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Improving Nanosecond Pulse Power Ignition Technology to Improve Fuel Efficiency

Company Name: Transient Plasma Systems
Program Office: Vehicles
Location: Torrance, CA
Award Amount: $160,000
Project Term: 12 months
Project Status: Active
Participating Lab(s): Argonne National Laboratory


More than 16 million new vehicles with internal combustion engines are sold each year in the United States, so even small advances in fuel economy have a significant impact on reducing fuel consumption. Dilute-burn gasoline engines, which mix fuel with more air or exhaust gases to increase engine efficiency, are considered one of the most promising solutions to developing more efficient and environmentally friendly highway vehicles, but ignition instability associated with dilute mixtures is a hindrance for manufacturers. Transient Plasma Systems (TPS) addresses this problem by using cold plasma pulse technology to ignite fuel, replacing the traditional spark plug to improve fuel economy.

While TPS has demonstrated effectiveness in engines, one of the major questions that TPS and other industry participants face is about energy delivery. Specifically, research on cold plasmas suggests that nanosecond pulse discharges may be more than 50 times more efficient at delivering energy directly into gas when compared to traditional thermal ignition sources, resulting in extended spark plug lifetime, which is potentially a significant pain point, and would accelerate adoption rates. However, measuring this in a realistic environment is challenging. Fortunately, Argonne National Laboratory has developed techniques that can assist TPS with these unique measurements.


TPS utilizes ultra-short, low-energy pulses that produce a more effective discharge that also consumes a fraction of the energy compared to other high-energy spark and plasma systems, and can directly replace existing ignition technology on a plug-and-play basis. Consuming less energy per engine cycle may significantly extend the lifetime of spark plugs and the ignition system itself, and therefore reduce downtime associated with maintenance cycles. TPS technology has been developed and matured at the University of Southern California with support from the Department of Energy and the Department of Defense to help meet demands for both military and commercial markets.



Efficiency gains from this system, if implemented across the U.S. vehicle fleet, would save $80 billion in fuel costs.


More than 22,000 deaths per year in the United States are attributed to NOx and particulates and highway vehicles are the largest source of such pollutants, producing 11.6 billion pounds of NOx and 400 million pounds of particulates (PM2.5). TPS’ systems would result in a reduction in NOx emissions of more than 50 percent and would also reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with fuel burning.


Reducing fuel use in military vehicles also reduces the need for fuel convoys when conducting military operations. Minimizing the need for convoys is a defense priority since they are often targeted for attack.

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