Jet engine pre-chamber tech could transfer to cars

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Pre-chamber technology used in jet engines is being investigated by Purdue University researchers for use in cars and other road vehicles.

Pre-chamber
Purdue University researchers are working on methods to use jet ignition technology to help power personal cars and road vehicles (Stock photo)

The research is being spurred by the growth of alternatively fuelled vehicles, prompting automotive manufacturers to optimise petrol engines.

Pre-chambers are filled with a mixture of fuel and air which ignites, producing combustion. Tiny holes in the bottom of the chamber release the hot combustion products in the form of powerful jets, which penetrate the main chamber and cause ignition.

Compared with traditional spark ignition, this method provides a large surface for multiple-site ignition and fast flame propagation and enhances the overall combustion efficiency.

According to Purdue, passive and active pre-chambers are being considered. For the former, the main-chamber mixture is pushed into the pre-chamber by compression stroke through the tiny holes; and for the latter, additional fuelling is supplied to the pre-chamber to facilitate leaner operation of the main combustion chamber.

“We have great potential at Purdue for research into automotive technology and the engines of the future,” said Li Qiao, an associate professor of aeronautics and astronautics in Purdue’s College of Engineering. “This pre-chamber jet ignition technology is an example of how researchers across engineering and science come together.”

Pre-chamber
Sequences of images showing the jet (produced from pre-chamber on the top) penetrating the main chamber and igniting the main-chamber mixture (Image: Purdue)

Qiao said the technology her team is working with already has been used in large bore natural gas engines and in some F1 racing cars because of its superior performance, but it is new to petrol engines.

“The auto industry is feeling the pressure to optimise these engines because of the competition from electric vehicles,” Qiao said in a statement. “Several automotive engine companies have started exploring pre-chamber technology for… cars.”

Qiao is currently collaborating with industry on the design and optimisation of passive and active pre-chambers for petrol engines. The team are working also with the Purdue Research Foundation Office of Technology Commercialisation to patent their technology, and are looking for additional partners.

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