s a power module to control it, but otherwise the only other modifications are in software, as the engine requires remapping to take advantage of the new technology.

“A lot of the OEMs we’ve been working with are freezing their engine designs, they’re saying ‘no more new engine block, we might change some parts out but we’re freezing the design.’ So it has to basically just drop into the holes that already exist, which this technology does,” Singleton explained.

“The No. 1 thing is you have to extend dilution limits—that’s either adding Exhaust Gas Recirculation (EGR) or if you want it to go lean, you could do that as well. And that’s obviously the main thing the advanced ignition system does,” he told me.

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